Geek Trivia

A Person Who Uses Online Communities But Doesn’t Participate Is Known As A?

Which Popular Service Was Initially Considered An April Fools' Joke?

Answer: Lurker

Maybe it’s a concept you’ve never thought much about. Maybe you are one and you don’t realize it. But if you’ve ever visited an online community—be it a big site like Reddit or a small gardening forum that looks like it has survived on the internet since the days of Geocities—and not participated in the discussions found there, then you’re a lurker.

The history of lurkers in digital communities is an old and surprisingly turbulent one. In the early days of online communication, prior to the arrival of widespread consumer internet access, people used dial-up Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) to host discussions. Back in the days of the BBS, when you used the service you were taking up a physical modem in the BBS’s modem bank. Lurking was discouraged, and if you weren’t actively participating in the BBS community, there was a good chance you’d be kicked off or even banned by the BBS operator.

Later, as communities moved away from the BBS model and into other communities like those centered around mailing lists, Usenet groups, and then the now dominant model, web-based discussion forums, the issues surrounding lurkers shifted. Now, instead of worrying about the resources they consume (which are negligible and don’t stop others from participating like it did back in the BBS days), community administrators instead worry about engagement and enticing lurkers out of the shadows.

What does it take to turn a lurker into a new user? How do you keep a new user long enough that they become a regular member? Online communities live and die by the number and quality of their participants, and now that the resources are practically unlimited, the real value is the people who participate.