The Guardian publishes stats on the size of their commenting community
I don’t want to unnecessarily poke the hornet’s nest that is user reaction to the Guardian’s introduction of nested comments, but Chris Elliott’s recent column about it contains one fascinating stat, which I don’t think has been made public before:
“The Guardian website publishes around 600,000 comments a month, with 2,600 people posting more than 40 comments a month.”
I’m not aware of another newspaper website breaking down their community usage figure in that way, and identifying the size and activity of the heaviest users. It would be fascinating, for example, to compare that 2,600 figure with the people exhibiting the same sorts of behaviour on The Times’ website, behind their paywall.
Something else struck me about the numbers.
2,600 people posting at least 40 comments each adds up 104,000 comments, a significant chunk of the overall total of 600,000. That leaves a maximum of 496,000 comments being left by everybody else. Add the 2,600 prolific commenters, and you therefore have a maximum possible number of monthly commenters being 498,600.
How does that figure stack up against the Guardian’s overall audience, and the typical 90:9:1 rule about participation that people experience on the web?
Well, the Guardian’s audited audience figure for November 2012 was 70,566,108 unique users. 498,600 users leaving comments out of a total audience of 70.5million is 0.7% — not a million miles from the 1%.
The figures are fuzzy here though. It is unlikely that the 2,600 people mentioned all left just 40 comments each — it took me about five minutes to find four users who alone have left over 1,500 comments between them so far in December[1, 2, 3, 4], a number nearly ten times higher than a model of them making 40 comments each would predict. It is also unlikely that the remaining comments were all left by drive-by users making one comment each. Both of those trends would suggest 498,600 users is an over-estimation.
Equally, “unique users”, whilst being an agreed industry standard, does not track users across multiple devices or access points, and so will also over-estimate audience.
So, without the exact figures, people can argue themselves blue in the face about whether that 0.7% figure gets closer or further away from 1%.
But one thing is clear from the numbers in the article.
At least 20% of the comments left on the Guardian website each month come from only 2,600 user accounts, who together make up just 0.0037% of the Guardian’s declared monthly audience.
You might also be interested in “Guardian comment system changes: The perils of designing for all users, not just the vocal ones”