The other day, SierraBear, a reader and very infrequent commentator, left a rather interesting comment:
As a regular reader of the CGB and a very occasional poster (I try only to post when I have something of value to say that has not already been said) – I hate the term “Lurker” I’m a daggone reader… period. I’ll say something if it need sayin’! My primary interest is in learning occasionally valuable and generally esoteric information about Cal sports (except when Hydrotech posts – I always learn new and amazingly insightful stuff from his posts – I invested a few years in coaching frosh football at the HS level and used to think of myself as a knowledgable insider until I began reading Hydros analyses).
I prefer to think of my kind as massively intelligent and profoundly thoughtful observers who enjoy the veritable cornucopia of opinions and innane sarcasm that is the heart and soul of the CGB (used every big word I could think of).
When I stopped to think about it, I realized that SierraBear really had a point there; the term 'lurker' does have some creepy, almost stalker-ish connotations that don't really apply to frequent readers of this site who rarely, if ever, comment. Merriam-Webster's first two definitions of 'lurk' certainly aren't kind:
1 a: to lie in wait in a place of concealment especially for an evil purpose b: to move furtively or inconspicuously c: to persist in staying
2 a: to be concealed but capable of being discovered ; specifically : to constitute a latent threat b: to lie hidden
The third definition, however, is more benign:
3: to read messages on an Internet discussion forum (as a newsgroup or chat room) without contributing
Wikipedia notes that lurking can be viewed either positively or negatively, depending on the forum's character:
The term dates back to the mid-1980s. Bulletin board systems (BBS) were often accessed by a single phone line (frequently in someone's home), there was an expectation that all who used a bulletin board would contribute to its content by uploading files and posting comments. Lurkers were viewed negatively, and might be barred from access by the sysop, if they did not contribute anything but kept the phone line tied up for extended periods.
By contrast, many modern Internet communities advise newbies to lurk for some time to get a feel for the specific culture and etiquette of the community, lest they make an inappropriate or redundant comment, ask a Frequently Asked Question, or incite a flame war. This leads to the tongue-in-cheek command to "lurk more", often intentionally misspelled as "lurk moar". The verb to "de-lurk" means to start contributing actively to a community having been a lurker previously. Lurking in terms of a forum makes sense because the forum is there to educate.
Irrespective of this more positive definition of lurker, an interesting question occurred to me on this topic: does it even make sense to refer to our less-particapatory readers as lurkers?
See, the prevalent metaphor operating on newsgroups, forums and chat rooms is one of a conversation between a number of participants. Take a typical chat room conversation. Now, imagine that you're actually in a room having that conversation face-to-face with those same people. Ignoring for a second the fact that all those people you thought were chicks are actually dudes, this translates pretty well. Of course, where do those people fit in who are reading this conversation, but not actively participating? They are in the room also, but they're hanging out on the edges of the room, eavesdropping on a conversation that they're not a part of. In terms of this metaphor, it's pretty easy to see how users would come up with the somewhat creepy term 'lurkers' to denote those who were sitting around, listening in on their conversations.
However, the typical blog doesn't really work like that. For the most part, it's an "I talk, you listen" sort of situation, a one-way conversation in which the readers are not expected to participate. Instead of a conversation in a room somewhere, a blogger can be seen as something closer to a lecturer on a stage, with the readers being the mostly silent audience. Yes, some interaction takes place in the comments section, but it's usually short and on-topic, with participation optional but certainly not expected, much like a Q+A session following the lecture.
Of course, the blogging platform here at SBN is industry-leading, and its comments section is amazing. Interaction between readers, sans blogger, is exceedingly high here, to the point where the Q+A session metaphor breaks down. A more accurate picture might be illustrated thus: the blog posts are lectures to an audience, and the comments section is a post-lecture mixer. Readers may choose to attend the post-lecture mixer (read the comments section) or not, and if they attend, it's not seen as odd if they listen in and don't participate (after all, the cold cuts provided are quite tasty). But what of the Daily Bear Bump? Now we strip the lecture metaphor down to the level of a talking point offered for attendees' consideration, and the subsequent mixer is pretty much all that is left.
So, with operating metaphors such as these, I don't really believe that 'lurker' is a term that really applies to readers who choose not to comment. We can call them readers, and us bloggers may refer to them as our 'audience', but to suggest that they 'lie in wait in a place of concealment especially for an evil purpose' unnecessarily denigrates them, and I for one won't have it.
I appreciate all of our readers, and moreover, at many other blogs and forums I would be considered a 'lurker' myself. My one request to those readers who don't normally comment: if you do find that us Marshawnthusiasts are catering to a small cadre of commentators, and ignoring what you're looking for in a Cal Blog, please do let us know before you decide we're not worth reading and walk away. It's the only way we can improve..
BERKELEY - Cal Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best will chat on the Bear Talk blog this Thursday, June 25 (1:30 p.m., PT). Cal football beat writer Jonathan Okanes of the Contra Costa Times will moderate the live chat in which Best will answer selected questions from fans.