I can’t hear the word “lurk” without thinking of the bad-pun catchphrase of Dr. Paul Bearer, the local host of Creature Feature when I was a kid: “I’ll be lurking for you!” But I first came across the term “lurker” in an online context when I frequented the message boards at Television Without Pity a few years ago; as someone who read many of the discussion threads but rarely added to them, it pretty much described my activity over there.
In a post provocatively titled “If Someone Called You A LURKER In Real Life, Wouldn’t You Beat Them Up?”, Nicole shared some thoughts about blogger/reader interaction that I just couldn’t leave without some extended comments of my own. (If you missed her post, go read it now, and then come back – mine might make a little more sense that way. You can also read it on BlogHer.com, where it was syndicated – congratulations, Nicole!)
In fact, this variety of “comment” – referring back to someone else’s post as a jumping-off point for one of your own – is one of the forms of interaction that Nicole cited, and it’s one I use often. There’s blog fodder everywhere, and the more blogs you read, the more readily you’ll find it. But sometimes you just don’t want to hijack someone’s comment section with all the things their post has made you think about. You may want to share their information and insights with your own readers, along with what they inspired you to say about the topic. And as long as you’re sure to give that inspiring post some link love, the original blogger will know where your inspiration came from (and unless their post inspired you to tear theirs down in your response, they’ll usually appreciate the acknowledgment. I love being inspired by fellow bloggers, and I love seeing another blogger get inspired by a post I’ve written!). It’s an indirect way of commenting, certainly, but it does let the blogger know they wrote something that you connected with.
One reason I do link roundups, and share items via Twitter and Google Reader, is that they’re another form of indirect commenting. There are plenty of times when someone’s post strikes a chord with me, but I may not have anything to add to the conversation about it. Other times, I just don’t have time to go and comment on a post, whereas sharing a link to it just takes a click or two. In any case, I’d like to let others know that what that blogger said made an impact on me…and if they go check out that post, maybe they’ll have more to say about it.
But when most of us think about commenting on blogs, we’re not thinking about those indirect methods; we mean the remarks and feedback that readers leave directly on our posts, and that’s not always something I do well. I suspect my reasons for not commenting more aren’t much different from those of many other blog readers. I also think that reading blog posts via a feed reader (or Twitter, or Facebook) rather than on the blogs themselves probably creates a (minor) barrier to commenting. Nicole had some particularly resonant things to say on this subject:
“I think the term lurking and it being applied to blog READERS, says much more about certain styles of blogging, bloggers and our need for validation, and quite frankly…comments. The term indicates to me that it’s much less about those who are taking the time to read our blogs. Could we be projecting onto others a sketchy designation, even though we mostly do it ‘lovingly’, because we are not being fulfilled our need to be talked to, praised and patted on the back? Is ‘lurker’ what we really want to call our faithful readers?
“A premise that drives me a little crazy is the one that measure comments as the sign of a blog’s worth. I think it contributes to this kind of crazy idea and resulting terminology where others are somehow actively doing something to me when they are ‘lurking’ about my blog and not entering into the community aspect that can exist in blogging. The time constraints of life in general keep me in lurker mode for a great many things in life as a whole, and on far more blogs than I would like.”
“The need for validation…to be talked to, praised, and patted on the back”? I’ll own up to that, definitely. I love to receive comments here, and I respond to nearly all of them as a show of appreciation. I also like getting to know who’s reading here, and if they never let me know they’re reading via leaving a comment, I don’t get the chance to do that. I’d have to say Nicole’s got an uncomfortably accurate take on this: at some level, your comments are all about me.
“The premise…that measures comments as the sign of a blog’s worth”? Yes, that one troubles me too, as I see very little correlation between the number of readers that my stats say this blog has (direct visitors and subscribers) and the number of comments it gets; by that standard, I’d have to conclude its “worth” isn’t very high. It’s frequently made me question my effectiveness and ability to engage people as a blogger.
If “lurking” on blogs is strictly defined as reading but not commenting, then like Nicole, I lurk on many, many blogs. And if I’m OK with that – which, for the most part, I am – then I should be OK with having “lurkers” here. And for the most part, despite my sometime whinery about comment counts, I’m OK with that too. I’m glad you’re reading. I hope that when you do have something to say about something I’ve written, you’ll say it – and even when you don’t, I’ll still be very glad you read it. I’m glad to have you lurking for me; the odds are pretty good that I’m lurking for you, too.