Monday, April 23, 2007


I guess I'm not Web 2.0-compatible

While following links, I came upon Steve Rubel's post, "The Participation Ladder and Its Impact on Marketing and PR", which was a gushing embrace of a report written by someone at Forrester Research about how online communities function. Obviously I was curious, so I followed the link to learn more.

What I found was an uninformative table of contents, and that a copy of this report cost $279.00. And that there's an intreguing graphic on Rubel's page that uses the metaphor of a ladder to explain depths of participation.

This was the point where I was planning to pontificate about how non-proprietary solutions were created because someone couldn't afford to pay for a proprietary solution. The example I had in mind was Linus Torvalds posting a request to Usenet, asking for a copy of the POSIX standard so he could accurately write his own version of UNIX -- only to discover how much a copy of those standards cost; so he reverse-engineered his own version. (Yes, this became Linux.) Then again, he wasn't entirely on his own in writing his own version of UNIX from scratch: he did have a couple informative books to draw on like Andrew Tanenbaum's Operating Systems: Design and Implementation. And I was going to comment about the graphic being pretty.

But the more I stared at that graphic, the more puzzled it left me.

For example, it stated that 52% of an on-line comunity were "Inactives" -- which I understood meant that they were lurkers, the folks who watched the content being being created, but never made their presence known. Then I noticed that there was a group called "Spectators", who were 33% of the community, and from the definition of that group, they better fit the description of lurkers. So who was this 52%? The type of people who said things like "One of these days, I'm going to read Wikipedia so I can be part of this cool Web 2.0 thing"?

Then I started adding up the percentages of the several groups, and found that not only did they fail to total to 100%, I couldn't figure out a way to juggle the figures so that they would total 100%. By this, I mean maybe each group was a subset of the group immediately below it on the ladder: the 13% who were creators were a subset of the 19% who were critics (because 13 is smaller than 19, and this would imply that 13% of the community both criticize and create, but 6% only criticize) but then I found that the 15% who were collectors didn't fit so nicely inside of 19%. Maybe the groups overlap each other to some degree; I was left with the impression that someone had baked up some conclusions, maybe did some research (or did not), and was glad I learned all of this without having to spend $279.00. (And it's very possible that someone like Ross Mayfield has already stated everything that might be useful in that report in this post, where it can be read for free.) One thing I'm certain about is that I'll hear from someone about my conclusions, demanding that I explain how I could write that a research paper I had never read was worthless.


Update: For an example of the kind of diagram I was hoping to find, consider Evan Prodromou's diagram illustrating "crowdsourcing" from his presentation last month at SXSW, which can be seen on Angela Beesley's blog with copious notes and links. I have yet to hear his presentation (or view his slides), yet from that one diagram I know exactly what he has to say.

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Gosh! You'd almost think they were selling dot-com-2.0 snake oil in an opaque bottle.
Here's the complete set of Evan's slides: You may want to take a look at the slide that followed the crowdsourcing diagram (it says "Eff That")...
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