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On Lurkers

Meh. I'm feeling all icky and I kinda wanna just curl up and watch random South Park episodes on my comp, but it seems like a timely time to take up the topic of lurkers and why I wield pom-poms for them. Any incoherency is strictly due to me being stupid, not the sickliness. :)

Let's start with one of those damned annoying questions that'll make your head spin and your shoulders shrug. What is "fandom"? Who are we talking about when we talk about fandom? It's a word used so often by us, but actually pinning down who it includes can be something of a bitch.

Let's start with the basic: People who create fanworks, whether it be fanfic, fanart, fanvids, meta. Also, people who run comms, forums, award sites, rec lists, or in some other way actively contribute with significant chunks of their time/talent.

Those people are indisputably part of fandom. Hell, they're the part of fandom you hear about most. But fandom surely doesn't stop with them.

We'll work outward a bit, then. Fandom also includes people who actively comment or contribute to discussion, even though they may never offer fanworks or run any sort of fan comm.

So, at first glance, this would appear to be the first group's "audience". After all, we could all be creating fanworks for each other in one big incestuous pile of fannish orgyness. "Oooo...your fic was sooo good. Have an award." "Oh, yeah, baby. Your fic was good, too. Have this award."

While that reeks of self-congratulatory pretentiousness, the second group provides a ready and visible audience for what's produced by the first group. We can gauge their reaction because they comment and they vote. We talk to them. They're part of the fandom with us. It's a beautiful symbiotic relationship in which the first group provides fanworks/comms and the second provides an audience/participation/feedback.

Let me interrupt you before you start linking hands in companionship and singing annoying songs, though, because there's a third group that I haven't yet come to.

They're the lurkers.

We don't talk about them, acknowledge them, or even recognize their existence most of the time. Instead, we prefer the first two groups link hands and pretend that they're the entirety of the fandom (while anybody else is just on the outside looking in).

I say pshaw to that, though. ...pshaw!

Studies indicate that lurkers make up 90% of online groups. 90%. 90! Peeps, that means for every one person who comments on your fanwork, there's nine others who read/watched/looked at it but didn't say anything.

Oh no! What ungrateful jerks! Consuming all that we produce without even leaving feedback (which is the currency of fandom)! How dare they! Leeches!

I say they're not leeches. They're the entire reason we post our shit.

I need to digress into The Nature of the Internet 101, but it seems essential for a lot of fandom who don't appear to understand the concept.

The net is a wonderful, miraculous thing. It breaks down barriers and walls and inhibitions and gives us lots of porn.

Okay, let me start that again.

The net is a wonderful, miraculous thing. I get to talk to people who live a fucking ocean away! On a regular basis! For no additional costs! Without the net, I would barely be aware of their existence. (Apologies, but I turn into Sagan-ManWoman sometimes. Guys, we can talk to people in China instantly! Isn't that CRAZY??)

One of the aspects most touted about the internet is that anything you post publicly has the potential to be seen by anyone in the world (provided they have access to a computer with a connection). This means that if you have a website, even if you don't promote it, people have the ability to view it. Any people. Anywhere. Unless you restrict access in some way.

However, most of fandom is unrestricted. Fannish websites: unrestricted. Mailing lists: unrestricted (you only need an email address to sign up). Forums: mostly unrestricted. LJ: mostly unrestricted.

Rewind and play back that last part.

LJ: mostly unrestricted.

Unless you specifically make a post private or filtered, then access to it is unrestricted. That means that anybody with a modem, anywhere in the world, for any purpose, in any way, could possibly stumble across it and view it.

If you are only writing for your flist, then it's best to make your posts friends-only. Not doing so carries with it the knowledge that someone else could view it. And that person? Would be a lurker.

Hard to believe, I know. LJ likes to think it's an insular island that nobody could possibly find (or get stranded on). In some ways, that attitude creates the situation because LJ can seem clique-y and unwelcoming to outsiders. There's also a significant learning curve to learning the ropes here on LJ for some people. So it's likely that LJ has less fannish lurkers than an off-LJ board or site. Cause, really, who's gonna think to go to a journaling site for fannish stuff? "Journal" implies a personal diary of sorts. It's counter-intuitive unless you're already "in the know".

And yet, lurkers still come here (An LJ comm shows up in the first ten search results when you google "buffy fanfic"). When you pimp out your awesome new fic, you hope people will rec it. Those people may do so. And in doing so, they may send lurkers your way.

These are people you invited by implication when you posted publicly on the internet. You laid out the doormat. You expect to be read. You want people to read you. These lurkers? They're your audience.

See how I tied that digression back up to the main topic? Kinda nifty, huh?

Now let me move forward with that thought, because I know the general attitude towards lurkers is that they don't matter because they don't contribute. I'd say that they matter because they're the reason we contribute. They don't cease to exist just because you can't see them. They're there. They're consuming. And they're being fans in their own way.

When you're on a fic-reading spree, there's probably times when you don't leave feedback for a piece for whatever reason (and if you comment for every single piece of fanfic you read, you're like a fic-reading demi-god or something). For that piece, you were a temporary lurker. You read. You (maybe) enjoyed. You moved on. Did you stop being a fan in that moment just because you decided not to leave feedback? Did you stop loving the show as much as you used to?

Odds are, other people do the exact same thing with any fanworks you may produce. They consume it. They enjoy it. They move on. For that moment, they were lurkers, too.

Fandom encompasses those people of the first group, those people of the second group, and the lurkers. Everybody consumes. Some produce content. Others participate in discussions. And the lurkers provide the constant audience.

I talked a long time ago about how I assumed I always had at least one lurker reading my stuff. That way, if I didn't get any feedback, it didn't matter (And I have been in fandoms where I wrote stuff that got zero feedback. I kept writing). Because that one silent person presumably read and enjoyed whatever I put out there, and that was my purpose in posting it to the net in the first place. For someone, somewhere, to enjoy.

Given lurker statistics, there's a good likelihood that that holds true.

So I know that it's easy to wonder exactly what these lurkers are contributing.

I've tried to work out one of my crazy visual metaphors, but my brain keeps fucking it up. So let me just mangle these thoughts I have around on this one.

The visible community of fandom which consists of the first and second groups form something of a performance club. An open club where anybody can participate, but that is out on the street (the internet, see) with the awareness that anybody can come watch. In fact, we want people to come watch. We want people to see the fantastic works of fiction and art and meta and video that we're creating. We want people to read the discussions, the debates. Without those people watching, we might as well lock down our doors and retreat to a password-only section of the net. We might as well stop promoting our stuff far and wide in the hopes people will read and enjoy.

We're performers and the lurkers are the audience. We're performing fandom and in watching us, the lurkers become a part of that fandom. Without them, we're just some crazy loonies out on the street contorting ourselves for our own amusement. With them, we become recognized as contributors to something greater.

They don't have to say a damn word to do so. Because they're busy or don't have anything to say or don't feel comfortable speaking English or they just don't want to. And yet, because of them, what we're doing here in fandom ripples out and touches many more people than we can immediately perceive.

And that's damn nifty.

*waves pom-poms*

Did I blab on enough? Can I stop now and watch South Park while slowly wasting away? Yes? Okay!


Feb. 25th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
A lurker writes...
I'm a lurker and I'm glad to see that with this post you're also giving us the potential to comment.

If you're interested in fan fiction LJ is easy to find and once you've found an author whose writing you admire and follow, that tends to lead to other journals, and soon you're following lots of journals and lurking on all of them.

I don't have an LJ account, because for me I don't see the point, I'm not a particularly verbal person, my creative outlets lie in other directions - mostly music and LJ doesn't appear to be the appropriate forum for that.

And that for me is the problem, fan fiction is all about the eloquence of the writing. I can appreciate it, but I don't have the skills to contribute to it myself. There's plenty of fic here that I enjoy, but most of it is so well written that simply commenting that I liked the fic without explaining why seems shallow and devalues the original writing (IMO).

So please keep posting your wonderful works. They're much appreciated, even if we don't often show it. This post too far too long to write, I'm back to lurking.
Feb. 25th, 2010 11:55 pm (UTC)
Re: A lurker writes...
When I was a lurker in Buffy fandom, I didn't have near as easy a time getting into fanfic on LJ. But I think I'm sorely challenged when it comes to navigating this place (even now). :)

There's plenty of reasons someone wouldn't want to get an LJ account. Hell, I try to keep down the number of random accounts I have on the internet. If you're able to follow and read what you want without it, then there's just no need. No problem there.

I'm glad you enjoy the works posted round these parts. :)


The One Who Isn't Chosen

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