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Are You A Lurker Or Participant In Life?

Posted by 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.

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Mitch, I lurk on your site and plenty of others all the time.

I’ve read over and over again on blogs about how if you don’t have anything of significance to add to the conversation then you shouldn’t comment.

If I’m reading an article you have written and gained knowledge about something I didn’t know about before I usually feel there is nothing intelligent I can add so I just go away.

Other reasons I wouldn’t leave a comment include:
My posts aren’t ones that the person would likely want to read (not business related posts)
My last post may be one that I don’t want to link to. Comment luv stops me from posting sometimes.
I’m skimming and don’t want to stop.
I’m searching for specific information and don’t want to spend time commenting.

I only have 33 RSS feeds at the moment and it takes me a long time to get through them most days.

I’d like to comment on everything I read but time often gets in the way.

I do read everything you write though and appreciate all of it..
.-= Glen´s last blog ..Link Like =-.

January 16th, 2010 | 1:19 PM

Thanks for your comment, Glen, and man, how honest was that? 🙂 You know, I don’t comment on every post I see either, because either I can’t think of anything to say or because there’s so many comments already I don’t want mine getting lost in there somewhere. Well, also because I’m following way too many blogs, so sometimes I have to skip some to get to others. I’m glad you enjoy what I write, and I hope that every once in awhile I give you something that you can use.

As for CommentLuv, have you signed up on the site so that you can select from your last 10 posts? That’s the one thing I did sign up for, so I could have the ability to pick which of my posts I want to highlight depending on where I am when I’m commenting.

January 16th, 2010 | 4:41 PM

Hope it didn’t sound angry. I wasn’t.
I really enjoy your site.

I’ll have to check out the CommentLuv post selection thing although in a lot of cases I’d still be hard pressed to find one of any interest to the more business oriented sites I read, ha,ha..
.-= Glen´s last blog ..Link Like =-.

January 16th, 2010 | 6:01 PM

You sounded fine, Glen. I’m glad to have you commenting here; now you’re going to be dangerous.

January 16th, 2010 | 6:16 PM

Comment luv stops me from commenting not posting as my comment states,ha,ha..
.-= Glen´s last blog ..Link Like =-.

January 16th, 2010 | 1:21 PM

Glen, if Comment Luv is what’s stopping you, you do realize that you can normally uncheck it if you don’t want to link to your post, right? So, now that you do, you can’t use it as an excuse anymore…haha
.-= skye´s last blog reap what you sow =-.

January 16th, 2010 | 6:44 PM
Dennis Edell:

Glen – you can also untick the commentluv box before hitting submit. 😉

January 18th, 2010 | 8:39 AM

Mitch, I like how you drew a correlation between blogs and real-life situations when it comes to lurking and participating. I’ve found that overtime, I’ve grown into more of a participant when it comes to real-life situations, probably because I feel like I have a lot more experience to draw from now and can contribute more. Not that I’m normally the leader, but I’m not a shrinking violet either.

The same’s not always the case in regards to blogs. It depends more on what kind of blog it is. I’m more likely to comment on personal-style blogs but not on technical or business-related blog. I’m more of a lurker on the latter. Actually, I don’t often visit the latter, because it’s not usually why I’m online. But sometimes, comments such as yours on Glen’s site, made me curious enough to visit 🙂
.-= skye´s last blog reap what you sow =-.

January 16th, 2010 | 6:42 PM

Wow, well then I’m glad that you’ve decided to stop by and comment, Skye. I don’t consider this as a business or technical site, though I’ll talk about stuff from time to time. I definitely consider it an opinionated site, though, and have lots of fun with it. I hope you stop by often.

January 16th, 2010 | 6:56 PM
John Dilbeck:

Good evening, Mitch.

I don’t know the reasons that there are many more lurkers than participants, but I have some suspicions.

Have you ever played Whack-A-Mole? If so, you know that the only moles that get whacked are the ones that stick their heads out of the holes. All of the (imaginary) ones that remain hidden aren’t taking a risk of getting whacked.

That applies to real life, especially in fields where a relative few control everything and where others can be seriously impacted if they buck the status quo.

This is changing, however, thanks to all the new communications channels that are opening for all of us.

Lurking is much easier than participating, has less risk, and takes less time. Are those benefits or drawbacks?

As someone who has been the president of several organizations and served on the board of several non-profits, I know how much more work and effort is required to be a leader than a lurker. You and I are alike in that regard, but you’re much more active than I am in other organizations.

Still, as you noted, those of us who choose to lead or otherwise participate get more out of these things than those who just pass through.

Why so few choose to be leaders is unknown to me, because it’s the leaders who reap most of the benefits.

This is an interesting topic and I look forward to reading the comments of others.

Act on your dream!


January 16th, 2010 | 6:53 PM

Hi Mitch,

I think you called me haha…I really like lurking around with blogs and sites and not every blog I participate.

Well as for me, being NOT a participant is not being interested with development and success. We make ourselves productive by participating in communities inside a blog, asking questions and adding up information that you think is lacking on what you are reading.

Nice article Mitch, I like it.
.-= Jp Manching @ Beginners Blogging Guide´s last blog ..Removing NoFollow Attribute Results to Traffic Increase =-.

January 17th, 2010 | 1:22 AM

Thanks JP. But you’ve commented here, and I’ve seen you in other places also. So, you’re not quite a lurker, even though you may not participate all the time. 😉

January 17th, 2010 | 1:58 AM

yeah and sorry for that. I’ve been busy with some SEO work but im still trying to reach out and participate on your blog 🙂
.-= Jp Manching @ Beginners Blogging Guide´s last blog ..Long-term Keywords and Short-Term Keywords =-.

January 19th, 2010 | 12:06 AM

No problem, JP. You’ve commented in the past; you’re certainly no lurker. 😉

January 19th, 2010 | 12:14 AM
DeAnna Troupe:

Well you know good and well I’m no lurker. I have noticed that most people on Ning basically just join to get the one way backlink to their website and roll on about their day. I have a ning site and I’m the only one that posts there. I’m thinking about getting rid of it. I’m not really sure why people lurk rather than participate. It seems like to me if I’m going to be online anyway, I might as well make some good use of my time. No one’s going to be interested in what I have to say if I don’t even say anything in the first place. Great post!
.-= DeAnna Troupe´s last blog ..Ebook Review-Write That Report =-.

January 17th, 2010 | 2:29 AM

Glad to see you stopping by, DeAnna, especially at this volatile time in your life. If you’re the only one in your Ning group putting forth any effort, I’d probably drop it. I’ve been thinking about relinquishing one of my Facebook groups also, as no one’s participating so I’m wondering what’s the point. The other group I’ll probably keep, since every once in awhile I do get to help someone.

January 17th, 2010 | 2:34 AM
John Dilbeck:

Good afternoon, Mitch.

While my Ning communities are doing well, I have a couple of forums that are dead except when I post to them. I’ll be closing both of them this month, after I’ve had the time to search them and pull out anything of interest that I can reuse somewhere.

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, some sites never gain traction.

Act on your dream!


January 17th, 2010 | 3:56 PM

I may be a lurker in the real world but definitely not when I’m online. When online I have a confidence about me that doesn’t exist when amongst living breathing people. In a room of dummies I tend to stand out, but if their breathing you’ll find me trying to be inconspicuous looking as if I don’t belong.
.-= Sire´s last blog ..The Honest Truth About Blogging For Money =-.

January 17th, 2010 | 3:55 AM

That’s interesting Sire, especially as a guy who owns his own business.

January 17th, 2010 | 10:46 AM

Actually in business it’s different as I deal with people one on one. I just don’t like crowded rooms. Also not too bad when I have counter or table as a buffer between me and them.
.-= Sire´s last blog ..The Honest Truth About Blogging For Money =-.

January 17th, 2010 | 10:54 PM

As far as images go, Sire, you’re definitely the anti-Australian! Man, there go all those Crocodile Dundee jokes. lol

Actually, there are times when I cringe at big groups and times when I’m ready to control the group. When it’s professional, I’m there; if it’s personal, I’m not. That’s why I can do professional speaking; I’m not worried about being in front of a large group because I’m rehearsed and know what I’m going to say. I guess it all comes down to the confidence you have at the moment.

January 17th, 2010 | 11:31 PM

Yeah, that’s me, I’m way out of the ordinary.
.-= Sire´s last blog ..The Honest Truth About Blogging For Money =-.

January 17th, 2010 | 11:37 PM

Hi Mitch, I see it from another angle. You’re spoiled. HaHa, We all are. I think we have a group of online friends and bloggers that are active on each others blogs and we have come to expect that from everyone. The group is getting bigger and bigger but when we jump into a separate large network we see that most people there don’t have the sense of participation and friendship that we have been enjoying and that’s a little disappointing.

January 17th, 2010 | 9:49 AM

Hi Brian,

I might be spoiled, as an only child; heck, my wife says I definitely am. Truthfully, I guess it would be anarchy at times if everyone decided to pipe in, such as with the military, but at other times, I think it would be fun to have everyone engaging a bit.

January 17th, 2010 | 10:48 AM

I think John nailed it…People want to keep their heads low to avoid getting wacked.
I also think that if people don’t think they will reap mass benefit from participating then they just don’t do it. You know the old “What’s in it for ME”.

It also takes extra inelegance to get involved. 😉
You have to have an opinion & be able to state it. Some people are more active when they can speak to the other person rather than write. Others of course, are better at writing & tend to talk less. So, one person maybe a lurker on your blog but, be able to go into great depth if you were to talk face to face. Some participation may just depend on their best mode of communication.
.-= Sheryl Loch´s last blog ..I’m In but Passionless =-.

January 17th, 2010 | 5:24 PM

You’re right, Sheryl, people will pick and choose where they’ll lurk and where they’ll participate. Some of us participate almost always, while others participate almost never.

January 17th, 2010 | 9:39 PM

Hey Mitch,

I am guilty of lurking. Sometimes I lurk due to to time constraints, I scan the page and read what I can before shooting of to somewhere else. Not the greatest way to read something, I’m sure you’ll agree, but if you like a site and are lacking in time you’ll want to quickly see what the content is about and whether to come back later when you have more time.

Sometimes I lurk because the people that have already commented have said exactly what I’ve wanted to say so I feel like I’m not adding value to the conversation.

Sometimes I lurk because I have absolutely nothing to say because the article covered absolutely everything I could think of and, again, a ‘thank you’ comment gives no real value (although it can be nice to show your appreciation from time-to-time).

With that being said, I get so much more out of my experience from a blog when I do become involved, when I do comment and when I do, hopefully, provide value.

It is through engaging that I have built relationships with fellow bloggers that have turned into business relationships and, occasionally, real friendships.

I guess, after all my rambling, it comes down to what a person wants to get out of their time online and lurking may fit their current needs more than engagement.

Thought provoking post Mitch.

.-= Karl Foxley´s last blog ..15 Free Tools To Add To Your Online Business Toolbox =-.

January 18th, 2010 | 4:55 AM

You make an interesting point, Karl. I follow way too many blogs, such that I don’t always comment on every post I get to because I just don’t have to say. Still, I don’t consider that lurking since I will still comment from time to time. As I said, I only have a few reasons why I won’t comment on a blog, and I’m slowly eliminating some of those reasons as I go forward.

January 18th, 2010 | 9:25 AM

I suppose the challenge is understanding what turns a lurker into commenter.

Do posts like this encourage (increase) the likelihood of someone jumping off the fence? Worth testing. 🙂

Karl Foxley
.-= Karl Foxley´s last blog ..15 Free Tools To Add To Your Online Business Toolbox =-.

January 18th, 2010 | 9:34 AM

I think it has, Karl, as a couple of folks who have never written before finally did write something. Not all, but it’s a start.

January 18th, 2010 | 12:09 PM
Dennis Edell:

John nailed it alright, I’d have to say the largest percentage boils down to self confidence and not wanting to “look stupid” as most say.

There are some of us that don’t have such issues… 😉

January 18th, 2010 | 8:43 AM

You got that one right, Dennis! lol

January 18th, 2010 | 9:26 AM

I’m a lurker in general. It’s my nature. I’m also anti-social and unambitious. LOL

I’m not what they call an A type personality.

All that being said I’m a happy lurker and that is most important to me.
.-= Dwippy´s last blog ..Mainly Social Media and SEO =-.

January 20th, 2010 | 1:16 AM

I’m glad that works for you, Dwippy. I certainly don’t mind if people lurk, but every once in awhile, it’s nice to see hear from someone who almost never talks to you, just to make sure you’re still happy. Or not. lol

January 20th, 2010 | 1:45 AM

Interesting post, Mitch.

I’m both a lurker and a participant online and in real life. It depends on the situation and how I’m feeling at the time.

Can’t do just one solely… Cos then I’ll be a hermit or I’ll be exhausted.

And neither is very appealing 🙂
.-= lazygirl´s last blog ..The friendly neighborhood library – reading and books… and shaking you down =-.

January 20th, 2010 | 3:34 AM

I think we all have our roles at different time, Lazy, but in general, I don’t think either of us could really be considered as lurkers all that much.

January 20th, 2010 | 9:20 AM

I have built relationships with fellow bloggers that have turned into business relationships and, occasionally, real friendships.

January 20th, 2010 | 7:00 AM

I don’t contribute to every post on your blog because sometimes I have nothing to add, but I’m very much a participant even if my comments are short.
.-= Rose´s last blog ..Hello Kitty Phenomena =-.

January 21st, 2010 | 4:39 PM

I don’t think anyone would come close to accusing you of being a lurker, Rose. I do the same for your blog; like on your Kitty article and the one about outrageous women’s underwear. Sometimes discretion is the better course of action! lol

January 22nd, 2010 | 12:58 AM