I have always felt a little uncomfortable with the term ‘lurker’ when talking about users who are in the background on online discussions or social networks.
My first thought when someone is described as a ‘lurker’ is:
“someone that would hide in concealment, often for an evil purpose.” Wikipedia
which is what some people used to do in Internet chat rooms when the Internet was in it’s infancy. The term has taken on a less ‘evil’ undertone in recent years, and now ‘to lurk’ is:
“to learn the conventions of an online community before they actively participate, improving their socialization when they eventually de-lurk.” Wikipedia
But I can’t help think of it’s previous definition and use, where someone hides in the shadows for unscrupulous activity (you could argue the same is still going on today). This above new definition is also based on the premise that the ‘lurker’ will eventually be an active participant.
What if they don’t want to? What if the ‘lurker’ is happy being in the background and only offering something when the need arises? Nothing wrong with that.
This is why I would rather use the term ‘listener’ as it seems closer to the truth – they are online and in the online environment with their peers, but they choose to ‘listen’ rather then participate (for many different reasons). They are thinking about and taking notes about what is being said, adding their own voice when they feel the need, but for the most part they stay quiet.
Think about it – when you meet your friends and chat over coffee or a beer – do you ‘lurk’ in the conversation when you say nothing, or do you ‘listen’?
PS. I resisted using a cat image for this post, it was too predictable (just search ‘pounce‘ and you’ll see what I mean!).