Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Long Tail of Digg and Wikipedia Usage

Slate reports:

Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1 percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site's edits. The site also deploys bots—supervised by a special caste of devoted users—that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.

The same undemocratic underpinnings of Web 2.0 are on display at Digg.com. Digg is a social-bookmarking hub where people submit stories and rate others' submissions; the most popular links gravitate to the site's front page. The site's founders have never hidden that they use a "secret sauce"—a confidential algorithm that's tweaked regularly—to determine which submissions make it to the front page. Historically, this algorithm appears to have favored the site's most active participants. Last year, the top 100 Diggers submitted 44 percent of the site's top stories. In 2006, they were responsible for 56 percent.
College OTR adds:
It turns out over 50% of all the edits are done by just .7% of the users ... 524 people. ... And in fact the most active 2%, which is 1400 people, have done 73.4% of all the edits.

There are millions of people who browse Wikipedia in any given month, but only 2 percent of them (roughly 1,400) are responsible for editing nearly 75 percent of the information on the entire website.
PopFAIL finds:
When looking at the last 500 front page stories on Digg, the top 10 submitters controlled a mind-boggling 31.4%
Both Digg and Wikipedia user participation are showing classic long tail distributions. Their distribution may be "longer" than most, meaning a smaller group accounts for more of the total than other long tails. How long the long tail is can be measured by by the exponent of the Pareto power law distribution with a lower value meaning a longer tail. If 1% of Wikipedia's users contribute 50% of edits this would have give it an exponent of 1.16. While that is pretty long, it is similar to the exponent value of 1.12-1.27 or the distribution of book sales or the value of 1.1 for the net worth of Americans.

Even though they have long tail distributions, this doesn't mean they aren't also democratic. On Digg, everybody still gets one digg per story. On Wikipedia, anyone can still chose to edit anything they want. That a small few spend a lot of time and contribute a lot does not take away from that. Anyone who wants to spend the time and effort can choose to be in that 1% that makes the largest contribution. Income tax contributions show a similar pattern with the top 1% contributing 40% of revenue and no one is saying that the US is not a democracy.

Instead of being amazed at how little the other 99% are contributing, we should be amazed that they still account for 50% of the total. If Wikipedia was a company it would likely have less than 700 employees, a number equal to 1% of its users. If they lost the other 99% of its users, it would lose 1/2 of its content. Even though they don't contribute much individually, together they still contribute a lot.

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