When is “hiding out” really just “lurking”?

Tiger Lurking in BambooA cat lurking from the grassStaying on the sidelines to our own detriment is what I described as “hiding out” yesterday. “Lurking” on the web is a similar term that I first heard when I read Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith a while back.

On social media platforms including blogs, Facebook and Twitter, people often spend time getting a sense for writers’ styles, community personalities… even a sense of the virtual “pecking order” if one exists. They may avoid posting a comment or contributing original content until they have a sense for whether their comments are proper or valued by the community… they “lurk”.

Lurkers may also be those who are trying to think of “just the right thing” to say, perhaps something someone else contributed just ahead of them. Maybe the blog post was so thorough it didn’t leave openings for their contribution. Or maybe they just felt strange posting a comment like “I agree with you” or “Good post”.

A final reason for lurking is a sense of embarrassment people can feel in posting their thoughts online. Of course, you have already heard my assessment that being found out as a fake would be the most embarrassing thing imaginable… but the easiest way to avoid that is to be as genuine as possible and not hide behind stereotypes, titles or shallow ideas about your value. So lurking in this sense is more like hiding out, though I could understand if you told yourself you were really just lurking.

Why care which is which?

One reason, as I think of it, is that lurking implies you have a plan or greater purpose that you are moving toward as you lurk. When a predator lurks, it watches, observes, thinks and plans before acting. It has a greater purpose in mind (though maybe not in the assessment of its prey).

Hiding out, however, is a move we think is defensive. The prey hides out, hoping not to be seen, hoping to find that one hole through which they might escape. On the web, people who are hiding out might be hoping to learn something (without engaging), hoping to “absorb” information or hoping to just be entertained.

I don’t have any moral thinking about either camp. As I consider who is reading, I am thinking about the different types of readers out there. The blog stats on my internal dashboard show lots of people reading, and most will always be either hiding out or lurking. Imagine the most popular blogs you know, and it must be the same for all of them.

Have you thought about lurkers and hiders? Which are you? (It is OK on this post just to leave a one-word comment if you are not hiding.)

NOTE: Your name and email are not required to post comments to this entire blog. I would rather hear from you than make you think I am collecting your contact information. You can login if you like. It is up to you.

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About ken
Creative insights, passion and technical adrenaline - strategist, agile coach and marketer, providing a good life for wife of 20 years & 2 awesome teenagers!

3 Responses to When is “hiding out” really just “lurking”?

  1. ken says:

    So… a coworker of mine just told me he is lurking… what does that mean?

  2. bfmooz says:

    I’m less lurking and more gawking. Driving by slowly looking to see if there’s anything I can see so I can tell someone else “did you see that _____ at ______?”

    • ken says:

      That sounds like two great distinctions. First, gawking to me is like when you are staring at a burning building or a car accident… it can be hard to tear your eyes away from the scene. I have been drawn into some blog posts and comment threads in the past, and before I knew it I couldn’t remember what I was looking for.

      Meanwhile, by telling someone else what you have found, you are taking on a “maven” role which could add to the influence/reach of the content originator. Even a lurker does that to the extent they remember where they get their insights and find future opportunities to return favors (when they eventually stop lurking).

      It comes back to what actions we are in… what are our objectives in the first place, and whether we keep them in mind as we browse and engage.

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