What is wrong with lurkers?

I have heard the term “lurker” often in the blogging community.  You know, people who read your blog but don’t leave comments or participate in conversations.  You’ll see them in your blog analytics.  Actually, most people who do stop by your blog are lurkers.  Not to be confused with “stalkers”, of course.

Lurkers are also present in forums and private communities, much to the dismay of the community owner.  In most cases, lurkers will be removed from such communities as punishment for not speaking up.  Forum owners see lurkers as a detriment to the community, especially in those which share valuable information.  Reason?  A lurker may take in  valuable information, put it to use, but never give anything back to the community.  It is a take/take situation for the lurker.

I’m conflicted on the lurker issue.

I actually welcome lurkers to my blog and forum.  I actually chose to make my BlogHer Forum readable by anyone because my ultimate goal was to help the community with knowledge, not get comments or replies.  In my forum, you only need membership to comment and this is strictly to avoid spammers.  As for my blog, it is open for anyone to read and comment.  I’m okay with people taking the information and running.  Obviously, participation is welcome and I thrive on the comment love, but it isn’t the only reason why I blog.  Knowing that I am reaching to more than just commenters is reason enough.  I see the numbers in my stats.

Saying that, I do have a private Mom Spark Media community that requires a paid membership to enter.  Why?  The information and time spent in this particular community is great on my part.  It also narrows down the size of the community, which helps with one-on-one interaction.  However, we still have lurkers.  Paid lurkers.  I’m okay with that.  These lurkers paid their membership fees and in my opinion, have the right to be quiet if they so please.  I would never kick anyone out for not commenting. (this isn’t to say we don’t have rules profanity, bullying, etc. which would result in membership termination)  As with my blog and forum, this private community does not suffer from lurkers in any way.

So, in short, I welcome the lurker because most of my readers are lurkers.  Chances are, most of your readers are, too.  Do I wish they would share their thoughts once in a while?  Of course, but I would never ban anyone for not doing so, be that my blog, forum or private community.  If I didn’t want my information consumed, I wouldn’t put it on the internet.  If it’s ever too valuable to share publicly, I will charge for it.  Plain and simple.

What are your thoughts on lurkers?  Do you see lurkers in a negative light?