It seems like there are thousands of web communities online these days. A look into these communities, how they work and how people behave in them is the subject of new research conducted in October 2008 by Rubicon Consulting. They found that most of the people in these communities are what they call lurkers; people that read or observe what’s going on but they don’t make any contributions to the community. Lurkers make up an amazing 90% of these visitors. Only about 9% of users contribute comments, reviews or offer advice from time to time but they generally don’t bother to jump into the fray all that often. It’s the 1% of the people that account for most of the contributions in any given community. Web 2.0 veterans call this “participation inequality.”
Online communities have a substantial amount of influence on almost all web users. Product reviews, visitor comments and recommendations posted online are second to word-of-mouth as a way to drive sales for all web users. The scary part is that so many of the comments, advice and postings come from only 1% of the community. Two or three knuckleheads with a laptop can have a profound influence by posting messages and responding to questions that all the lurkers absorb as factual user-generated content. And that’s fine if this 1% is really knowledgeable and honest. But what if they are hired by the local plastic surgeon or a state tourism agency to say nice things about their client?
 While most online communities are self-policing and these enthusiastic community members are often exposed as undercover pitchmen, you have to wonder if it’s just a matter of time before they perfect their craft a little and influence the masses. 
Dan McKillen is president & CEO of the HealthDay news service