Crowd Wise 3d: Does size play a role? (Group Identity)

Friendship is a plant of slow growth
Mark Twain  

According to popular statements regarding the ideal size of a community, the number 150 pops up frequently, however many, if not most, groups aimed at global teachers exceed this number.  

However, many, if not most, blended-learning communities made up of students fall significantly short of this.

When it comes to the e-communities you run or have joined, which do you prefer?  Why?

What happens when the online community is too big?

What happens when the online community is too small?

Is there a just right?

How about the speed of growth?

When a tribe grows rapidly do you feel ignored, your needs unmet or unnoticed?  Alternatively, have you even been frustrated by communities which seem to be growing slowly?  Why?


Update 15.02.10
Nice link, hat tip @lclandfield: Seth's Blog, Viral Growth trumps lots of faux followers

This posting is part of the Crowd Wise series and is in part my preparation for the swap-shop I will be hosting on web-based communities at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, April 8th 2010.  Your answers, as brief or as in-depth as you'd like to be, is very much appreciated!

To subscribe to all the posts within this specific series, copy and paste this url:

Note: if you would like to participate in this conversation anonymously, please do feel free to do so.  Alternatively, if you would like to specifically mention an online educational community when making reference to your experiences, adding your group's name and/or its URL, you are most welcome to!

12 Responses to “Crowd Wise 3d: Does size play a role? (Group Identity)”

  • monika hardy says:
    February 13, 2010

    I think size depends on the purpose for the community - and your passion for connecting to that community.

    We have a class Ning that is now around 160 members... This is just a gut feeling - but there were two times participation seemed to peak. In the initial stages, the 30 original members were experiencing something new... they were creating study groups, etc. And couldn't seem to get enough.
    The other - after we hit around 100 - because then the groups starting growing with those outside...
    Currently, continued population increase, only seems to be increasing participation. Maybe because it's an alternative way to do school? I can't see size getting in the way here.

    I also am a member of Triiibes - an experience I wouldn't trade. Initially though - I felt extremely overwhelmed. Like a pebble in the ocean. People were nice, but I never knew where I was or where I should be. Once I realized - there is no should - size doesn't seem to matter.

    Groups formed within both groups have been both successful and unsuccessful - as far as participation. Not quite sure if it has to do with size?...or too many options? ... or original intent in the group's formation...

    Can't wait to see your presentation dear...

    February 13, 2010

    Hi Monika,
    The experience you're giving your teens will have such a lasting effect on their whole lives. I can't forget talking to them via Skype - that was a wild experience and thank you so much for inviting me to that. By the way, you know I told my students (adults) about what you're doing - they were so impressed.

    Me too re Triiibes - no.1 thing am grateful for is meeting you :-) (well, online - but hey we know what each other sounds like, LOL)
    definitely, like you I was initially completely overwhelmingly, overwhelmed.

    I'm actually kinda glad that Seth has stopped it from growing further and we can norm a bit - even though there are actually some people I would very much like to invite there.

    Size is a funny thing. It really goes to that P in PLN. Is it a Professional or personal network. How many people can you be really personal with.

    I suppose it depends on the platform - I love meeting new folks and sometimes those new tweeters I meet quickly become good online amigos but sometimes I think I may have really settled into a clique with the ones who joined around the time I did.

    But in my own community I try to know everyone - know their blogs and what they're doing. It's not always possible but I try - I think if we grew too big I wouldn't be able to do that.


  • nasri says:
    February 14, 2010

    Hi Monika, I am so interested in subjects. I am also a teacher of English in a high school, in Morocco, North Africa. I think you have already heard of Connecting Classrooms Online sponsored by British council which aims at creating a collaborative world. If so, I wonder if we could put that aim into practice. My pupils -16 to 18 years old have already elaborated their own projects under my supervision and if your pupils are ready to get in touch with mine just to share their knowledge and to understand each other via Emails please let me know.

  • Gavin Dudeney says:
    February 14, 2010


    Interesting set of postings (if my back holds out I'll visit some of the others and post too!) This may be the first year when the majority of presenters at conferences are crowdsourcing some of their material (I know I am) from blogs, Twitter, etc., and I'm looking forward to seeing how that works out at big conferences such as IATEFL.

    The size question is an interesting one. I can see new members getting lost or feeling alone in really big communities which already have their 'big players' and sub-groups of friends, yet really small groups might miss out on the ideas, seeding and cross-pollination that big groups achieve. Again, I reckon it might not be so much a question of numbers as of quality.

    I think often the 'quantity' issue is more important to the person nominally running (or who set up) the community. One of the concepts I particularly like is the 90-9-1 one ( as it not only explains the dynamic of most user-based communities, but can go some way towards explaining (if not excusing) the lack of interaction on the part of most members.

    I'm conscious of the fact that most of my comments in this series of yours keep returning to the 'quality' over 'quantity' concept, but I reckon (at least for me) that's right up there in terms of success.

    Also very much looking forward to seeing this talk. You're doing it at TESOL Spain first, right? The one time TESOL Spain is just down the road from me, I'm going to be a way away in Dubai, but I'll definitely be there in Harrogate.


    February 14, 2010

    Gav, I have to confess that I hate the 90-9-1 "rule"... does anyone else?

    But I do s'pose it makes sense - it kind of goes back to the conversation on the type of platform, methinks.

    To be honest, I reckon 90-9-1, is more apparent in larger groups - are they more prone to develop lurkers than smaller groups?

    I've had so many different kinds of experiences in communities:

    direct students who are required to contribute tend to on a fairly equal level so far.

    Some write less than others, some seek out new things at a different rate... and experiment with new tools but it's too early to say what it will all boil down to in the end.

    When I was running an anonymous group of students on Xing I found that very quickly one person did step out as the group leader however I never found the other 9 :-) to actively participate so it was 98-1-me and I lost interest.

    I wonder if passion of the moderator is connected to the size a group can grow to feasibly?

    In the yahoo!groups I belong to - all quite large - some are filled with a huge amount of communicators, others are just ghost towns with no one adding or sharing anything!

    Which brings us to the question of quality... how do you (you personally) define quality?

    Is quality related to quantity of contributions/activity... oooh, I have so many questions for you, really wish I could have bought you a beer or five in Spain next month and raided your brain!

    (But no, TESOL Spain, is on setting up Nings with students and the type of activities one can do there, not strictly a swap-shop like this one).

    Thanks for sharing with me!

    February 14, 2010

    Hi Nasri,

    How can I put you and Monika in touch with each other? If you would like, am happy to do this- just email me and then I'll share your details with her or vice versa! Happy global connecting!


  • emapey says:
    February 15, 2010

    The dunbar number (150)appñies to your friends. Since it takes a lot of time to make and follow friends, the number is limited. By friends I mean,

    You probably don't need to become friend with all members of a community. You are just interested to learn, teach and discuss with them some topics. There is no need to limit the members of the community

    Very few members contribute in a community and it is also my experience that only 10% of them will join again the community, if needed (the 90-10-1 rule)

    February 15, 2010

    Thanks so much for your contribution, emapey.

    Both you and Gavin quoted the 90-9-1 rule and with complete respect to both of you and your experience, is it okay if I disagree while I think this thing through?

    Thing is, right, I can't think of a single group where I've seen that.

    Off to quickly look at two groups and do a quick perusal of the last 100 messages in each.


    as in 70 who post once is a blue moon or simply say hello then never return.

    10? who post once a quarter or so.

    20? who regularly contribute, at least once every fortnight.

    9 or so who contribute at least once a week.

    1 moderator.

    depends on the topic of the time...

    And I could go on, going through the various platforms (because it does seem to be platform AND size dependent, different sorts of activity on bigger/smaller communities)....

    My point though, is 90-9-1

    1 creator
    9 editors
    90 watchers



    OR am I seeing something crazy - do let me know :) cause this is what I (think I sort of see

    1 or more creators
    3 - 8 "editors"
    5 - 15 frequent contributors
    15 - 20 infrequent contributors
    60 - 75 readers, lurkers, boundary members etc

    + of course, the 1 flamer, spammer, stirrer of pots etc (who, actually, does have his place in developing community: hero against the antagonist, yada, yada)

    Anyone else had these sorts of thoughts or are you pretty much in agreement with

    Jack McGee


    February 15, 2010


    Do want to add that I do mean with regard to learning communities - so not what happens on wikipedia, youtube, etc - but instead the 90-9-1 as applied to what happens on e-platforms designed for either students or teachers to meet and collaborate/share information.

  • elizabeth_anne says:
    February 17, 2010

    Reading When a tribe grows rapidly do you feel ignored, your needs unmet or unnoticed
    but I never knew where I was or where I should be. Once I realized - there is no should - size doesn't seem to matter
    reminds me of how long it took me to feel at ease, and how helpful I found Vance Sevens remarks which basically have led me to realise that one cannot/does not follow an online community as one would participate in a f2f community and Vance's image of a firehydrant at which you sip how and when you can, and leave the rest to rush by really gave a different perspective on the whole thing. And so in this context (and of course I am not talking about groups set up by teachers for learners) speaking about ideal numbers is a bit of a non-starter! 3 or 4 people can help each other along a little way, whereas of course without a minimum number - the whole aspect new people / new ideas would be lacking. Basically - why should a group, set up for a specific reason, last (over time). which seems to be one of the criteria for a "successful" group - or is it?

  • Eric says:
    February 19, 2010

    Consider me slightly astonished at how much time, energy, creativity, and intelligence is summoned together by these new communities. After teaching four university classes, I simply have less time and energy to contribute as much as I would like. Perhaps the group leaders sometimes feel neglected by the lack of feedback on numerous projects, but I would caution against drawing grand conclusions about "90%" who might choose to be less active than desired. Personally, I'm frequently just please to read - lurk if you prefer - and collect ideas.
    I'd also like to note that I've been surprised at how close one can feel to people who I've never actually meet in person. Still, this author-reader dynamic has a centuries long tradition. So please have a little patience with those members who have to read more student essays than blog updates!

  • Tara Benwell says:
    February 20, 2010

    It is my great fear that new potentially active members on MyEC will feel ignored when they first join the community and give up. I recently set up a "Welcoming Committee" where active members are helping me out voluntarily by offering to comment on student blogs, send birthday greetings, share favourite links etc. The great thing about the Ning is that members can create their own small groups. While the community as a whole is large it is the smaller communities within(ex. the Writing Challenge Group or the chat room regulars or those focusing on a certain skills like vocab building) that really get the most out of it. I'm sure there are many communities that I am not even aware of, but that was sort of the point of MyEC-it's their place to design and create on their own and I'm confident they are learning English as they build.


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