Growing online communities: Understanding the profile of lurkers

The following abstract was submitted to the Computers in Human Behaviour journal:

Increasing participation has long been seen as a way additional to new technology of helping online communities to grow. Online community managers may well advertise their website on other service platforms, but with up 90% of the visitors to their site being non-participants, referred to as lurkers, they could do no better than improving their website to tackle lurker fears.

This paper presents the ‘participation continuum’ for understanding why some users are posters, and do participate, and why others are lurkers, and do not contribute. The paper considers lurkers as victims of the failures of those manage online communities to encourage involvement from them by combating the fears they have. The main fears of lurkers are explored and solutions for overcoming them explained.

A later version of the paper was published by IGI Global as: “The Psychology of Trolling and Lurking: The Role of Defriending and Gamification for Increasing Participation in Online Communities Using Seductive Narratives.

2 thoughts on “Growing online communities: Understanding the profile of lurkers”

  1. This manuscript, entitled: “Encouraging involvement in online communities: The role of the participation continuum”, is an attempt to propose a new model to understand structuring of online communities. I have some major problems with this manuscript.

    This manuscript is not a research paper, nor really a review paper. It is more an “opinion paper” proposing some interesting concepts, but without any demonstration of their validity. This text mostly proposes a synthesis of different effects described already in length in the literature. The author discusses a lot of concepts, but without grounding them on any type of experimental data. Worse, the literature quoted most of the time does not refer to experimental studies either!

    The main topic of the paper, which is online or virtual communities building and structuring, is supported by some rather old references (“There is a large amount of literature demonstrating ways in which online communities can be effectively built (Kim, 2000; Preece, 2001; Young & Levine, 2000).”), or some unpublished references (Bishop, J. (2004). The potential of persuasive technology for educating heterogeneous user groups. Unpublished MSc, Univeristy of Glamorgan.; Bishop, J. (2011a). The equatrics of intergenerational knowledge transformation in techno-cultures: Towards a model for enhancing information management in virtual worlds. Unpublished MScEcon, Aberystwyth University.); while recent references (such as for instance: Guitton, M.J. (2011). Immersive role of non-required social actions in virtual settings: the example of trade role-play in the Second Life Gorean community. Design Principles and Practices: an International Journal, 5:209-220) are simply missing.
    Obviously, the unpublished references should be removed, while more recent references should be added.

    Several elements of the paper such as the naming of the “six effects of online community participation” and the “three stages of online community involvement”, and such as sentences like “Authors like Jenny Preece, Amy Jo Kim and Margaret Levine Young led the pack in providing guidance on the nature and structure of online communities at the start” suggest that this manuscript may mostly be an (incomplete) attempt to relate history of online community research rather than really suggesting a new model. However, if this paper claims to do an history of research on online communities, some central authors who worked on this topic since the last 20 years are simply missing (e.g., Kozinets, McKenna, Lee, .). Thus, the model suggested is not based on strong review of the current knowledge and state-of-the-art, but rather on a partial choice of individual effects, arbitrarily selected among the literature on online communities.

    An example of that is provided by the following statement, which is simply completely false: “The personal homepage genre of online community (Bishop, 2009a) is now the most dominant model of online community enabled through these services.”

    The author “Bishop J.” seems to be quoted rather a lot, including for two unpublished references, while very few actual research papers from this author are mentioned. I am not sure why the author choose this strategy, but clearly, this paper can not be centered so obviously exclusively around the hypothesis (often unproved) of this particular author.

    The text contains a lot of oversimplifications and short-comings (e.g., “It has long been thought that lurkers are those who don’t post and elders are those who do (Bishop, 2007b; Kim, 2000; Simmons & Clayton, 2010).”). In general, the text stays rather general, and does not provide an in-depth analysis of new concepts. In addition, the logic of the text is often hard to follow, as some concept get confused, and as the author often jumps from one point to another without following an always easy-to-follow path.

    I am not sure I see the points of the paragraphs from: “Towards the Transitional Flow of Persuasion model: Helping online communities grow” to the end. Despite the titles of those paragraphs, there are no actual concepts there which could practically be used to help online communities grow.

    The Abstract is rather short and general, and does not allow the reader to really figure out the interest of the paper.

    A lot of references are not formatted correctly, or are not complete. For instance, but not limited to:
    Kim, A. J. (2006). Community building on the web: Secret strategies for successful online communities (Kindle Edition ed.)
    Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participationCambridge university press.
    Smith, M. A., & Kollock, P. (1999). Communities in cyberspaceRoutledge.
    Vygotsky, L. S. (1930). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA:
    Wellman, B., Hunsinger, J., Eff, A., & Others. (2011). Barry wellman. In D. Weller (Ed.), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Wellman (). San Francisco, CA: Wikimedia Foundation.
    Young, M. L., & Levine, J. R. (2000). Poor richard’s building online communities: Create a web community for your business, club, association, or familyTop Floor Pub.

    If the author wants to push his new model, and to make readers believe into it, he HAS TO support it with at least some type of experimental data. As it is, this work is mostly speculative, and due to the level of confusion and the partial literature review, rather hard to use as an intellectual framework for others people working in this fascinating field.

    In conclusion, even if some of the concepts mentioned are presenting some interest, I am not sure that this manuscript is suitable for publication in the present state.

  2. Overall it is unclear what the contribution of this paper is. This lies on a number of issues within the paper, including structure, coherence and clarity. These have been discussed individually below with some examples. In order for the paper to make a contribution it would need to be streamlined with a greater consideration of the structure of the argument and better explication of the underlying models.

    * Structure
    The paper does not appear to follow a logical structure. It appears to shift between many different arguments without a logical development. For instance, the section “The relevance of ‘networked individualism’…” does not appear to directly relate to the goals of the paper. Instead it appears to loosely set up space for discussion of lurkers and elders. However, this section is then followed by on on “Understanding online community involvement and participation”, which would appear to be more suited to leading the discussion. In part this seems to be because the paper builds on previous work without giving any of this context. It would be greatly beneficial to the paper to reconsider the central argument to the paper and to rebuild it in a logical manner. It currently tries to fit in more than the paper can achieve.

    * Coherence
    As above, the lack of coherence reduces the contribution of the paper. The paper appears to offer a number of different models that may increase participation without ever dealing with them coherently. For instance, there is some discussion of transitions between states of participation, optimum motive situations and, what appears to be separately, six effects and three states of participation. These states and effects are given names which do not relate to the previous model, but instead are named after researchers. These names do not help with the clarity of the argument. For instance, the “Preece gap” is also called a “zone of participation dissonance”. Arguably, the “zone of participation dissonance” allows for greater clarity of the concept. There is no coherence to how these models fit together and “examples” of how it might work are vague, e.g. page 13, paragraph 2. This simply retells a theoretical flow between stages without shedding any light on the process. It
    would benefit the paper to reconsider how the ‘highlights’ fit within what the abstract describes and the paper can achieve. A more simplied argument, e.g. introducing and exploring the TFP would make a more significant contribution.

    * Clarity
    What is unclear in this paper is to what extent this paper is arguing for a model of a continuum of participation in which actors transition between stages, or proposing a model of persuasion through which actors can move between stages, or trying to establish the link between both. This falls on a number of issues, such as overuse of unexplained jargon from previous models, lack of clarification for ambiguous terms (mediating and dismediating seemed to be used to imply movement, rather than faciliation) and the confluence of theoretical models without adequate expression.

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