Democratisation in Web 2.0 and the participation inequality

Continuing to reflect on Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur, I can’t fail to notice how Web 2.0 influences our daily lives – from the way we implement projects, to the role of experts and non-experts in the generation of knowledge. Some of the promises of Web 2.0 are problematic – especially the claim for ‘democratisation’.

Although Keen doesn’t discuss this point, Jakob Nielsen’s analysis of ‘Participation Inequality on the Web’ is pertinent here. As Nielsen notes, on Wikipedia 0.003% of users contribute two thirds of the content, with a further 0.2% contributing something and 99.8% who just use the information. Blogs are supposed to have a 95-5-0.1 (95% just read, 5% post infrequently, 0.1% post regularly). In Blogs, this posting inequality is enhanced by readership inequalities on the Web (power laws are influencing this domain, too – top blogs are read by far more people).

This aspect of access and influence means that the use of the word ‘democratisation’ is a misnomer to quite an extent. If anything, it is a weird laissez-faire democracy, where a few plutocrats rule. Not a democracy of the type that I’d like to live in.

Published by

mukih

Professor of GIScience, University College London

2 thoughts on “Democratisation in Web 2.0 and the participation inequality”

  1. But I think a large ‘democratizing’ factor is that people COULD post (notwithstanding the people without access to the internet). It’s like voting, you can vote, but if 20% doesn’t vote, that’s their own choice.

  2. Joitske,
    If you take your metaphor further, I think that you’ll start getting into the type of problem that I’m pointing at. Imagine a democracy where the 80% do not vote ‘because it’s their choice’. Will we say that the results are fair or will we set out to investigate what happened and work hard on encouraging people to participate? See Saramago’s fantastic ‘Seeing’ for this scenario.

    Web 2.0 participation is so skewed that we must ask the question on how representative it is…

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