I was exceptionally lucky to pop my conference speaking cherry at the WTF Media Conference last year.  I speak at lot at Universities, but haven’t actually done the formal thing before.  What a (terrifying) jol.  Held at Cape Tech’s Belville Campus, the conference aims to give the largely student audience a view on what’s happening out there in the wild and wired world of (mostly) new media.  The theme: A Smarter World.

The line up was fab and styled in the short-form TED-type format.  10 minutes to make your point before the next guy got the mike. So the intimidation factor was pretty high.  But kind folk like the seriously fab Melissa Attree calmed my thundering heart and made me laugh out loud.  Lots. And thank the gods, I didn’t have to go after Mike Sharman, aka The Sharmanator. And I only swore twice (sorry mom).

I’d been asked to speak largely because my twitter profile says “blogger, writer, lurker”.  And the organizers were intrigued about the “lurker” bit.  I absolutely love the word ‘lurker’.  I’ve lurked my whole life.  And the interwebs is the finest thing for a good lurk ever to be invented.

So, I thought it would be a useful exercise (for me, largely) to write down (with a little more structure) the 5 thoughts from my on stage natter:

Lessons from a Lurker…

1. Lots of people lurk.
According to Urban dictionary: A lurker is someone that follows the forum but doesn’t post. And Wikipedia says that over 90% of online groups comprise of lurkers. This is probably because people don’t really feel like they are equipped to contribute.  Or they’re just hanging around, waiting for the right time to join in. Or stalking someone.  Stalking is likely.

For those of us learning to navigate digital for business, it often feels like we don’t have the first clue what we’re doing.  But the good news is: no one else does (really).  The other bit of good news is that the interwebs is filled with generous, smart, connected people who share prodigiously.  A good lurker can learn the most extraordinary things just by hanging about.

2. Stalk with intent
But the key is to work out where you want to lurk and what you want to learn.  The trick then is to find the minds that turn you on, to lurk where they live online and to learn the sodding hell out of them. Look for the stuff that gets your eyes all sparkly.  The stuff that makes you stay up late or the kind of juice that kicks you out of bed without hitting the snooze button.

Start there.  And follow the smart.  Not necessarily just the opinionated and loud, but the guys who are quietly passionate.  Who clearly love this particular thing too.  And then stalk who they stalk.  Mentors are everywhere. And with a little judicious humility, you can stand on the shoulders of giants.

But don’t get side tracked by the bubble gum.  Clay Shirky’s thoughts around cognitive surplus changed how I use the internet.  He talks about the time we have when we’re not working or sleeping or eating or socialising…the time most people spend mindlessly watching TV or trawling LOLCats.  And how the internet is allowing people to use their cognitive surplus to do radical, socially empowering things (like building Wikipedia or the stuff the guys at Ushahidi are doing).  What are you doing with yours?  Swop a bit of mindless for even a little bit of focused lurking and you’ll find way more inspiration than anything HBO or (ahem) SABC can cough up.

3. Expose yourself
The other benefit of lurker-learner behaviour is the ability to learn in the age-old way of monkey see, monkey do.  The multimedia nature of online means we can literally watch people try new things, and then see if we can do them. And then before you know it, you’re doing it better (because you can learn from other people’s fuck ups, to put it bluntly).

Wired Editor and Ted curator, Chris Anderson, talks about Crowd Accelerated Innovation “a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print.”  To hear him explain it better than I ever could, check out this video.

Basically, he’s saying we’re all becoming passionate amateurs – but that the collective advancement or learning that comes from sharing lessons and seeing success is faster than individual learning.  It means we’re psychologically able to succeed quicker and faster – and to accelerate incremental improvements.

There has literally never been this much access to the other people who love the small, niche thing you love.  And the more you expose yourself to that thing (and others) the more proficient you’ll get at it.

4. Early adopter, schmerly adopter….
You don’t have to rush to get there first.  Let other people make the mistakes so you don’t have to.  A good lurk before you act can save you a lot of time and heartache – and make you look super smart if you can apply the lessons (and colossal mistakes) of others to your own set of circumstances.

5. Lurk…pause…Engage!
Lurking is great.  But getting stuck in there is even better.  The wondrous nature of the social web really only starts to unfold when you stop lurking and start joining in.  Because the connection, the innovation, the sparking of ideas through engagement.  My life has been fundamentally changed by the simple process of lurking and even more so by the brave leap of engaging.

To see me warble on in the flesh, so to speak, click here.  But to be honest, you’d be much better off spending the 10 minutes either watching the fairly mental Mike Sharman (although he’s terribly NSFW), Mel Attree, David AlvesDan Pinch, Max Kaisen,  Rich Mullholland, Julia Possett, Matt Visser, Craig Ross or any other of the seriously smart speakers, pretty much all of whom I stalk vociferously.


Image credits.  Brain from here.  ‘Expose Yourself’ and ‘Engage’ from ThinkStock.

2 Responses to “Lurking”

  1. 1 Melissa Attree January 11, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Katie pal! You rock – do it more!

  2. 2 silverstar98121 January 12, 2012 at 4:09 am

    Good stuff. I hope to see more of it.

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