Participating in a public online community is relatively new to me. I've been active in private forums within my profession (Information Technology) since the early 80s, but it never occurred to me to join Internet discussions related to my hobbies. Online forums and sites like cnn.com were essentially the same to me - read-only sources of information, opinion, and occasional distraction. Looking back on it, I suppose the vastness of the potential audience disturbed my sense of privacy. Within the confines of my employer's network, at least there were some bounds, a sense of "us".
Times changed in my profession. E-mail became a means of keeping in contact with clients, not just fellow employees. Forums for each product I worked on sprung up, though often the audience was restricted to employees and beta customers. The same sense of "us" continued. Publishing articles and then a book changed that:
It was May 2003 when the first edition of The Java Developer's Guide to Eclipse was published. As part of the publication, our editor encouraged us to participate in online discussions of the book. I was volunteered to represent our cadre of authors on the site JavaRanch. It's logo really made me wonder how seriously these "cowpokes" could be about programming:
For a week I logged in at least twice a day to respond to questions and critiques of our book. Sometimes I was up quite late. As the week worn down, I was starting to enjoy the open community atmosphere and decided to poke a little fun at the "sheriff" who had reviewed our book. He said "If your only goal is to use Eclipse then you don't need this book. If your desire is to write plugins then I wouldn't even try without it."
I'll be honest, the first sentence of his review's closing comment really ticked me off. Taking advantage of the campiness of the JavaRanch, I wrote a rebuttal: Dastardly Dan is calling out the Sheriff! Point by point I enumerated why I thought the Sheriff was wrong, concluding with a grin:
This odd moment was a turning point in the development of my "online persona". Mentally I bridged the notion that online communication wasn't just about getting my professional job done, it could extend to enrich my interests outside of work. I suppose one downside of this revelation is that I spend so much time online en totale there should be a law against it. But that's another story, and another entry for Overextracted.Dastardly Dan wrote:And notice that nowhere did I stoop to calling you a yellow-bellied stinkin' liar. Now off to find the nearest saloon and get rip roarin' drunk. There surely must be some cattle to rustle in these here parts...
By typical forum standards, HB has a small registered community. From what I've read in the phpBB forums (the software upon which this site is based), around 5000-6000 members is considered small-medium, medium is around 15000, and large can be really, really large (the largest I know of is gaia online with over four million members to-date). Lurkers make up a silent part of this community. There's two types of lurkers: Those that are "guests" and those that are non-posting members. I was in the former category for many years and didn't join the posting membership of any public community until 2003.
Asking someone who's a lurker why they lurk is like asking a shy person why they're shy - you're not likely to get much of an answer. As for me, I wanted to write down my delurker story before I forgot the details...