Thanks to Google+ and Stephen Downes, there is a nice article on "lurking" by Christy Tucker, Lurking or Legitimate Peripheral Participation. I've written on the topic of lurkers several times. Christy closes her post with some interesting questions - along with the thoughts she poses throughout.
What do you think? Are there communities where you are in the center of the action, but others where you’re on the periphery? Is there a place for lurking in learning communities, or should everyone be an active participant? If we’re designing learning with social media, can we focus just on social learning, or can we also support use of social media for peripheral participation?
The problem with calling it "lurking" makes everyone think negative thoughts. Like our community is full of Peeping Tom's or other people with nefarious intent. People who don't talk are still participating and learning - just in some non-obvious ways. Number one: without people in the room, the community whithers and dies. Once the community grows, there is just no good way for everyone to raise their voice. In fact, the cacophony can run people off just as easily as not enough: communities develop their own balance in this regard.
So, what are some things that non-active (or peripheral) participants bring to a community?
- They advocate for new members.
- They build upon the ideas from one community in another.
- They may speak when they have something they feel like contributing.
- They are the audience to hear the conversation. (I know a very small fraction of the readers on my blog - and a similar number of the participants of my other regular hangouts. The fact that they are there keeps me writing.)
[Photo: "Peeping Tom" by Jessica Park]