Bradley Horowitz on Authorship – 10%?

Via this post on apophenia, she points us to Bradley Horowitz on authorship.  Technically it is on stages of participation. The point that jumps out at me is:

Bradleyhorowitzpyramid The levels in the pyramid represent phases of value creation.  As an example take Yahoo! Groups.

  • 1% of the user population might start a group (or a thread within a group)
  • 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress
  • 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups (lurkers)

It goes on to point out:

Mostly this is just an observation, and a simple statement:  social software sites don’t require 100% active participation to generate great value.

And I agree with him that 100% participation is not a realistic goal, and even our focus on distributed authoring is perhaps pie in the sky.  Facts for us don’t point to 10% real authorship so far.  It would be interesting to see the real data from Yahoo! Groups!

Distributed Authoring – Vocal Authors and the Silent Majority in Associations

ExampletendenciauthorspiechartsSome eye candy for those interested in Associations and Organizational dynamics. 

First, I firmly believe that successful online organizations can be identified by looking at three primary characteristics:

  1. Distributed Authoring – humans adding content and the wisdom of crowds
  2. Strong Subgroups – meaning active committees under 150 people typically
  3. Transparency – a level playing field must be in place for all with controls

These were first articulated in "Engaging Your Membership: What Are You Doing and What Should You Be Doing?" and the Distributed Authoring bullet was expanded in "The Concept of Distributed Authoring for Membership Associations – Getting Your Association to “Virtualization”.  And of course everything we program in Tendenci is designed to facilitate these three organizational goals.  But at the end of the day it is up to the association to determine the action and policies it will demonstrate.

Some data.  Here is one graphical snapshot from a randomly selected Tendenci client in aggregate.  I changed the numbers a bit, but in a statistically consistent way so the trends are valid.

ExampletendencisitedocumentsaddedalluserThis first graph is almost completely useless.  I am just sharing my initial frustration.  With over 10k users on the site, less than 50 are adding content for others to read. 

I filtered out stuff like editing a profile or registering for an event as those are more data entry in my mind.  Authoring means contributing an article for the newsletter or posting an event on the calendar (again this is subjective and my opinion).

ExampletendencisiteactiveauthorspowerdisOf the members of the sample association adding value to the group as a whole through authoring content, they follow something close to a power curve. 

I did try fitting a logarithmic and an exponential distribution, but the power curve was the closest match despite the divergence as it approaches zero.

This last graph is a pie chart limited to people who actually added content.  Again the data has beenExampletendenciauthorspiecharts changed a bit, but not much, so the trends are consistent with the actual distribution.  Note again that there are two or three super users adding most of the content that is read and absorbed by the entire membership

Specifically the top 5 users are adding almost 85% of the content. 

One possible explanation is that someone is functioning in an administrative role (not the security level but the act of functioning administratively) with others emailing articles and society events to post on the site.  This is likely in my opinion based on observing interactions and I made no effort to correct the data for author versus typist.

Exampletendencitrends_1A possible future post or article should probably look at which articles and events are being read the most.  Something along the lines of what AttentionTrust is interested in as long as it can be done anonymously for the users (nobody likes big brother, especially me!).  Thanks!

Tag Clouds Run Amuk and Debate on Use of Weighted Lists

UnilateraltagcloudWe recently started testing Weighted Lists in Tendenci.  My goodness you would think this was a large update based on the disproportionate feedback on the one (1) page we implemented the cloud on.  Sometimes folks lack a sense of humor, but we are here to serve and interpret.

It didn’t help that we had a bug in the calculation creating an off-by-one error for sites with just one category.  Hence the image on the left.  Computers are funny things.

So on the topic of weighted lists I found myself reading this Zeldman post on usability called "Remove Forebrain and Serve: Tag Clouds II"  The premise is that weighted lists are the new mullets, but he goes on to point out that his major issue with tag clouds is the ontology eliminates from view categories that don’t make the cut.  So Detroit might not be an item, but 8 Mile qualifies.  Specifically here are two excerpts:

We who make websites must strike a fine balance between guiding our users and allowing them to lead us. We listen but we also synthesize and invent. We conduct user research but we interpret the results. We ask what users want but we decide what they are really telling us — and we, not they, determine how best to fulfill the needs they didn’t necessarily realize they were articulating.


Instead of relying on humans to mine the data every three months and have long tedious arguments about how to update the navigation, let’s allow software to do it in real time, based on actual user behavior. Let the process create the music. There is merit to this view, especially on the community sites from which it sprang. (There is no merit to it on single-author sites, where one person creates all the content and all the tags. If you don’t have a clear purpose for your site, who does?)

It is for this reason that I think weighted lists ARE a good idea for social software.  Because the most active sites are ones with distributed authors.  Many people contributing towards the same goal, and making sense of that cacophony.

Distributed Authoring and Virtualization for Associations

Cluetrain I am rereading The Cluetrain Manifesto which reminded me that many of the ideas behind Tendenci, the philosophy of the software, are simply derivatives of Cluetrain.

Engaging Your Membership: What Are You Doing and What Should You Be Doing?
The Concept of Distributed Authoring for Membership Associations – Getting Your Association to “Virtualization”

If, like me, it has been a while since you read cluetrain, I highly recommend a refresher on the 95 Theses.  Most of the venting in cluetrain goes against corporations but is equally applicable to associations.  It is all about being human and overcoming bureaucracy to get to true conversational intelligence.  And I kind of dig watching the whole process play out in real time.

Big Media Liability for Consumer Generated Media – I am not a lawyer

To Steve’s question “is big media liable for hosted CGM?” – The first step is to acknowledge that hosted CGM is still a business transaction.  While no money may be changing hands, brand impressions are being made and influence definitely IS changing hands.  Any transaction of value needs rules and therefore has consequences (liability).

As a solution, perhaps an author-sponsorship-model using partnership agreements?  Somewhere between a limited liability corporation partnership agreement and a creative commons license.  IANAL so the actual structure of the document can be paraphrased as:

1) Media tries to remain objective so they can’t fully “endorse” a blogger, but they can and should provide a logo reflecting status to create social pressure for professionalism of the authored content.
2) Media provides some training, perhaps just an FAQ or guidelines on contributions. 
3) Authors acknowledge they have a point of view, but contribute in a professional manner and accept responsibility to check the facts.  Disclaim where they can’t check (pretty much the case now anyway).
4) Social network solution to evaluate the content contributions based on both the content itself and on peer review of the content.  Slashdot does this although that method may be too geeky for main stream bloggers.   

None of the above fully covers the liability issue, but it does go towards the “safe harbor” type training that companies conduct for HR issues.  If someone is guilty of sexual harassment, you are going to be fined, but if you have conducted safe harbor sexual harassment training for everyone in the company your fine is likely to be far less.  Your liability is less because you did educate everyone on what the rules are.  So MSM is probably liable to specify some standard for content shown on their branded site.

Either way it is just a matter of time before a published trackback post because a liability issue.  Do you feel lucky?