Euan Semple said something very interesting recently in some thoughts about Being Human.
The biggest challenge to getting people to share isn't to do with technology it is to do with very personal challenges and issues that relate to their sense of self and their relationship with their employers.
He has heard in various ways that "people are afraid to say what they think."
I have generally gone with the party line in knowledge management and online community circles: we should expect the vast majority of participants to be quiet most of the time, a smaller number to be active more frequently, and a very small number to be participating often. This is usually known as the 90-9-1 Rule, referencing percent of participants in each of these buckets. Knowledge management people know this, and the general category for the 90% is "lurkers" - people who are in the community but never appear to participate.
Euan gives voice to another reason why people "lurk" - or maybe why they never jump into the community in the first place. They are afraid to speak up for deeper reasons than the typical why people lurk suggestions. If this is so, there are many other things about the business world that need to change before this group of people will become engaged. I have to wonder: Do they trust their employer? Does their employer trust them? What is it about the way we indoctrinate people into organizational culture that limits their faith in their own intellect? Does business really want its people asking questions? Do you ever hear the phrase "out of turn" in connection with asking questions - that is clearly a question from the mindset that people shouldn't be asking.
[Photo by hhbc photos of a man drying beans - get it "human beans"?]