A current debatable topic among community developers and members involves the presence
of “lurkers” in online communities. Lurkers are members of the community who observe interactions and absorb information from the community but do not contribute to the community. Active members of communities often resent the presence of lurkers, viewing them solely as “takers” without giving back to the community. Lurking may or may not be a problem and depends on the perspective from which this behavior is being judged and the goals of those making the judgment: “If there is little or no message posting in a community, then lurking is a problem. No one wants to be part of a conversation where no one says anything. Such online communities cannot survive because there is so much happening on the Internet that people do not return to silent communities” (Preece, Nonnecke, & Andrews, 2004, p. 203). On the other hand, in vibrant, active communities, lurking may be less of a problem. From a community of practice perspective, lurking is considered a form of “legitimate peripheral participation” and, as such, a crucial process by which a community can offer learning opportunities (Wenger et al. 2009). The purpose of the community determines the acceptable level of lurking.

Back to: Governance Structures and Guidelines for Participation

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