A lurker is a member of an online community who observes activity on the platform and consumes content but does not contribute content or participate in social interactions.
Have you ever heard of the 1% rule? The 1% rule is a rule-of-thumb that says that in any online community only 1 out of every 100 community members contributes new content to the community while the remaining 99% consume content. In communities that include editable content, such as Wikipedia, the rule is modified to state that 1% of the community members create content, 9% edit content, and the remaining 90% just consume content.
So what exactly is a lurker? A lurker is a member of an online community that is part of the silent majority of members who consume content, but who do not contribute to the community in any meaningful way. Lurkers consume content created by others, but don't contribute any new content to the community.
There are a few reasons why the majority of community members are lurkers:
- Browing is enough: For many website users, especially users of websites which provide technical information, just browsing the site is enough. Users who fit this profile may not have any interest in contributing or they may lack the technical expertise necessary to contribute in a meaningful way.
- Lurking to learn: New community members often spend time lurking before contributing in order to learn about the community. New community members, or newbies, are prone to making mistakes. Lurking is one way new members can learn the culture and norms of a community before getting too involved.
- A different motivation: Lurkers are typically motivated by a desire to find information. Contributors, on the other hand, are typically motivated either by duty or a desire to gain a sense of belonging within a particular community.
Online attitudes toward lurkers are mixed. In some communities, lurkers are viewed negatively, and may be referred to as free-riders who take community resources without contributing. However, most webmasters and internet marketers view lurkers favorably, because lurkers make up the majority of the digital audience which can serve as a basis for generating revenue for the website.
In some communities, lurking is encouraged as a way to learn about the community before contributing and to avoid duplicating community content. For example, communities which provide question-and-answer style conversations, such as StackOverflow, actively discourage posting of new questions without first using the search feature to see if the question has already been addressed. In this case, users are encouraged to lurk as opposed to creating duplicate content.
Also See: Newbie
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any negative consequences to lurking?
Depending on the community, lurking may be associated with loneliness and rejection.
Lurking has been found to be associated with loneliness in communities that foster social interaction, and on social media websites in particular. Lurkers on these types of platforms observe interaction between other community members without participating themselves, and may feel isolated from the community as a result.
In addition, on some platforms where lurkers are easy to spot, they are actively rejected. This is particularly true of platforms where interaction is expected such as chat rooms. In a chat room setting in which all users can see which users are logged into the chat room, members who fail to contribute and simply observe interaction may be removed from the discussion.