Several in the blogosphere have commented on this diagram from Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo! about how social communities scale. Horowitz divides the community of value creators into three camps: creators (those who might start a thread), synthesizers (those who participate actively and comment), and consumers (lurkers who read or otherwise benefit from the content). He sees an order of magnitude relationship between the groups: 100% of the community benefits (consumers), though only 10% (synthesizers) are active participants in response to the actions of the 1% who actually create. His fundamental point: "social software sites donít require 100% active participation to generate great value."
This kind of power law relationship is common to a lot of human activity, and there's a whole literature around Zipf's Law (including a few Blogos posts). As one example, churches are typically directed by a small handful (pastoral staff) with a vision and a full-time commitment to accomplishing it. Typically a significant cadre of committed personnel (the core) are required for public worship services, including music, facilities, etc. And then there's the congregation (or attenders) as a whole: the consumers. I've been in many churches that struggle with "how do we get more people involved in leadership?" (which usually means "helping run the organization"). But i think this is just the way groups behave: while it's a nice ideal, it's not realistic to expect 100% of your attenders to get actively involved, and it's not necessary for them to derive benefit.
One of my Valentine's Day gifts to donna was an audio lecture series (42 CDs!) on Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition. She listens to them as she's exercising, and i've been doing the same. It's a great academic overview and sampling of literary history, from the earliest (Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Old Testament) to William Faulkner.
In today's lecture on Aeschylus, the classic Greek tragedian, the speaker was describing the organization of a Greek play, and the relationship between the actors and the chorus. Typically there would only be three actors, and therefore each played a variety of roles, using masks to identify their different roles (and to hide the distraction of it being the same person each time). The chorus would be 15 or 18 people, often from the margins of society (the elderly, or slaves): their role was not to actively tell the story, but only to comment on the action, providing background information, or representing the opinion of the common person. And then of course, there was the audience, often numbered in the thousands, watching the play itself.
The old becomes new again ...
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