Monday, 28 May 2007

Lurkers are legitimate

I’ve been reading an article by Jonathon Bishop on Increasing participation in online communities.

Incidentally Jonathan went to the same University as me, the University of Glamorgan in the lovely Welsh Valleys, and it’s very likely that I served him a pint in the Uni bar or the local student pub, The Otley, run, funnily enough, by the Otley family, who are now brewing their own beer very succesfully, but that’s another story (and really sorry to hear that the lovely Alf Otley passed away last year).

Anyway, Jonathan Bishop talks about drivers for participation, predominately why “lurkers” don’t participate and how to get them to do so.

The paper has some interesting insights into motivation to participate in virtual communites, but my reaction to it has been adverse, due only to the fact that he uses the word lurker. Not his fault alone I admit, it’s a word that has been synonymous with online communities, but...

I hate the word lurker

Lurkers are actually valuable, in that they may, without ever participating in a community, be reflecting on what is being said, taking away valuable learning and sharing it outside of that particular community, within another, different community. They may encourage others to participate, we don't know...and we shouldn't judge.

I make a call to stop using the word lurker – it means to move furtively, to sneak about, has overtones of concealment and danger, and these people, these so called lurkers, deserve more respect.

Although I believe Lave and Wenger's category of Peripheral describes the behaviour of people who aren’t actively involved in a community, I prefer “readers” to lurkers…

Please can we all stop calling people who are valuable members of our communities lurkers and call them readers instead.

See the Virtual Community wikipedia entry for more on descriptive categories for involvement in online communities and encouraging participation.

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