Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Jan 16, 2010
A few days ago I went in what I consider a minor rant about Ning and how it didn’t seem to be all that active or engaging. Dennis wrote a comment asking if I was disappointed in Ning or its “lousy” (yeah, he used a different word) members.
It got me to thinking more about things I’ve mentioned here and read elsewhere as it regards Facebook and Ryze and Twitter and LinkedIn and even blogs. The common thread with all of these things and with things in general is that there are a lot more people hanging out around the fringe, aka lurking, than there are participating.
It’s an interesting phenomena that deserves to be looked at in a few different ways. Let’s start with this question; why? I personally think it’s been indoctrinated into most people throughout history; it’s almost our instinct to kind of watch and take things in rather than to actually get into things. This doesn’t mean if you’re not forced or encouraged to participate you won’t; in the rough and tumble caveman days, it took a group of hunters to bring down prey sometimes. What it means is that you might not have been a participant in making the plans. These groups usually had one or two members who did the planning and lead the assault, and everyone else just came along to help out; after all, they wanted to eat also.
That happened in history, and it happens now. Most meetings you go to will have a few people who do most of the talking, while everyone else is pretty much just there. Unless something is talked about that specifically draws them out, most people will stay silent, barely paying attention, until the meeting is over so they can go back to their normal jobs and feel like they participated in some fashion. But it’s not participation just being somewhere; it’s lurking.
There’s nothing wrong with lurking, and if you’re a lurker on this blog I appreciate having you here. However, I have to ask if there’s much productivity going on if you’re lurking without participating? Last week I talked about going to a goal setting retreat. There were 5 of us that participated; I probably talked at least 35% of the time. I didn’t go out to be a dominant person in the room. What I did want to make sure of is that I got my money’s worth, even though it was free. In other words, if I was going to commit 4 hours of my time to something when I could have been using that time doing something else, I was going to make sure I wasn’t just sitting there not trying to become a better person. After all, I do have goals to reach, and not a really clear direction on how to get to all of them sometimes, and any assistance I can get I’ll take.
I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t really like sitting back and letting someone else kind of control what I’m going to be doing or how I might participate in something. I don’t belong to a lot of groups in the “real” world, but I do belong to some. I’m on the board of an organization called Arise, which works with disabled people to help bring them a better quality of life as well as give them equal opportunities to do what everyone else does. But I’m not just on the board; I’m the head of the finance committee, heading into year 3. And, when the entire board gets together, I always make sure I get my opinion out, waiting my turn of course, because I want people to know where I stand. Shrinking violet; not me!
I’m also on the board of an organization called the Professional Consultant’s Association of Central New York, a group geared towards addressing the issues that independent consultant’s face. I run their website and write the monthly newsletter and help put the meetings together. I believe that I’ve been instrumental in helping to change the focus of many of our meetings to get closer to what our stated mission is, making sure I give my opinion on things once again.
And finally, I’m the president of an organization called Mid York Medical Accounts Management, though I just took back the presidency. I’ve been on the board for 12 years or so, and this will be my 3rd go round as president. I also created the template page (I’ll be gifting them their own website one of these days), and I’ve written the newsletter for those same 12 years as well. As president, I either get the speakers for our meetings or help get them, and try to make sure that all aspects of the organization are taken care of in some fashion.
Lurker? Me? No way! At least most of the time. For instance, I’m a member of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, as I live in a town called Liverpool. It has a lot of members, and I’m not on the board, nor have I ever tried. Because of this, I find that there are a lot of events I don’t go to because they don’t interest me. I’m not happy with their website; it should have been revamped 3 years ago, and they’re going through a revamp right now that’s taken almost a year, and little change has been made so far. I’m not crazy about the format of the newsletter. In other words, I have gripes, but because I’m not an active member of the board, basically I’m at the whim of those people who are on the board. In essence, I’m kind of a lurker with this group, and thus I don’t really enjoy it as much as I probably should; I certainly need to be working harder on using it for my own local business purposes.
When I’m a lurker, I’m not a happy guy. I need to participate in something in some fashion, otherwise I might end up going away. That’s why I participate by writing this blog and looking for other blogs to participate on. That’s why I hate things that get in the way of my participating on blogs, such as Disqus and Intense Debate and Blogger and any other blogs that want me to sign up to play the game (and there’s starting to be more of these things). I’d rather drop most of them and get on with participating in places that engage me and welcome me in better.
Why do I vote? Because I believe if one doesn’t vote then they have no right to complain about anything. It’s also a bit more personal for me; people died so I would have the right to vote, and I’m going to honor what they gave up, whether anyone else cares or not. I’m not a total participant when it comes to politics, but I’m not a lurker either. I at least know what’s going on, and make informed voting choices when I can (although some of these local elections for small office; how the heck are we supposed to know who these people are most of the time when even the newspapers don’t tell us who they are? A different rant for another time).
Okay, time to close; this is turning into War and Peace. I ask you this question; why do you believe more people lurk rather than participate? What makes you participate if that’s what you do? And how do you see whichever action is the norm for you making your life either better or worse? Inquiring minds want to know.