Personally, I’m of the school of thought that lurking is a form of legitimate peripheral participation, that in most cases, if everyone actively participated we’d be overwhelmed, that we often and appropriately lurk offline and that lurking is not always “take and no give,” that people do in fact take what they learn one place and often use it and contribute elsewhere. It is more generalized reciprocity.
First, is an old discussion summary from the Online Facilitation list from 2003, compiled by Chris Lang which still has value to me. You an find it here TIPs for Facilitating Lurking
Of course, this has been studied in the academic community, such as this paper on why lurkers lurk, from Jenny Preece and Blair Nonnecke (pdf prepub).
Finally, some fine blog posts on lurking by friends and colleagues. (Edited to add more links March 30)
- Christopher Allen on Power Laws
- Ton Zylstra on Lurking and Social Networks
- Jacob Nielson on Participation Inequality
- Andrew Gent’s personal reflections on his own lurking
- Jack Vinson’s Beyond Lurking
- Francois Gossieaux- Active Lurking
- Tom O’Brien Degrees of Lurking
My bottom line is one’s approach to lurking is context dependent. If full participation is a stated requirement (as in a job or a course) one must find ways to facilitate and enable that participation. The larger and more open the group, the more lurking is a natural and expected behavior.