How many monkeys does it take to write the web?

Continuing the discussion on social networks and user-contributed content, I started writing this as a comment on Alex’s post but it got long enough I decided to bring it over here as it’s own post…

In response to this article about the contributors to Wikipedia, Alex makes the point that Carr’s split of numbskulls vs. a few active contributors is too simplified, and that Wikipedia’s nature also favors a specialist/janitor split. This is not to suggest that Wikipedia is entirely specialists and janitors (the stories of jerks, spammers, and censors abound) but I see how a Wiki’s nature might attract more of that type of division.

Every community-organized/moderated site, or gasp “web 2.0″ app with a social network is going to have different types of folk in that 80-20 division. I ran into this mentioned in a couple other articles recently, and discovered it actually has a name; Pareto’s principle. If I’d taken more economics classes in college, I might have known. A site like Flickr may have more of the social-connectors in the 20% of their population, powering the majority of the groups, friends and favorites. And or digg might favor the dedicated blogger/web-surfers contributing the majority of popular links and stories. In economics it’s 20% of the population controlling 80% of the wealth. The same division was found (not surprisingly) with weblogs, where the top 10-20% of all weblogs (the notorious a-listers) were responsible for the majority of links (often back to themselves)1.

Every system is going to favor different types of splits, with a different subset of people. I really like that idea. Most of the time we think of these community-powered sites as massive networks of people working together, when they really aren’t. Flickr is just a couple thousand photo-enthusiasts culling through all the junk… Wikipedia is a combination of a few specialists, janitors and information hounds doing what they love… and the web is just a few obsessive web-surfers linking to everything. These sites and social networks aren’t powered by the masses, they’re powered by the dedicated niche users. And there-in lies Econ. 101, or something: Find a demand; fill the niche; and supply the masses2.

How’s that for super-generalized social and economic theory?

1 I need to find that article again.

2 And clean up their messes.

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