January 29, 2007 1:47 pm

Is Lurking A Bad Thing?

:note: office-y type noises

I discovered this article today called “10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog” and in the comments, someone named RJ says he (or she) thinks the term “lurker” is creepy and non-flattering to the 90% of people who read but don’t speak up on blogs.

Before I get to the “lurker” issue, I’d like to talk about feedreaders. I feel like since a good number of people use feedreaders now (though I myself don’t – more on that later) the amount of actual visitors to any given site has dropped, and with it go comments. The purpose of the feedreader is to make it so you don’t have to visit the website – it comes to you. Therefore, it’s an extra step for a feedreader user to click through to the original article in order to leave a comment. It’s a self-imposed commenting and visitor barrier that the webmaster really doesn’t have control over, and I find that kind of sad.

I don’t use a feedreader. I have a Google Reader account that I’ve set up to sync some web comics I read, but I’ve probably used it less than five times, ever. I like the surprise of finding a new post on a website. I enjoy checking out people’s designs. I do try to comment on posts and I’d like to think I comment at a reasonable rate.

Personally, my biggest reason for not leaving a comment is because I feel like the post author will think I am out of my element. As though my saying something like, “I think that’s great advice; I’ll keep that in mind for the future.” will make me look like an idiot. It’s not rational, but I talk myself out of a lot of comments because I feel I don’t have much in common with the author. I’m sure those people would welcome feedback regardless of whether or not our lives are identical.

That said, I don’t think the word “lurker” is entirely inaccurate; I’ve been on websites where the author’s policy is that if you don’t leave at least an introductory “Hello, just found your site, you seem interesting” type of comment, she takes offense because it’s like you’re gawking but don’t care enough to say anything. Personally, I think that’s a bit much for my tastes, but to each his own.

People who read but never (or rarely) comment are obviously getting something out of your website, or else they wouldn’t return. Rhetorical question: shouldn’t they “give something back” by leaving a comment now and then? Or are you merely doing them a favor of sorts (or providing a service, however you want to think about it) that they are in no way obligated to acknowledge or reciprocate?

I like to think of blogs as a very give-and-take kind of thing. Authors write posts, readers comment, author responds, maybe there’s an email sent here and there… I don’t think anybody should feel obligated to comment (as in my example about gawking) but I also think commenting is an easy way to reciprocate without it taking a lot of effort – kind of a “why not?” attitude.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Is the term “lurker” creepy? What other word would you use to describe the people who read but don’t speak up? Do you find lurkers to be sort of offensive or do you not mind them?

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  • Schnozz says:

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that the “I did this, now you owe me” philosophy is pretty much the summary of all that is wrong with humanity. It drives me crazy when people will do something of their own accord, then get annoyed when they don’t get the payback they expected. How often do people do that in real life too? I find it irritating. It’s like when your mom will be all, “Fine, don’t babysit your younger brother even though I made you all those cookies,” and you’re all, “Dude, nobody asked for the cookies, martyr.”

    No one promises bloggers anything, so I kind of lose respect for the ones who complain about their lack of comments as if they’ve been shafted in some imaginary deal. I think this is because I’m uncomfortable with the deeper implication that comments are some measure of worth or validation. Like we’re all using them to make friendship bracelets and collecting them on our wrists.

    Also, I don’t visit or read the blogs of people who use a “You must comment or I’m mad at you!” sort of disclaimer … on one hand, I appreciate that they were forward about their expectations, but on the other hand, I don’t like being obligated to fulfill them. I don’t dislike them, but I’m not interested in the agreement they’ve proposed, so I move on.

    Of course, all of this is mostly principle, because I like commenting and try to do it at least occasionally on the blogs I read. I shouldn’t HAVE to, though. And obviously, as you can tell here, I do comment when I have something to say … and when that happens, I say a lot! :)

    Regarding the feed reader … well, the more readers you get, the harder this choice is to make. Do you ignore your readers, or do you rely on a feed reader to help you make time for them?

    Meggan says:
    Thanks, Schnozz! Your thoughts on blogging are always so much more eloquent than mine. I totally understand the martyr thing, like, “Hey, I did this for you without telling you I was going to and NOW YOU OWE ME!” Argh. I’m still struggling with the feedreader thing. I wouldn’t ever get rid of it (I’d hate to alienate that many people) but just the same, I don’t know that I particularly like the concept of getting people to not visit the sites (or not as much).

  • Rose says:

    1. I love your new layout

    2. I’m not a feed reader user either, although I do have a few accounts. I love browsing sites and seeing layouts and finding new entries, etc. Oldschool!

    Now that you’ve mentioned the creepy lurker notion, it does sound a bit creepy. But I never thought of it that way.

    I like comments because it makes me feel like I’m not writing to an empty chasm. And to be honest, I don’t think I’d keep a blog if I didn’t have an audience.

    On the other hand, I don’t need everyone to comment every time. I only comment once in awhile on the blogs I read. Just depends on if I have something to contribute!

    Meggan says:
    1. Thanks. :)

    2. Same here.

    That’s a lot of the reason I like comments – it shows people are actually listening. I’ve posted some things that I honestly expected just one or two people to say “Jeeze, I’m sorry” or “Hope you feel better soon!” or something and I didn’t get any comments at all, and that sort of hurt. It’s worse on the more emo posts because you’re really putting yourself out there, but maybe people just don’t know what to say? I’d hate to not publish the emo posts, because that’s how I’m feeling at the time – I don’t want to be dishonest – but I don’t think people like reading them. Maybe I could write them and publish them as private?

  • Schnozz says:

    Oh, and because I clearly cannot shut my trap today: that article is going in the wrong direction. What’s with the need for more comments in the first place? Does the top comment winner get a Ferrari or something? I’d rather see an article called “Write for you: Getting over your need for external validation.”

    Instead, a site is teaching people to seek out attention and compel people to increase their comment count. I think that’s kind of gross.

    Oh, this horse. It is so high.

    Meggan says:
    I’m still kind of torn on this – on one hand, you could argue that since 90% of readers don’t leave comments, increasing your comment count means you’ve increased your readerbase as well, which is rarely a bad thing. On the other hand, the article is basically stating that the be-all end-all of your website is your comment count, which I think is wrong. Though, the website is for people that blog for money, so we may have to take that into account too. If more people are viewing your website, you’re probably making more money…

  • Claire says:

    Firstly, can I just say, I am a fan of the new design – the otter reminds me so much of my favourite “web” book (Web Design in a Nutshell by Jennifer Niederst), every time I look at him I think of the cover of that book! :)

    More “on topic”, I prefer the term “listener” rather than “lurker”. I view my blog as a type of conversation and I hope that those that read but do not comment, are simply “listening” attentively.

    I “listen” to what people have to say online all the time, but just because I value what I’ve heard, it doesn’t mean I can always think of a valid or suitable response that would further the conversation.

    Just the same as when talking/posting, having someone chirp in with a “me too” or a “that sucks” (yes, thank you Captain Obvious) every time is surplus to requirements. Sometimes, you’re not looking for an answer or opinion, just a friendly ear.

    Which brings me to my distaste for comment-beggars and those that expect some form of “repayment” for their efforts. IMHO if you want instant audience feedback, you should be in a play/panto or join a theatre group – it will be far more rewarding than a random blog.

    Having said that, I do find it very rewarding when someone you’ve never met takes time out of their day to say: “I found your blog today and I really enjoy your writing style, I thought X was really funny etc”. True, it does make the process seem more worth while, but that’s because I get satisfaction out of people enjoying my writing, as opposed to just racking up my comment count. ;)

    Meggan says:
    I like the “listener” idea. That’s definitely less creepy.

    I agree on the numbers thing – it’s not so much the number, just the fact that people are reading and responding. I love that. I really do value each and every comment I get on this website. :)

  • Li says:

    I’m a lurker and I call myself a lurker, so I don’t find the term to be offensive / creepy / unflattering, etc.

    I have a Google Reader account as well (it’s how I found this post :P ) but I don’t really use it very often…I can’t seem to decide if I like the old skool method of reading new posts or this new (to me, at least) method (which has the added bonus of catering to my lazyness and forgetfulness).

    Personally, my biggest reason for not leaving a comment is because I feel like the post author will think I am out of my element. As though my saying something like, “I think that’s great advice; I’ll keep that in mind for the future.” will make me look like an idiot. It’s not rational, but I talk myself out of a lot of comments because I feel I don’t have much in common with the author.

    ^ I’m the same.

    Do you find lurkers to be sort of offensive or do you not mind them?

    I don’t really mind, to be honest. It’s great getting comments; it makes me feel like I’ve evoked enough (feeling?) from someone for them to take the time out of their day to comment on me.
    But at the same time, if I don’t get any comments? No big deal. I’ll live and I won’t “threaten” my visitors with closing down my site due to lack of comments.

    Meggan says:
    I can totally envision myself being the internet version of the crazy cat lady: I’d have tons of websites to read and I’d shake my cane and yell about how “back in the day we used to VISIT a website to see if it had a new post! There was none of this new-fangled FEEDREADER nonsense!”

    I still don’t get the threatening thing. Jem just posted about someone doing that, and it’s so off-putting. “COMMENT OR I’LL JUST GO AWAY!” makes me think, “Fine, go away.” It’s awful but it’s true.

  • Lew says:

    I don’t have a problem with the word lurker, and now my own site is more photo-based I see far more visitors each day that clearly do not comment. I don’t put things up to get a response, though it is always nice.

    Frankly the thing that concerns me the most about comments is when things go to the other extreme. When every post gets a comment from the same person. It’s almost like stalking. These people who comment on every post on a given site and always agree, or always have some related yet ‘better’ story. That’s creepy. And it’s creepy because it’s such an active process. ‘Lurking’ is just passive. It’s someone reading something you’ve published. How many people read a book or a magazine and feel compelled to call the author to thank them?

    Meggan says:
    You bring up a really, really good point. I try not to be that person, and I’ve actually purposely stopped commenting as often on some blogs because I don’t want to be seen as creepy. They’ve said they don’t find it weird, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’d like to think I don’t come off as being weird or creepy, but I figure if I make myself feel uncomfortable when posting then I shouldn’t do it.

  • lkvy says:

    The lack of comments did annoy me, because I knew how much unique hits I was getting daily, yet I only got one or two comments a week. I used to have no way for someone to leave a comment, but then when a few of my friends started complaining about that, I set up a popup that would send their comments to my inbox… but then they rarely ever used that. D:

    There was a blog (on livejournal) I used to frequent, but when I left behind a comment one day the owner was like, “Ummm… who are you?” and was generally snotty about it, like she was creeped out that I was interested in her posts. So that made me not want to comment on random strangers’ posts.

    I don’t even frequent very many blogs. I’m only just starting to visit yours more often. Sometimes it seems like you’re my total opposite, but despite that you’re quite amusing.

    Meggan says:
    I think your situation was interesting since you didn’t have a dynamic blogging tool (or didn’t seem to, at least). I’ll admit that I didn’t comment on some things when I could have, simply because the commenting system felt awkward to me. Hence my signing Rose’s petition for you. :) I still don’t comment often (mostly because I am not as frequent reader as I could be) but I love your photos – they crack me up. You make the best faces. :D

    I think that’s awful that the owner got on your case for leaving a comment. It’s the goddamned Internet! You are putting things out publically! For everyone to read! They shouldn’t be all snotty when someone decides to respond.

    Haha, I sort of feel the same way about you. :)

  • Vixx says:

    I had a speech plan but Claire beat me to it, so read her comment again and then pretend that I said it first. :P

    I use Bloglines everyday; I read a lot of blogs – some that are infrequently updated – so it’s nice to have everything in one place and know when new posts are added. Despite this, I like to think that it doesn’t stop me from commenting; I still visit sites, I still read other people’s comments, and still comment myself.

    I live my online life like I live my offline one – treats others as I’d myself expect to be treated. As a consequence, I comment because I like to get comments and I participate as much I can – well, as a being a full-time working mum allows me!

    V xx

    Meggan says:
    I think your use of Bloglines is my ideal envisionment of how it should work. You use the service but still take the time to click over and I really appreciate that.

  • cat says:

    To be honest i’d be glad that someone is visiting, who cares if they comment. Sometimes, interesting as the post is, you really can’t think of anything to say..or just don’t want too. Lurkers are fine, though calling them lurkers is freaky!

    wow..all the other comments are very long..sorry mines so short! (i’m rather a lurker myself). I love your site, i’ll be back to lurk again! :D

    Meggan says:
    I’m definitely a victim of not knowing what to say. Sometimes even the easiest thing to say seems overkill or contrived.

    Don’t worry about the length, I’m just happy you spoke up! Glad to see you around.

  • Adastra says:

    Very interesting topic, and the article you posted was also interesting (though it’s pretty much all basic stuff). I guess 80% of the poeple who visit my blog will leave it right away, because it requires a registration before you can actually see anything – but I like being able to know who reads what I write, because I’ve been *nastily* tracked once. (People might ask why I don’t use livejournal – well because not all my friends use it, and because I learn a lot when programming that stuff myself).

    Anyway, I still have a lot of lurkers. I have to admit sometimes it’s rather disappointing when nobody or some particular person doesn’t comment on something specific which I know they care about, but thankfully I usually have good relationships with them and discuss stuff on IMs instead. ^^

    Though it’s also true that I prefer reading comments that really show me that the person has read the entry and speaks their mind, instead of just writing some crap like “Hey, great site!”.

    Meggan says:
    I sort of feel bad, because I’m one of those people who balks at registering to read a website. I guess I kind of look at it like a forum, where if you can’t read any of the posts, how are you supposed to know you want to join? Is it a cool community? Etc. That said, I totally get your reasoning for requiring registration.

    I like both kinds of comments, actually. I can see how the latter could be obnoxious, especially if that’s the majority of the sort you receive, but it’s nice to know people enjoy your website.