Friday, February 13, 2009

Silent Visitors

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Lurkers, legitimate peripheral participants, silent participants, the silent majority and a host of other related descriptions can be used for about 99% of visitors to this blog.

They refer to people who come to Middle-earth, have a look round, never comment and may never come back. Examination of data in Google Analytics shows that these visitors live all over the world, in their thousands.

My intimate involvement, in many different ways, with teaching and elearning has developed within me a fascination for these visitors.
In elearning communities, the return visitors represent a vast, possibly unknown, untapped resource. And they appear to remain inaccessible.

Engaging visitors:

Last year, in my more ignorant days as a beginner blogger, I spent a month in activities with the Comment Challenge trying to find out how to get these people to ‘engage’. It was the reason I took part in the Challenge, one that caused me disappointment that I didn't really learn much about lurkers; some learning in that area was to come later.

I often think of the supreme wealth of skill, knowledge and community that these visitors could bring, if only they participated.

Some researchers contend that these visitors do actually participate. Etienne Wenger considers them ‘legitimate peripheral participants’; Nonnecke and Preece refer to the ‘silent participants’. I have a different idea of the term participant, for it implies one who interacts, and interaction suggests contribution. But the visitors I refer to here, contribute only numbers to the data collected on my Google Analytics.

Major treasures:

I don’t like the term ‘lurker’, and my principles don’t permit me to coin a new term here, even if I had one, as I believe there are enough terms already being used to describe these anonymous observers. So I stick with ‘lurker’.

The lurkers are major treasures when considering the potential contribution that they can make to elearning communities. But they can also be looked on as freeloaders who may benefit from the activities of the community, but who do not contribute to these.

Blogger study:

Many bloggers study ways and means to improve engagement of visitors to their blogs. Their tactics involve attracting visitors through comments and links on other blogs, using catchy post titles, headings and labels and other data that are picked up on searches.

Once found by a visitor, the blog has attributes that have a quality that determines if its post content is read and if the visitor will come back later to read more. Bloggers work at improving this quality and many are accomplished in crafting this to a very high degree.

There have been hundreds of articles and posts published about what features make a great blog, and how to write a great post. Some bloggers devote a large portion of their writing time to this analysis.

Applicable in elearning:

As a teacher, passionate about the art of eteaching and elearning, I look on the opinion and effort of bloggers in their analysis as a superb abundance of information. If ever there were time and place for studying how to engage visitors in communities, it is now - in the blogosphere.

There is no finer environment for an eteacher to pick up ideas, tips, techniques and enthusiasm for encouraging learner engagement.

Relevant, interesting and engaging:

Whatever the message of the activity, it has to be interesting and relevant so that it permits the visitor to engage in discourse. With those elements there is greater likelihood that the visitor will return.

And it’s not necessary that teachers who are studying this specially need to study blogs expressly written about elearning. The same or similar practices that are successful in engaging
visitors to a blog can be applied to engaging learners in elearning.

As Skellie says, “. . . immerse yourself in the work of world-class bloggers. Never stop watching and learning.”

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Paul C said...

Seth Godin is one of those world class bloggers for me. His posts don't include a lot of bells and whistles in terms of images or numerous links. He's just got a lot of good content focused on social trends and marketing ideas. And then great books like Tribes and lecture appearances at places like TED. His posts are on the shorter side and regular.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Paul!

Yes Seth's Blog is indeed a fine example. The Rapid Elearning Blog by Tom Kuhlmann is another, as is Skellie's.

Though Skellie's post has a theme of getting into the fabric - the content - of the blog, it's this passion that 'elearning' requires from the facilitator/teacher in order to provide the environment for successful learner engagement.

Catchya later

Anonymous said...

What about us malcontents and dissenters?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Haere mai Anonymous!

Yes, and you too. There is a space on my blog here in Middle-earth for everyone to participate.

There is nobody more likely to express dissidence than I. Let's say I have an empathy. So I welcome you to express yours too.

Good that you chose this post to pay a visit - so fitting.

Have a look round if you haven't already. And do drop in again sometime.

Catchya later

Aisha said...

Kia ora!
Interesting to find a fellow kiwi here on youtube - what are the odds!

Thanks for this post. Finally it feels someone gets me! And going by your post it seems you're not the only one too.
What I really want to know is just *why* they don't comment. There's this particular visitor that checks my blog almost every single day (according to blog patrol) and yet not a single comment!!!! There's a number of other *somewhat* regulars and not a comment from them either!
The reason it's so frustrating is that I comment on just about every post I find interesting (I can't help myself) and so I just can't understand why people wouldn't. All I want is some feedback so that I can improve on whatever it is that needs improving, or work on the suggestions!
To make it easier I even added a cbox for people who can't be bothered signing in or whatever. (To be fair one "lurker" came out the very next time they visited but that was just one)

Anyway sorry for the extra long comment. Would love to hear your psycho-analysis [lol].


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Phalanges!

you ask about my psychoanalysis. I suspect that you are asking me for my opinion as to why lurkers lurk :-)

I agree with Caleb Clark, who says, "one of the hardest things to do in any online community is to get people to give information." Commenting on a blog is a start, though many comments often do not provide more than a sign of agreement or not.

Clark's opinion is that people don't feel that what they have to say offers any value. I go along with this, but I also feel that there are other factors that prevent people from putting a comment on a blog post. Being unsure of what to do is one. Distrust is another - scared that they might reveal something about themselves to the whole world - something that they'd perhaps rather not share.

This blog is visited by thousands of visitors every month, yet it is rare that a post will gather more than 5 or 6 comments. When this happens, it is an interesting study to trace back the sources and find out just exactly where they came from.

I welcome long comments. I too can leave comments as long as a post at times on other blogs. Funny enough, some bloggers don't like that. Too bad, I say.

Thank you for visiting and for your comment. Do drop by Middle-earth another time.

Catchya later

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken, lurking through your blog, that I recently found, I felt the need to say something (two years after this post was written, I see).
I'm a lurker. Being Swedish I find the words "lurker" or "lurking" amusing, they simply sound funny and humorous to me. Being Swedish, it is also sometimes harder to express exactly what I want to say, simply because my vocabulary is not always good enough. Even writing that sentence, I get frustrated because I know exactly what I want to say and how I'd like to express it - but I don't find the words (like the word "good" does not describe to the point what I mean). This might be one reason why people are not commenting. Or simply that they don't have anything to say, while enjoying the content. Or that they don't spell very well, maybe having a hard time with grammars. Or that they don't have the time to comment, since there are so much to do, and so many good posts to read.

Even though I am a lurker, I do participate in other ways: I share interesting knowledge from blogs with colleagues, I use what I've learnt (learned?) when I design e-learning, which means that learners will benefit from the good stuff I've learned as a blog lurker.

Another reason for lurking and not commenting is what I feel right now - did I really say something useful at all, or did I just take up other peoples precious time and space. Maybe I will not click on the publish button. But then again, this time I will. :o)

Thanks for interesting discussions!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Carina!

Welcome to Middle-earth! You say you are a lurker yet you have done the opposite to what a true lurker would have done – you left a worthwhile comment and I thank you for that. However, you have done much more by also explaining in your comment how you felt and what you were thinking before you made your comment. In doing that you have confirmed one of my beliefs about how some people react when they read a blog post such as this one.

In a post I published on working with online learning communities (1 April 2009) I quoted the research findings of Caleb Clark who believes that one reason people do not participate is that they just don't naturally think their way of doing things has any value, when in fact it is the essence of what being part of a community is all about. The multitude of doubts that people tend to have about participating online is explained perfectly in your comment. You overcame all of these fears, however, and demonstrated your assertiveness splendidly by leaving your comment the way you did!

Catchya later