Are Lurkers Bad?

At the OCSI meeting yesterday, David Hartzband asked Johannes Ernst how many people he expected to have on the online workspace. Johannes said that we should keep it small for now, adding, “Lurkers don’t help us.”    (X5)

I’m probably being a bit unfair to Johannes in mentioning it here, but it got me thinking:    (X6)

  • Do lurkers help?    (X7)
  • Do lurkers hurt?    (X8)

My answer to both: Sometimes. Lurkers are part of a group’s latent energy; good things happen when that energy is activated. Lurkers are part of the all-important weak-tie network, and it’s important to keep them engaged, even if engagement does not translate to participation. However, having lots of lurkers as a community goes through its nascent “sausage stage” can hurt if it drives lurkers and other potential participants away.    (X9)

Here’s another question: Are lurkers members of a community? This question is left as an exercise to the reader.    (XA)

3 replies to “Are Lurkers Bad?”

  1. I generally don’t consider pure lurkers part of the community because nobody even knows that they’re there, but people who post very infrequently are part of a community. The way I draw the fundamental line between audience and member is like this: if a person’s presence whether real or perceived can influence the actions of a person or the interactions of a group then that person is indeed a member of the community. For example, if I knew that a leading expert on Java applications was potentially reading my comments, I would hesitate to say things like “Java sucks!”

    If we know that there are many people lurking and we want to put on a show for the lurkers hoping that someone will jump in then, in a certain sense they are a part of the community, but this is truer for the smaller communities than it is for big and bustling communities. Once things are very active, people are too busy dealing with the people that they _can_ see. The lurking audience becomes mostly an afterthought unless of course we’re talking about lurking authority as I mentioned above.

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