Monday, June 15, 2009

Are your community's lurkers healthy lurkers?

I facilitated a teleconference with Mirjam Neelen for CPsquare. Mirjam is doing a thesis on this topic and shared her literature research with us. It struck me how much more you dive into a topic if you have to facilitate it, you suddenly feel more responsible and really invest in the topic. I've blogged about lurking before, investigating whether lurking in online forums is a sort of legitimate peripheral participation that leads to people learning about the practices of a community of practice. This time we tried to analyze whether lurking in online forums is a problem or a bliss for companies. The definition of lurking is as people who NEVER post, hence they don't share their questions, ideas or suggestions online.

What did I learn about lurking? First, most of all recognized that lurking can be very positive. Lurking into an online forum because you feel you are a novice can make you more expert. Or scanning a wide variety of online forum to know what's happening in other fields (helps boundary crossing). Something that really struck me in Mirjam's paper was the observation by Stegbauer that if participants remained inactive for the first four months, the likelihood for them to become active was minimized. I recognized this from my own behaviour. That means there is a crucial period to try and get participants active, to stimulate active participation. Mirjam outlined a wide variety of barriers that may lead to lurking behaviour and withold members from posting:
  • Interpersonal barriers- loss of face
  • Procedural barriers- people don't buy into the recommended ways of sharing (could be called preferential barriers?)
  • Technological barriers - lack of technological aptitude
  • Cultural barriers- crosscultural differences
'Healthy' lurking processes are probably situation where people are novices and learn by lurking or interdisciplinary lurking. It becomes unhealthy when important information and knowledge is missed out because of the above mentioned barriers. Suppose an online community is missing out all major experts because they continue to change offline, then some bridging needs to be done to ensure the online community doesn't become marginalized and mediocre. I guess an analyisis of inbound trajectories whereby people move from lurking to being active or core members are key to seeing whether lurking is healthy. What are the community's practice to stimulate sharing of ideas and perspectives?

What did I learn about online facilitation? I made it into a sort of exercise in online facilitation for myself, designing and online-teleconference-online sequence. The idea was to collect lurker stories online, discuss the research focussing on lurking behaviour in online corporate community forums, and go back online to brainstorm about research questions. The first part worked well, but there was no energy to go back online to discuss the research questions. I think I should have changed the initial plan into a topic that might have attracted more energy for the participants of the teleconference, like research methodologies. What really paid off was to prepare it all together beforehand in a skype session. That's an investment that really pays off in terms of quality.
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Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Joitske!

I too have written about lurkers, and share with you the idea that lurking can be a positive 'activity'. I am fascinated with what you say about the first four months though, and I'd like to unpack that if I may (unfortunately I get a Page Load error when I attempt to access your CDsquare link).

Is the likelihood that a four month period of inactivity leads to minimal activity in the future a causal effect? Or is it just that when it is identified that four months of attempting to actively engage a lurker has passed, the likelihood is that they will continue this way?

From my own observation, (and belief confirmed by observation) lurkers who can sustain four months of inactivity are never likely to change anyway. In fact, the reason that they sustained four months of inactivity is simply because that's how they are.

I reiterate what I quoted Caleb Clark as saying, "Let the lurkers lurk."

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Joitske said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm also intrigued by the four months. I think it is also the period in which our habits form. So when there is nothing happening in these four months to draw you in, the period is over.

I don't believe in 'that's how they are'- in our online exchange we realized we are all lurkers for different reasons in different online communities!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Joitske

Whatever the reason for lurking or responding, what we do and how we behave, in the environment that we reside, is due to how we are.

If we didn't behave that way, we'd be behaving like someone else. Frankly, I behave like me, unless I'm playing charades.

You are right to suggest that the environment makes a difference whether a person may lurk or not. But what brings them to lurk in one environment and perhaps respond in another must surely be a feature of 'how they are'. Else how would they possess the personality that they most certainly own?

Catchya later

euforic said...

Did you have any discussion about personality types and web2 use, have been discussing this at imwg2009 and found this article interesting.

Joitske said...

@Ken, I think it's a combination of personality and being attracted to an online community because of the topic and culture.. I keep on thinking about imported trust. People with online trust will find it easier to jump in.

@euforic we didn't discuss style- but it's of huge interest to me. Why can some people jump into web2.0 and other not? I think you need to be experimental to say the least...Thanks for the article!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...


You mean like this?