Is the Web half full or half empty?

Lots of chat out there about the latest Pew study into how people use the Interweb. These studies are useful in part because the Pew Internet & American Life Project does such a thorough job with them — you know they weren’t cooked up by marketing types to sell more banner ads. The latest one (PDF is here) looks at how many people engage in “Web 2.0” activities such as blogging, commenting, posting photos, etc.

social.jpgGreg Sterling has a good breakdown of the results at Search Engine Land, and so does Jordan McCollum at Marketing Pilgrim. But what’s interesting about a lot of the reaction to the study is how pessimistic it is — some speculate that Web 2.0’s upside “is capped”, or point out that “nearly half say no” to Web 2.0, or gloat that geeks are “in the minority.” John Paczkowski of All Things D says that it’s clear from the study that Web 2.0 “has far fewer participants than its architects would have us believe.” But is that really clear? I don’t think so. Did I miss the part where Tim O’Reilly or the other “architects” of Web 2.0 said everyone would be blogging and posting content within a year or two? I must have.

And while most seem to be somewhat depressed by the results of the study, I was pleasantly surprised to find how *many* people engage in “Web 2.0”-type activities. The study says that when asked about things that include blogging, posting comments to a blog, uploading photos or video, creating webpages or mixing and mashing content from other sites, 37 per cent of those surveyed said they had done at least one of those things.

What’s not to like about a number like that? I was expecting the proportion to be much smaller — along the lines of the emerging 1-9-90 rule of thumb for social media, where about one per cent of people create content, 9 or 10 per cent consume it and about 90 per cent couldn’t care less about it. I find the fact that almost 40 per cent of people blog, upload photos, post comments and so on cause for considerable optimism.