How to use 1–9–90 Framework to define our product customers?

1% creators + 9% contributors + 90% consumers

1–9–90 Participation Inequality

One day I was curious about

  • how do blogging platform creators sell themselves to investors?
  • what’s the business model for new age blogging platforms like medium?

Out of curiosity, I posted a question on Quora — How do entrepreneurs project the business model or the opportunity for a new blogging platform I’m still to get an answer but if you have some perspective please definitely contribute to it. However, my research led me to an interesting discovery — How Evan Williams positions who Medium is for?

Ev Williams’ Medium is Blogging for the 9%

What’s 9%?

It’s based on a commonly known theory of “Participation Inequality”, which states

“In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who consume, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action”

Evan Williams’ believes that Medium is for the 9% of the online population.

At first, this rule discouraged me, but later I found it’s a great framework to think about new products and opportunities. It helps me think a lot better in following ways

  • Customer Focus — It’s a simple yet great framework to think about who we are building the product for. For blogging platforms, Evan describes

While I disagree with the above conclusion but I still like the ability of an entrepreneur to have articulated his customer focus so succinctly. It’s a great learning for me.

  • 5% of 1% is still BIG — 1% of 2 billion online population is 20 million. If we can create something that could attract even 5% of that 20 million population, it would be 1 million creators, by definition our product would have attracted 9 million contributors and 90 million consumers totalling to 100 million users. Not bad. This explains why tons of products are aimed at developers. App Store and API services are a very good example of this.
  • It’s not a Rule but a Guideline (Friction for creation matters) — I think participation inequality is a function of friction involved in participation (creation). Instagram is a perfect example of a product that reduced friction for value creation on your photos so less that their participation inequality would not have looked like 1–9–90 instead 10–20–70 or may be 20–30–50. This probably explains why Quora wouldn’t scale as outrageously as photo/video sharing applications because the friction involved in creating the best answer is pretty high. I think there lies an interesting opportunity.

Neilsen Norman Group shares further insights and data points on “Downsides of Participation Inequality” and “How to overcome Participation Inequalityhere.

The other day over a discussion, a friend commented,

“probably people who create products to change the world represent 1% population on this planet”

We smiled, but he was probably right.

  1. Think of why only 1 student stands 1st in the class, following 9 students constitute the top 10 list, and rest everyone gains inspiration to move to top 10 one day and works harder throughout life.
  2. Even though Silicon Valley is the hub for software creators, only 1% create software businesses, 9% contribute to it and 90% simply consume these solutions.

When I look around through 1–9–90 framework’s lens, I see patterns and find logic in why things are they way they are. I think it’s quite powerful. It also gives me deep sense of respect for those 90% who give 1% and 9% a reason to live life the way they best could.