What is “Participation”?

rowersJacqui Cheng over at Ars Technica notes that voyeurism still rules the web 2.0 world.  She refers to a speech this week by Hitwise analyst Bill Tancer at the Web 2.0  expo in San Francisco:

According to the report, only 0.16 percent of YouTube’s total traffic is made up of users who upload videos. Similarly, only 0.2 percent of Flickr’s regular users are there to upload photos. Wikipedia was the only “Web 2.0” type site in the report that had decent numbers, but even its participation was relatively low at 4.59 percent of visitors adding or editing Wikipedia entries.

This is pretty terrific news for people who are trying to drive page-views – it seems just a few contributors are enough to attract a sizeable viewing audience.

It’s a little less encouraging for folks who are trying to build vibrant social and collaboration spaces online, however. Good conversation and good teamwork require a balance of give and take.  In its absence, what we end up with is more akin to lecture or broadcasting.

It’s useful to be aware that the default behavior in online space is viewing, not posting.  Armed with this knowledge, we can, from the very beginning of a new space, put in the extra effort and planning which is required to set a tone which makes clear that in our space, full participation is expected, and that to fully participate is to contribute regularly.  Common strategies we can employ include:

  • Charging community/project managers with regularly contributing topics for discussion or analysis
  • Explicitly requesting input from participants, by name, on issues being discussed (There are probably a dozen posts each week in our internal space which end with “Val, Dianne, thoughts?”)
  • Publicizing accomplishments of participants in the space in venues outside the space. (We were stuck on the project until Dennis posted this great idea in the collaboration space!)

Highly participatory online space is an achievable goal. But like most efforts to overcome inertia, it requires some energy input on the front end!