Recently I was invited to join a Yammer community focused on learning. This morning one of the members asked a question about lurking. I thought I would also share my response here.
Most recently, I have had discussion about mature groups becoming clicks that don’t offer much comfort to new members (except pushy, assertive or very self-confident ones).
Other reasons include:
Time. People don’t have time. With all the information on the Net you have to prioritize. A lurker in one place may be very active elsewhere, but within the walls of a community, that isn’t visible (of course, in enterprise settings, this behavior can be identified, which raises issues about collaboration metrics – the topic of another day).
Intent: people lurk by design, looking for useful tidbits, which when found, they simply absorb and then wait again for something useful. They never intended to participate beyond taking.
Asked and Answered: people quickly jump on a topic and those who aren’t first remain lurkers because authoritative answers already exist.
Fear: they are lurkers everywhere, from classrooms to bars. Why should their behavior be any different on the Net? (We know that this isn’t universal, as some people do find the net freeing, sometimes in a not so good way, but I personally think most people eventually end up reflecting their real-world personality on the net)
The past: they engaged communities in the past, just to be ridiculed, disappointment that they didn’t get a response or appropriate kudos, or that their ideas were attacked.
Seriousness: they joined a community to discover that other don’t take the topic seriously, preferring to be silly, off-topic and inconsiderate.
Perfectionism: if they can’t formulate just the right answer, or worry about their typing or spelling, they may refrain from contributing because they don’t want to have the form of their answers scrutinized by the community.
This all fits with some of my concerns about open innovation and open source. We tout the openness of the web, but it is only open to those who are technologically and psychologically prepared to enter the sometimes harsh and rather un-nurturing world of the Internet.
For learning environments, we need to create communities where the members are known, where we can reach out personally to welcome and mentor members and where community standards are clear and enforced. This goes for education settings as well as enterprises. We can’t change proprietary communities where the norms must be gleaned, but can create nurturing communities when we control most of the variables.