[Air-L] Research on "passive" social media use?

James Howison james at howison.name
Thu Nov 5 08:29:59 PST 2009

May I suggest that in the vast majority of cases we simply ought to  
call such actors (and their behaviors) "unobserved", "non-archived",  
even "unstudied"?

Most studies are relying on trace evidence about behavior in  
communities and the behaviors that these actors are engaging in don't  
leave traces.  By calling them "unobserved" we remind ourselves that  
we usually don't actually have data on their behaviors, so any label  
trying to capture our speculations about them, and their behaviors,  
seems premature.

I'm always surprised and pleased at the rich and varied findings that  
emerge when studies pull back this curtain and seriously study these  
unobserved, non-archived actors/behaviors.  For example the Lakhani  
and von Hippel (2003) [1] paper was like that for me, since they  
explicitly studied non-archived behaviors and found that reading---a  
non-archived, unobserved behavior in most studies---generated the bulk  
of learning that was a large factor in attracting participants;  
actually posting a question or answer was a much rarer behavior; the  
value of reading generated the "pool" of resources that made the  
visible participation possible at all.

At least such a label would remind us that here, truly, is "more study  
needed" (although thanks indeed for all the references people have  


[1]: Lakhani, K. R., & von Hippel, E. (2003). How open source software
works: "free" user-to-user assistance. Research Policy, 32(6),

On Nov 5, 2009, at 08:13, MARIA AMPARO LASEN DIAZ wrote:

> Hi Mark and everyone,
> Yes, you're right about the undertones of "lurker", and we could  
> talk about the undertones of "passive" too.
> The problem I find for "passive" is that,  reading, watching and  
> listening are forms of participation and forms of interacting with  
> the content. Of course, they are different from the other content  
> productive forms of interaction, but my guess is that by calling  
> ones passive and the other active we are not accounting for what  
> such activities as listening and watching entail, as well as hiding  
> their role in the production of the content, in the way they  
> contribute to shape and to give meaning to what is written, played,  
> displayed, etc.
> All the best
> Amparo
> ----- Mensaje original -----
> De: "M.B.Gaved" <M.B.Gaved at open.ac.uk>
> Fecha: Jueves, Noviembre 5, 2009 13:53
> Asunto: RE: [Air-L] Research on "passive" social media use?
> A: 'MARIA AMPARO LASEN DIAZ' <alasen at cps.ucm.es>
> CC: "'air-l at listserv.aoir.org'" <air-l at listserv.aoir.org>
>> Hi Amparo, all
>> It's certainly an interesting debate on what we should call
>> users of social media who do not post comments or upload content.
>> I agree "passive" is maybe not a strong enough expression for
>> non-contributory participation but I find it so much nicer than
>> the terrible expression "lurkers" to describe such users!
>> I cringe and recoil when I hear the term "lurker". It suggests
>> presence with dubious intentions to me, I think of some guy in a
>> 1940s Hollywood gangster movie with a big coat and turned up
>> collar waiting in a dark alley... :-)
>> Kind regards
>> Mark Gaved
>> The Open University
>> Milton Keynes
>> MK7 6AA
>> http://www.pi-project.ac.uk/
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org [mailto:air-l-
>> bounces at listserv.aoir.org] On Behalf Of MARIA AMPARO LASEN DIAZ
>> Sent: 04 November 2009 17:24
>> To: klastrup at itu.dk
>> Cc: air-l at listserv.aoir.org; klastrup at itu.dk
>> Subject: Re: [Air-L] Research on "passive" social media use?
>> Hi Lisbeth,
>> I wonder whether we shoud keep using this term "passive" to
>> describe users who do not post comments or upload content, as
>> listening, watching and reading are rich and meaningful ways of
>> interacting with content (there is a vaste and not so new amount
>> of scholar work on how the audiences in litterature and arts
>> contribute to make what they listen, read and watch by these
>> same activities of reading or lietening), regarding Internet
>> Kate Crawford is working on this topic, you can found the paper
>> she presented in the COST298 conference in Copenhagen this year
>> in the online proceedings at
>> http://miha2.ef.uni-lj.si/cost298/gbc2009-proceedings/papers/P202.pdf
>> Best
>> Amparo
>> The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC
>> 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity
>> registered in Scotland (SC 038302).
> Amparo Lasén Dpto Sociología I Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y  
> Sociología UCM Campus de Somosaguas Pozuelo de Alarcón 28223  
> 0034913942899 alasen at cps.ucm.es
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