Posted by Derek Powazek on 23 July 2006 (8020 Publishing)
After Paul and I decided to commit to this new publishing venture fulltime, we talked a lot about what to name the company. We both have notebooks full of Simpsons neologisms, clever misspellings, and obscure references. But we finally settled on 8020 Publishing. Why? First, a brief history lesson.
In 1906, philosopher Vilfredo Pareto observed that 20% of the Italian population owned 80% of the property. Almost 40 years later, Joseph Juran generalized the observation as the Pareto Principle: 80% of a result is caused by 20% of the cases. Juran went on to become a management guru in the 50s and his Pareto Principle became better known as the 80/20 Rule.
The ratio crops up all over: from economics to art to sociology. In business the 80/20 Rule is typically interpreted to mean: Figure out the 20% of your workforce that does all the "real work" and treat them like kings. The other 80%? Pink slips galore! Of course, that's not what we mean here at 8020 Publishing.
We chose to name our company after this magic ratio because we wanted to embrace the way communities form online. In our experience, to maintain a healthy online community, you need to maintain another 80/20 split: 80% readers (the silent majority in any community, sometimes called lurkers), and 20% writers (the vocal minority, the people who power the conversation).
That's not to say that the 80% aren't important - they are. Without them, there'd never be those 20% of writers. It's the balance that's important. Everyone gets to be treated like kings.
Smart people may quibble about the numbers. Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo has a great post about the ratio he's observed: 1/10/100. In his ratio, 1% create, 10% synthesize, and the rest just consume. We hope to do better, but the basic gist is the same: Don't fall victim to the feel-good (but impossible) idea of 100% participation. Instead, make sure that everyone knows they can participate, embrace the natural patterns that appear, and remember that it's the whole of the community, in all its diversity, that needs to be healthy.
We look forward to putting these theories (and many more) to the test.
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