Why lurking (and de-lurking) in social networks is a big deal

Lurking is the number one activity on the Web…and is therefore extremely important to design for.

The latest story on lurking at GigaOm (they are covering this topic nicely): Thanks to Quora, now you can’t read anonymously

Lurking is the number one activity on the Web. That is, looking at other people’s profiles, photos, blog posts, and other information with the knowledge that they probably don’t know that you are doing it. Since the beginning of the Web this has been implicit…never a stated rule but understood by everyone.

Lurking is the primary activity on Facebook.

When the observed party knows they’re being observed, everything changes. Not a small change, not a tweak in behavior or a “hello there, thanks for checking me out”, the entire process is completely changed forever. The relationship between those two people is permanently altered, for better or worse.

There have been many instances when software has been built to surface lurking. Some email clients used to let you know when someone read your message…and almost everyone turned it off. There was an app on Facebook early on that let you see who was viewing your profile…the observed liked it (the observers hated it) and Facebook killed it. LinkedIn, of course, charges for the privilege to see who is looking at your profile.

Imagine being able to have a record of everyone who looked at you (or things about you) as you moved throughout your life. You would quickly notice patterns that you normally wouldn’t, and everything would change. In fact, much of interpersonal interaction is a dance of observing discretely…

Imagine also that some other human could see through your eyes everyday and know what you look at. It’s not that you might have a lot to hide, but it surely would change many of your relationships. Who knows…maybe we would empathize with others more…knowing what they pay attention to?

I’m not sure what the answer is for all of this…but I do know this road will be anything but smooth.

Published: August 3rd, 2012