This story from Reuters cites finds that Web 2.0 “is far less participatory than commonly assumed”.
Only 0.16% of YouTube visits are by video uploaders, only 0.2% of Flickr visits are by photo uploaders and a mere 4.6% of Wikipedia visits are by page editors.
The article’s title, “Study finds weak participation…” makes it clear that this is an attempt to diss the sharing phenomenon. Now this is a classic case of reading the data plain wrong, and is based on the assumption that participation means “everybody talking and nobody listening”. Instead, what it proves is just how well the whole sharing thing works – people do a little bit of talking and a hellovalot of listening. In a world with so many voices, that’s the only way to have a conversation… The unidentified Reuters author forgets that participation means listening too.
Now let’s take a look at the mechanics of a Web 2.0 site. After I upload some photos to Flickr, I send an email to my friends to come in and see them. That’s one small visit for me to upload, and a large number of visits to watch. When they upload their photos, it’s the same. Also, I occasionally wonder around Flickr to look at photos by people I don’t know. Some of them are absolutely stunning.
So, is my level of participation “weak”? No. If everyone uploaded more photos than everyone else looks at, then the average photo would have an infinitely small number of viewers. Uploading on average 2 photos for every thousand I view, means that on average photos have hundreds of viewers (averages lie of course, as this “market” probably has long tail attributes, but that’s besides my point). Now that doesn’t change the fact that I’m a participant – I did my share of sharing my own content.
The difference between this new phenomenon of social websites and user generated content and what we had in the past is that now everyone has a change to participate at all. I bet that 99.9% of Flickr users never presented their photos in a gallery. We must also remember that the economics of digital content, or virtual stuff don’t work the same as those of actual atoms. That the amount of content that the average user donates is much smaller than the amount he consumes is just fine.
Here’s an interesting related article on the parts different people play in social networks.