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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!


( 143 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 25th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
Mostly, the malice toward lurkers is just feedback junkies moaning about all the feedback crack they would get if only ALL those hits on their hit counter left feedback!

Mom! Mom! MOOOOOM! I'm about to make a cannonball! No, you're not looking, you just said you're looking! Lookatme!!!

Feb. 25th, 2010 07:48 pm (UTC)
Don't forget the time-honored:

Hey! If I don't have TEN people watching me, I'm not gonna do the cannonball!!! Come on, guys! Don't you want to see me do the cannonball????

(Deleted comment)
Feb. 25th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
*adds some lurker love to the mix*

As a former lurker I say uh-huh. :)
Feb. 25th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)

Who isn't a former lurker? Did anybody jump into fandom without lurking first? Hell, I read fics for near on a year before I started getting accounts and adding my thoughts.
(no subject) - jedinic - Mar. 13th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle - Mar. 14th, 2010 05:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jedinic - Mar. 14th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 25th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
All of this is true. Sites like FF.net prove it, you'll have 10-20 reviews for a chapter and 10,000 hits. Sometimes it's a little annoying, becuase we posters like feedback, but it is nice to know someone took time out of their day to care about your opinions for a few minutes. Even if they didn't care enough to leave theirs.
Feb. 25th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, definitely. LJ's new stats for paid accounts can be handy with that, too.

I love getting feedback, but I'm happy just knowing someone took the time to read any of my stuff, even if they didn't say anything. There's so much other stuff they could be reading on the internet, but they read my doofy little fic. That's cool. :)
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)

That was my lurker voice. :> As someone that is pretty much a lurker, this was a nice post to read. I feel really bad about not leaving feedback sometimes, but a lot of times I just don't know what to say other than ":DDDDDD". :x

Since I'm de-lurking anyway I thought I'd just throw in that I really enjoy your meta posts. They're thoughtful & fun to read. :)
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
I'm quite horrible about leaving feedback on fics. So you're not alone there. :)

Since I'm de-lurking anyway I thought I'd just throw in that I really enjoy your meta posts. They're thoughtful & fun to read. :)

\o/ Glad you enjoy!
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:03 pm (UTC)
Wait! You mean some sneaky person is reading this comment right now? *shifty eyes*

Seriously, though, well said.

I agree. The idea that someone out there is reading and enjoying? That's what keeps us going, right? I love that.

Yay lurkers!

Now can I start linking hands in companionship and singing annoying songs? Because that sounds like my kind of thing. Plus, I even have an appropriate icon!
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
I suppose there can be some singing... :)
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 - Feb. 25th, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mabus101 - Feb. 25th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 25th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)
They don't cease to exist just because you can't see them.

I should've known you were one of those crazy people who believes in object permanence. *yawns*

So...fandom is a group of street performers and the lurkers are the people who walk past without throwing change in our cups?

Or are we venue performers and the lurkers are the audience members who sit still during the standing ovation? Assuming we've actually earned a standing ovation.

Or is it like a wine tasting where you're supposed to just be quiet and nod appreciatively and the NON-lurkers are the jackasses who swallow the wine and start embarassing themselves in front of the lurkers.Oh wait...I didn't mean me. *ass stamp*

On the serious side: This reminds of a paper I wrote that was all about Whedonesque, which has a period of forced lurk-age so you can watch and learn how things work.

Also: I think it depends on the writer. Just like with, say, musicians, there are those who perform for money and fame and then there are those who perform because they love to entertain. So lurkers are important to one group and almost meaningless to the other.

Personally, I'm quite encouraged by that 90% stat; that injected a little extra self-confidence into my day. =D
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC)
Well, even for the writers who write for the pure love of the craft, by posting it publicly on the net, there comes an expectation of readership. If they didn't care one whit about being read, they would post to a private circle or friends or just keep it on their hard drive.
(no subject) - me_llamo_nic - Feb. 25th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC)
Today I got to give a lecture about Buffy in a college-level class. I asked if anyone had ever written fanfic. No one raised their hand. I proclaimed, "lurkers!" and continued with my lecture.
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle - Feb. 25th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - me_llamo_nic - Feb. 25th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 25th, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
Yay lurkers! I think we've all done that at some point. But I try and leave feedback sometimes - normally when I see the fic has gotten no reviews, because even if the lurkers enjoy, I always get pouty when that happens (which is like, all the time because I have no flist.)

But I digress. Lukers are Vitally Important. *gives them a shiny medal*
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
I've been better about leaving feedback just because it is discouraging to get little or no comments on a story, even if you know some people might just be reading without reviewing. It's nice to have something tangible to confirm it. :)
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
*lurks and says nothing*
Feb. 25th, 2010 11:48 pm (UTC)
*gives you a kitten*
Feb. 25th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
The net is a wonderful, miraculous thing. I get to talk to people who live a fucking ocean away! On a regular basis! This. Yes. :)
Feb. 25th, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, man, thinking about how awesome the internet is about how much it's changed people's lives will lead me to the mother of all rambles. What did we do before Gore gave us the internet??? :)
Feb. 25th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
I have to admit that I've been in all three groups at one time or another. These days I'd say I'm in the second group more than any other, but still consider myself to be actively involved in fandom - even if it is just by contributing (in a small way) to discussions like these. I also still lurk from time to time, if I don't feel that I have anything interesting to add to the discussion.

The net is a wonderful, miraculous thing. I get to talk to people who live a fucking ocean away! On a regular basis!

Yes, this! I've been lucky enough to meet people from all over the world, who I would never have even known existed if it hadn't been for fandom. How great is that?! :)

Great post!
Feb. 25th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
I've also shifted between groups quite a bit. And, hell, I'm a complete lurker in some fandoms (I wander around DW fandom quite a bit, but I don't even join discussions. I'm like a ninja).

Yes, this! I've been lucky enough to meet people from all over the world, who I would never have even known existed if it hadn't been for fandom. How great is that?! :)

Seriously, yes!

(no subject) - angearia - Feb. 26th, 2010 12:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle - Feb. 26th, 2010 01:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - angearia - Feb. 26th, 2010 01:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mikeda - Feb. 26th, 2010 01:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 25th, 2010 09:46 pm (UTC)
I was a lurker for YEARS. And I'm only semi-reformed at this point. I'm just grateful writers write anything.
Feb. 25th, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
Yep. I've had my periods of lurkerdom in some fandoms. And I lurk in other places of the Buffyverse (gasp!). I'm incredibly grateful for all the producers of content. Unfortunately, I don't always have something to say, or I don't have time or energy or *enter lurker excuse here*.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 26th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC) - Expand
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. :)
Feb. 25th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
Yay, lurkers! They definitely do keep the world turning. Though I slightly disagree with you on this point:

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.

I see the dynamic slightly differently - I mainly post fic to my LJ wanting to see what my fandom friends make of it (and LJ is basically where they are). I don't flock it because I'm happy for anyone who wants to read it to do so, but I'm not writing to/performing for them, even if they happen to be there. I mean, I've noticed in the past that I've never got the same buzz from posting to archives, because I don't really care what people who leave reviews think. It's a thrill if I receive a review/comment, which is why I participate in communities (though I also like festivals generally and feel like seasonal_spuffy, for example, has made me produce some of my best stuff), but it's never a satisfaction that lasts long beyond my reading and replying. So I'm not sure I particularly do want to be read by all and sundry, though, obviously, it's nice that it happens and I can't lie and say that I don't enjoy getting comments or recs or hits. It's just that it's kind of a bonus.
Feb. 25th, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm...I can see that. The main gist is that by posting out of flock (or to archives), the invitation for these lurkers is there, whether you're intending it to be or not. They may not be your primary audience, but given the way the net works, it's impossible to think that you're not going to have more people reading your stuff.
(no subject) - me_llamo_nic - Feb. 26th, 2010 12:29 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 25th, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
I was a lurker for years. I'm french, so when I started reading fics, I could read english, but I was terrible at writing it. So for me it was, what am I supposed to do? Just say, I liked your fic? Sounded lame.
Now I try to leave some feedback when I really enjoy something, but I'm still terrible at it.
So it's nice seeing a post like this, which make me feel like I might still be, part of fandom.
Feb. 26th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)

It's especially important to remember the global nature of the internet and that people whose first language isn't English may be reading your stuff. It's nice if they feel comfortable leaving feedback, but it's unreasonable to expect it of them.

You're definitely part of fandom. You enjoy the show to the point where you're reading fics on the net. How can you not count as a fan? :)
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