Crowd Wise 4b: Lurkers are..? (Roles)

You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces,
but a unique human being, and if you've got something to say,
say it, and think well of yourself while you're learning to say it better.
David Mamet

I do not participate or contribute to every online educational group I belong to.  I do not comment on every blog post I read: sometimes I feel intimidated by the other contributors, sometimes I am not sure that I have anything of value to add to the conversation, sometimes I do not know what is expected or appreciated...


And sometimes, I just don't have the time to write out a response.

As discussed in 3d, Does size play a role, Jack McGee puts the ratio of lurkers to non-lurkers at  90:10  |edited 02.03.10, previously read 90%, see comments|   

I debunk that theory - when it comes to educational communities - because I have noticed that it tends to be platform and purpose determined, however, agree that it is the larger percentage of any group, even when educational.

So my question is, who are the people we do not see on our platforms, our blogs, on Twitter?

What is their role and how does it compare to their roles in real-life?  Are they the quiet ones in the staff room, the silent listeners at a party? 

If you run an online educational group yourself, what do you do to encourage these members to contribute the value of their wisdom to the community?

If you are what is popularly termed as a lurker (silly word), would you mind breaking the silence just for today (you can do it anonymously) to let us know why you stay silent? 
Thank you!


This posting is part of a series, Crowd Wise, and is, in part, preparation for the swap-shop on web based communities at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, April 8th, 2010.  Your answers, as brief or as in-depth as you'd like to be, is very much appreciated!

To subscribe to all the posts within this specific series, copy and paste this url:

Note: if you would like to participate in this conversation anonymously, please do feel free to do so.  Alternatively, if you would like to specifically mention an online educational community when making reference to your experiences, adding your group's name and/or its URL, you are most welcome to!

29 Responses to “Crowd Wise 4b: Lurkers are..? (Roles)”

  • Eva Buyuksimkesyan says:
    February 22, 2010

    Hi Karenne,

    when I think about my staffroom, I'd say, they are the ones
    1. who can't find time
    2. who don't care (I mean they think,'I teach in the class, when the class is over, I take my bag and leave'.Unfortunately they are the worst in the group. They may be good teachers but....
    3. who don't want to share the things they create but ready to use the things created by others. (they are a majority, believe me)
    4. who don't want to be online

    February 22, 2010

    I'm not sure Eva... the thing is, for example, with blogs - I never really commented on them before I became a blogger even though I read them for years and even when I came out of the background - it took me forever to figure out that you could talk back - I think I may even have written to Alex Case once or twice via email before being brave enough to leave my thoughts online for the whole world to see!

    And with communities, the same - I mean who cared what I thought about an issue, I'm just a teacher you know.

    But I think it took getting truly fed-up with some clap-trap about technology raised in um, a group I won't name but let's just say that there are a lot of people in that particular online community that don't think online technology has a place in language learning and teaching - so when I jumped in, I did it with guns blazing.

    To be honest, I still regret some of the things I said while totally pissed off and even though I got over it, I wonder if some people keep out of discussions because they don't want to say things they wished they hadn't said later.

    You know what I mean?

    I ponder on no.3 - honestly sometimes (I know, this is going to sound ridiculous coming from me with the amount of stuff I have on here for free) I wonder...

    I think about this so much of the time because of the "pirates" out there - I'm going to talk about them when I do a post on Threats to community but I, unfortunately, have had some things (ideas, lesson plans) "robbed" and um, even, shall we say, "re-authored" and it mightily pissed me off... perhaps some people are right to be a bit cautious with what they share when others think that if something is free they can take it and add their names!

    Hmm hmmm...

  • Andy says:
    February 22, 2010

    In terms of online communities I think Eva's possible examples 2 and 4 don't work. People who have made the effort to read something or be a part of a community, obviously do care.

    I think 3 is overly cynical - I suspect it does apply to one or two people, but I really don't think it's a majority of people.

    I think then for me the possibilities are:
    1. People who feel they don't have enough time to contribute
    2. People who are shy or unsure of how to get involved
    3. People who are interested in the topic at hand but don't feel they have anything interesting/original/worthwhile to contribute
    4. People who have been burned before and have had a bad experience in online communities, and are therefore understandably reticent to get involved again
    5. If it's a community/blog etc which uses English as the language of community, then people who are worried about the accuracy of their English

    I'm not really a lurker by nature, but I have - in certain circumstances - lurked before (and all of reasons 1-4 have been part of my various lurkings). And I don't see lurking as a problem (it's only a problem if everyone lurks!)

  • David Warr says:
    February 22, 2010

    Hi Karenne

    As I'm new to blogs, I still see them as static, something to read, hopefully enjoy and then go and do my work, but for fear of being branded a lurker, and in response to your request, here I am. So thanks for the push! Actually, mostly I agree with Andy's no.3, not having anything to say. Bye.

  • @teachernz/Michael says:
    February 22, 2010

    Lurking is legitimate peripheral participation. For me it took about 2 years before I managed to dive in and start leaving comments, participating etc.

    We need to lurk in new communities so we can decide what the rules/etiquette is... for many it eventually leads to a leap of faith... a connection that launches them into a whole new world.

  • Alex Case says:
    February 22, 2010

    I very nearly lurked here, and am probably at about a 90% lurker, i.e. only comment on 10% of the blog posts I read. I probably reached 50% at one point, but that was back in the days when I was a young and enthusiastic blogger and there was so little competition I could quite easily have commented on every TEFL blog post published and been the first or even only comment half the time. The fact that those days are long gone have something to do with my percentage now. I'd summarize my reasons as:
    - Someone's already said exactly what I was going to say (this is the reason- honest- that I always seem to be disagreeing with everyone everywhere when I do comment)
    - I don't have time to read all the other comments before commenting and don't want to repeat or make an argument that has already been refuted
    - I've talked or written about the same point too many times before
    - I basically just want to give a link to a relevant post or page on my blog, and can't think of a nice way of dressing that up as a less hit hungry comment
    - When it came time to comment I suddenly remembered I'd come on the internet for entirely another reason, e.g. to plan a lesson

  • Unknown says:
    February 22, 2010

    Hello, and thanks for asking. I lurk because I don't have anything to add. I am really learning a lot reading all these blogs and sometimes I retweet things. I often think there should be more that I can do than just retweet but generally I just take it in. That is not too different to what I do in a large face to face group meeting. When I'm in a small group I'm the first person to turn on delicious and show something I've found but I do like to just plant a seed and leave the discussion to the experts.

    When there is just one person sitting next to me and a computer I can't stop myself and I think I sometimes overwhelm people with all the resources at their fingertips. I think for me, it's a group thing, I've never wanted to stand out in the crowd and the crowd here is just too big to even see.

    Eva - I do hope it's not really like that, and if there are teachers in my kids schools classrooms like that, that there are enough other people there and students to inspire them to join in this wonderful learning environment we're in. I'm hoping Andy is closer to the truth.

  • Tara Benwell says:
    February 22, 2010

    To encourage members to be more active in our community I do a few things:
    1) Offer challenges that might be of interest to some. I do my best to comment back or respond to those who take time to participate. My main goal is that my challenges will inspire others (students and teachers) to create their own challenges. Some work, some don't.

    2) Offer members the freedom (and encourage them to use it) to bring their own creativity to the community. They can create their own interest groups, start games, open discussions etc. As they experiment they are also learning computer and web 2.0 skills that they will use in future jobs or courses.

    In my opinion, the number one reason people become inactive in communities is because they don't have time. There is just so much out there and we lead busy lives. The members who are currently the most active are likely in a period in life when they have time to be online. Tomorrow they might have a baby, get engaged, start college and we may never see these people again. That's okay too.

    February 22, 2010

    David, Michael, Kelly - can I just quickly say THANK YOU so much for contributing to this conversation -I'm really pleased to get your thoughts on this and honored that you broke lurkdom :-).

    David, don't worry - same thing happens to me, sometimes I simply have nothing to say either!

    Michael, welcome to the new crazy world of talking to people through text on a blog! It's completely mad isn't it? I still remember how thrilled I was the first time I wrote on Alex's blog and he answered me!!!

    Kelly, watch out - I um, use to, um, refer to myself as a shy person who liked her very quiet and private life... um, um... the whole life of the crowd thing through becoming a blogger is mostly just weird.

    February 22, 2010

    Hi ya Alex,

    I know, there are really a lot more blogs these days, aren't they?

    Now that I am feeding them into my reader I tend to comment a lot less but also feel a lot less mad and a bit more focused in my commenting (I hope).

    The funny thing is, some of the blog posts I really, really admire I don't have anything to add.

    I mean nothing, zip, it was top notch or crackingly funny or deeply reflective and I enjoyed the read very much but well what am I going to say, "nice post," - I'll end up just looking like I'm there for the link?

    Nah, so I move on and think hey, nice post I'll bookmark it and highlight it for the end of month wrap-ups and then they'll get the link instead :-).

    February 22, 2010

    Hi Tara, 100% agree with you on the time issue, this world is changing so fast and we're seeing all kinds of new communities cropping up all the time and there really is only so much space that can be given to such and such project or community.

    I love the way you involve your community and provide challenges to keep them coming back and contributing. And you mentioned a very big and important factor, recognition (ego-boo).

    In one of the communities I belong to something occurred there recently and the online moderator may well have responded privately but if he did, rather than publicly, we don't know and so it looks (well, it screams) I don't care about xyz's contribution.

    No online leader can be everywhere all of the time but paying attention to valid contributions is such an important part of e-community life.

    February 22, 2010

    Hi Andy, you raise some very valid points in 4 and 5.

    It can be very scary and emotional when when one gets involved in an online disagreement - part of the factor, is that you can't even see who it is that you're disagreeing with and the power-play can feel severely wonky and traumatic. I definitely think that has something to do with lurking.

    And 5 is a really good point, I belong to a Xing group (that's another online platform where a lot of Germans hang out) and while my German is okay and I can read what's being discussed, there's zero way that I'd submit my thoughts and have my sentence structures torn to pieces -thank you for bringing up this very valid point.

    Anyhoo, feel free to lurk here - always glad to have you and always glad to hear from you too.


  • Richard says:
    February 23, 2010

    Hello. I thought I'd post something as I lurk on this blog (and many others) a fair amount and rarely comment.

    I agree with the points made about having nothing to add. Sometimes I just don't read a blog until it's had loads of comments, then because of this, I don't have time to read all the comments, so can't really join in.

    Also, if I'm really honest, I feel that there's a bit of a edublogging clique and see the same names everywhere. It's like an 'in-crowd' and it feels odd to get involved. It would be like sitting on a train next to a large group of chattering strangers and just butting in on their conversation, something I don't generally do!

    Finally, to support Eva a bit, I've had the misfortune to come across quite a few teachers like that, particularly point no. 2. However, I don't think they'd generally spend time lurking on educational blogs.

    Anyhow, I've set myself a goal to get involved more online, so there's my comment!

    February 23, 2010

    Hi Richard! Thanks for saying hey and to contributing to my blog, to commenting and life and teaching online :-)

    I think that's a very valid point you made about thinking that there is a clique - I felt the same way when I started out... made me feel very shy and stupid about adding my thoughts to the conversation especially when I said something and the blogger(s) didn't respond!

    Which is something I forget to do sometimes too, to acknowledge the contribution even when I've very much enjoyed it - but also, I confess, sometimes the teachers who write me back know so much about so much (sometimes they're important authors) and then I'm sort of scared about responding properly - or what if I respond with something really silly!

    But blogging (in terms of community -there are better platforms for this) is really about sharing and growing and all that mush stuff - it's about bashing out ideas and brainstorming new ones.

    Eva contributed hugely by adding her thoughts and yes, it is true, we all do know that teachers like the ones she described exist in real life so thank you for backing her up on this - but like you, reckon, they're not usually hangin' out on Nings, in Forums or on Blogs, LOL!

    Take care and thanks again for talking back!


    February 23, 2010

    p.s. Forgot to say:

    Break the clique!

    It's not really a clique or a bunch of people that exist in a bubble, it's just that there are so few people who comment - that's the main reason you see the same names everywhere - because it is usually the same handful of edubloggers who go out and talk back.

    And also, EduBloggers love being drawn into conversations (that's why they blog) so they go and visit back the people that have commented on their blogs.. so it looks like a clique but isn't, if that makes sense!



  • Richard says:
    February 23, 2010

    Hi again,

    Thanks for your thoughts. It is very easy to feel the way you describe, particularly about the 'big names'.

    Anyway, I find your enthusiasm infectious and motivating, so thanks, please keep up the good work!


  • Neil Barker says:
    February 23, 2010

    I probably leave a comment for every 10 posts I read -- as long as the blog/site has easy registration or I'm already registered.

    I used to spend more time on forums (mostly related to expats) and posted regularly.

    But, I'm trying to make it a habit of commenting more on blogs that have interesting posts on topics related to ESL/EFL as well as technology & teaching

  • Natasa says:
    February 24, 2010

    I often lurk in forums and I am not ashamed of it. Lurking is an activity, not a state and it involves listening to others. You learn so much by listening. I belong to a lot of communities and there is simply no time to leave a comment everywhere. And I never speak unless I feel I have something to say. I often feel I have nothing to contribute because everything has already been said (sort of like this discussion), or because everyone else knows much more about the topic than me.

  • Anonymous says:
    February 24, 2010

    "Jack McGee puts the ratio of lurkers to non-lurkers at 90%."

    No he doesn't. He puts the ratio as 90:10. That's 900:100 or 900% if you like percentages.


    See, that's why I keep lurking - I'm such a pedantic pain in the arse!

    February 24, 2010

    Oh golly, can anonymous (or some one else) please come back - I don't understand!

    McKee says 90:9:1 so I figure that makes a 100... so now it's 900 to what - can you explain in English, am horrible at math.


  • Adam says:
    February 24, 2010

    As a blogger I can confirm that we really like it when people leave comments. It makes our day.

  • rliberni says:
    February 25, 2010

    Hi Karenne,
    My profile is very similar: limited time, afraid I haven't much of importance to say, afraid of looking foolish etc. I try to comment where I can and I am always frustrated at not being able to read everything I'd like to - let alone comment!
    Thinking about networking on and offline one powerful thing that helps people to join in is a 'friend' who introduces or encourages. I think this has definitely been my experience.
    Being asked by someone to contribute in any way is very empowering but it needs a 'personal' approach from a follower on twitter or a friend on facebook etc.. Maybe we should all bring a new person to our next online discussion/event? Just a thought.

  • About says:
    February 27, 2010

    Well, this is a first I have never been called a LURKER before! I guess it´s true I am lurking on the fringe of blog world. Why? because it´s safe and like many have said before who wants to repeat themselves like a broken record! But thanks for breaking me out of the lurkers closet! I shall lurk no more.

  • Anonymous says:
    March 02, 2010

    Well, I replied "in English" and you ignored me :(

    OK, I'll make it REALLY, REALLY SIMPLE: Change "90%" to "90:10".

    That's it. That's all you have to do. The theory is it's ninety lurkers for every ten non-lurkers. The non-lurkers comprise one creator and nine editors.

    It's a theory I don't subscribe to. (BTW in what sense have you "debunked that theory", Karenne?) People just throw out theories based on little more than finger-in-the-air guesswork. Some get lucky - Moore and his Law, for example.

    When you're a "bear of very little brain", like me, everything looks to be based on woolly thinking and consequently difficult to argue with without taking inordinate time. We all have different priorities in life.

    Anonymous PPITA

    March 02, 2010

    Done as ordered, Sir. I'm glad you came back :-).

  • Anonymous says:
    March 10, 2010

    Actually it would be 90%. If the ratio is 90:10 or 90 lurker parts to 10 non-lurker parts, there are (90+10) or 100 parts. The percentage of lurkers is therefore 90% (90/100x100). Sorry to make ur blog a math discussion.

    I would agree with some of the other users that one often doesn't find the need to add anything to the blog. If they like it they will bookmark the page and continue with their life. Also on many blogs/forums there are what I deem "grammar police" that may discourage ppl from joining the discussion.


  • Arjana says:
    March 10, 2010

    Hey Karenne,
    if only you knew how many comments I've written and then clicked on Delete instead of Publish.... and I've been blogging for three years... some things will never change...
    (I'll be brave and post this...

    March 11, 2010

    Oh brother... MATH people, is not my thing. Vote? Help? Whadd-i do?

    Arjana, my dear, thank you so much for breaking through the delete repeat delete! I'm really glad to say hey to you on here too :-).

    Keep up the great work you're doing on your wiki and blog - if I taught in your age group I'd collaborate loads more with you, I really take my hat off to all you do and have been telling others about your work!


  • Breaking News English says:
    April 05, 2010

    Hey Karenne

    I'm a blog lurker. I love reading the blogs from those in my PLN but rarely get the time to comment - much as I'd love to. Full-time job, family, seven websites and my own blog put pay to that.
    I felt I had to comment on this post / these posts of yours to commend you on a fantastic series. The series of wonderful comments and your replies make for brilliant and compulsive lurking.
    Please devise another series after IATEFL to keep serial lurkers like myself happy, informed, inspired and entertained.
    Congratulations on what should be an EduBlogs series nominee / winner :-)


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