Community Lurkers

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I found the concept of ‘lurkers’ in online communities to be a fascinating subject. Although, considering the community-like forum, it would make sense that there would be a category of lurkers. It seems that for a community to be successful, all members should contribute. This creates a rich environment of information that benefits the community at large. Without members and their contributions of varied interests, intellects, thoughts, and backgrounds, the community will possibly be rendered useless!

However, having depicted lurkers in a negative spotlight, I would like to disclose that as I was reading the article of “Inside a mind of an online community lurker”, I laughed. I laughed because I realized that I am myself a lurker. I tried to think of reasons for this lurking behavior of mine, and as I continued reading, I saw that some of the reasons they give for lurkers were actually my own hesitations on certain sites. Sometimes I just don’t know where to start on the site, and the idea of a welcome and help page is a perfect solution to this issue. Most of the time, I feel intimidated or shy. Here is this huge forum of people that I don’t know, who seem to know each other, and I’m just showing up to the party. So, the theory that there should be a separate place just for newcomers is also a brilliant solution. Then, I would have my own group of friends who were in the same boat as me, and I would feel more confident about contributing. Being bored with a site, or seeing a negative precedent are two more ways that lurkers come into being, though I haven’t felt these issues in too many sites. In general, if I don’t like the site, I just won’t join the community. The last topic, forgetting, has certainly happened to me. I like the idea of reaching out through media such as newsletters, to help ‘remind’ me of that particular online community. (Reed, 2009)

Lurking can apparently take on more than one form. “Active” lurking seems to be a positive form of lurking that actually helps online communities. In an MIT research study, active lurking makes up for about 40-50% of lurkers. These active lurkers visit a community to glean important and relevant information, and then pass that on to other members of other communities. Sometimes, the active lurker seeks out information on a topic, such as an answer in an Apple customer support community, and discovers an answer in that community instead of asking the Apple technicians. In effect, this saves Apple money. Lastly, though the active lurker may seem to be quiet within the online community, he may communicate with other members via other methods, such as a personal letter in an email. (Francois, 2010)

Essentially, though some lurkers may have a negative effect to an online community; usually they are lurking because of issues with the site, or are in actuality helpful active lurkers.

Francois (2010). Active lurkers – the hidden asset in online communities. Emergence Marketing. Retrieved from http://www.emergencemarketing.com/2010/02/18/active-lurkers-the-hidden-asset-in-online-communities/

Reed, M.  (2009).  Inside the Mind of Online Community Lurker.  CommunitySpark. Retrieved from http://www.communityspark.com/inside-the-mind-of-an-online-community-lurker/.

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