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Long live the lurker

Ben Halpern
Founder and Co-CEO of Forem, building community everywhere.
・1 min read

I absolutely loved the responses to this post:

I am glad there is love for lurking. I am only a lurker in some of my favorite places on the web.

Forem has always been developed in a pro-lurker capacity, but this hasn't been something I've talked a lot about.

Some design elements of community (such as public follow count) can hurt the joy of lurking by putting a bit of extra social pressure on taking part. I'm happy we've been thoughtful about some of this stuff and always encouraged healthy lurking.

To follow up on the last convo, how can communities do to encourage the right kind of participation while not socially punishing healthy lurking?

Discussion (4)

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ludoan profile image
Lu Doan

Semi-pro lurker here ;). I tend to listen more than I talk. I've never felt punished for lurking. I feel like I'm participating by providing feedback through mechanisms like upvoting, liking, etc.

I find that most platforms only include positive feedback options. Negative feedback is a valuable part of the feedback loop. There are many times that I think a post is bad or it's something I disagree with but I don't leave a negative comment because I don't want to get into a confrontation.

What are your thoughts on including negative options in the one-click feedback?

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

I think negative feedback requires a degree of nuance. Not that it can’t be discovered in non-comment interactions, but I think it has to be done very thoughtfully. And with that in mind, I am going to give this some extra thought πŸ€“

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ludoan profile image
Lu Doan

Perhaps utilizing a variant of a Likert scale?

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kt profile image
Katie Hong

(here to zombify a thread - because that's a phenomenon of engagement too)

Ah, lurkerdom! My foremost way to participate until most recently getting (verry personally) involved with a small community. I believe the answers you seek may come from matching pro-lurker environments to the stages-of-lurk:

** its-been-a-long-day lurker:** this lurker desires nothing more than to consume on end for simple pleasures and emotional satisfaction. Likely a long day of paper pushing or tactical procrastination has burned through their mental circuits and launching them for preference of simple meme and puppy pictures.

To satisfy: include gallery views of content where a simple flick of a finger will bring the good stuff to the tips of their fingers. If content is a meagerly generated by the community, include a bot that spawns some innocuous fun of relation to your community's theme. Also, this lurk stage is the most ephemeral, which means the next interaction will be in a different lurk stage. Best to incorporate low stakes latent engagement tools like: saves, bookmarks and follows.

the-lurkers-anonymous-lurker: Perhaps a relic of 4-chan mentality or a yahoo chatroom alumni, this lurker desires to engage but fear of self-identification holds them back. Gone are the days of spewing brain dribble or mindless rage fits to throw into the unassuming void of the interwebs. A veteran of virtual war fronts arming sides with carefully crafted ASCII artillery and the occasional table from a tasteful rage induced table flip. No, these days the heavily armed CANCEL warriors are on patrol. Best to hide, with the wifi.

To satisfy: Clearly outlining the rule of "ok-ness" so as not to stir the PTSD of these dark pasts. But perhaps an outlet for anonymity can survive? The re-introduction of the (moderated) "True Confessions" channel to allow for ambient internet chaos to gently stir the normalcy of the community. Unleash the inner demons, but slap on a mouth guard, leash'em and don't forget the poo bag - it is a new era after all. Have some class.

the-only-eloquent-when-inspired-lurker: These are the highly visually engaged and host-er of inner dialogue ones. Don't be fooled by their minimal interaction, these latent tsunami of exposition will smash into the channels when just the right conditions are triggered. Hours or even days of pent up emotion will summon the massive text block monster (as demonstrated with this post) and may boast the flotsam and jetsam of gushed gratitude, retrospection and life changing exposes. These are not to be confused with danger-remember-to-diffuse-lurker, which behave in a similar mode until they reach peak-capacity and detonate to the community with entitled hate speech shrapnel and sparks of insults.

to satisfy: Do not lose the opportunity to fully convert these to the un-lurker side. Water the budding inspiration with channel wide attention/shout-outs, fertilize the rare occurrence with questions comments and validation. It may be possible this lurker may step up to join the lauded moderator ranks after the sweet nectar of attention. And spread the gospel of the joy in imparting thoughts. Note there is a fallacy that these lurkers are the comet that just happened to skim close enough to join your community orbit. In actuality they are no rarer than the seeds that sprinkle on the dirt passed by wind, animal, or stream. The more fertile a community the more these will pop out of the dirt like daisies.

=TBC (maybe)=