[Air-l] we need a better word than lurking

Alex Halavais alex at halavais.net
Thu May 10 15:09:10 PDT 2007

On 5/10/07, Neil Randall <nrandall at watarts.uwaterloo.ca> wrote:
> Except that "troll" was originally a verb in Internet usage. It was the act
> of injecting comments, often subtle digs, into a discussion for the purpose
> of getting people upset. It was the fishing sense of trolling.
> So in that sense, flaming is not troll-like behaviour.

Indeed. In fact, frequently trolls were often the oldest subscribers
on Usenet, who toyed with newbies by making ridiculous statements that
would *encourage* flaming. Indeed, that is the definition that still
appears in the Jargon File (though I'm not sure that makes it

But I'm not sure that is all that different from Elijah's definition.
"Subtle digs" are indeed antagonistic to open discourse, and while
they are not, generally, flames themselves, they are intended as
flame-bait. Thus the admonition: DFTT.

> The names of actions and programs in the early years of the Internet showed
> a delightful creativity that I think we should avoid losing. "Lurk" still
> strikes me as perfect; and "ping", "finger", etc. had their superb moments.

I second the idea of not tossing out "the lurker." It may say
something about the culture of early internet adopters that lurking
doesn't seem to carry some of the real world sense of a pejorative to
those who used it. It was considered an element of nettiquette to lurk
on a new list before diving into discussion.

Without reinscribing a stereotype, I wonder if this reflected a
culture in which gregariousness and garrulousness were not
particularly valued traits, and being a "lurker" didn't carry special
social stigma. I don't think "lurking" suggests particular
inattentiveness, or inactivity--just a lack of direct engagement in
conversation. I don't think it can be used without provisional
definition, but I don't think the potential RL negative connotations
should remove it from our discourse.

As an aside, "ping" and "finger" are, I think, different sorts of
animals: unix commands that happen to also be easily vocalized. I
don't think I've ever heard anyone say "fsck" or "rm -rf"
in a conversation, but that may just be because I don't talk to people
in real life.  (In any case, I would be reticent about mentioning
people I was planning to "finger" in mixed conversation.)


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