Over 40% of the world’s population has access to the internet. It’s hard to believe that less than 1% of the world’s population had access to the internet in 1995. We reached over a billion users in 2005, crossed 2 billion in 2010 and should cross 4 billion before 2018. Even with 3 billion users on the internet, over 90% users don’t participate in conversations they simply read & observe. 90% users are termed Lurkers & Lurkers Paradox lies at the foundation of the internet.

Lurkers Paradox occurs when 90% of your users just read or observe but don’t participate in conversations.

Lurkers Paradox: Participation Inequality

Lurkers Paradox leads to participation inequality. Participation Inequality has been researched in-depth by Will Hill, Bell Communications Research and later by Jacob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group. The study revealed the 90-9-1 Rule of Participation Inequality. User participation in most communities usually follows this rule.

  • 90% of users lurk & don’t contribute
  • 9% users contribute occasionally
  • 1% users contribute the maximum

So how do you overcome Lurkers Paradox or Participation Inequality? It turns out that you can’t reverse inequality, but you can equalize it by certain means.

Make it easier to contribute

It turns out that publishers or communities themselves make it difficult for the user to participate in discussions. Don’t ask the user to fill-up forms or log in to leave a comment. Only capture the name and e-mail ID of the user which makes it easier for the user to participate in the discussion. Publishers can also use more passive forms of conversations. For example, Netflix asks users to rate movies using stars which is much easier than writing a review.

Channel Emotions

A conversation with leading advertising professional sometime back led to a powerful insight about advertising. “You can either make them laugh or cry in-between they are lost.” If your content doesn’t channel a user’s emotion, then you are bound to have no conversation. Your content has to make the user laugh, cry or inspire them so that they feel compelled to leave a comment or have a conversation.

Make Participation a side effect

You can also turn participation into a side effect by using insights from existing user behavior. For example, Amazon provides users recommendation on books they can buy based on previously bought from the site by other users. You don’t ask users to enter their book preferences in the system as it could be time-consuming. Will Hill coined the term read wear for this effect the act of reading or using something will wear its effect down and leave its marks behind.

Distributed conversations

Lukers Paradox also exists because the web is divided while the content might exist on a platform the conversation can happen on a different platform. The emergence of social media has led to conversations getting split between the various platforms.

Gamification & reputation ranking

Rewards users to converse or participate in the discussion. Gamification or using reputation ranking is among the various techniques that publishers can use to encourage users to participate more often in conversations. Reputation ranking can be particularly effective in managing the quality of conversation, for example, Quora uses upvotes from users to rank a reply or answer higher than other answers submitted by users.

Seek & find

Most publishers, online communities & blog don’t encourage users to participate in the discussion or seek feedback. If your content ends with few lines seeking feedback or asking for ideas, people feel the urge to reply back to it otherwise they simply assume it’s information they can consume and exit the page.

Lurkers Paradox

If you have faced a challenge in growing conversations around your content then you are not alone. If you have more ideas on how to equalize participation inequality do share them in the comments sections below.


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