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Rethinking lurking: invisible leading and following in a knowledge transfer ecosystem

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journal contribution
posted on 02.09.2020 by Jocelyn Cranefield, Pak Yoong, SL Huff
© 2015, Association for Information Systems. All rights reserved. The term lurker connotes a low-value role in online communities. Despite making up the majority of members, these invisible individuals are often cast as peripheral players who should be encouraged to participate more fully. We argue that the lurker concept is problematic and that online communities, and the roles associated with them, need to be reconceptualized. We report on a study of online communities in a New Zealand professional development program. We found that two knowledge broker types played key roles in transferring knowledge: connector-leaders, who had a strong online presence, and follower-feeders, who communicated largely invisibly, via side-channels. Despite their different online profiles, both brokers used “lurking” purposively to perform two sets of invisible online activities: managing the knowledge agenda, and mentoring/being mentored. These activities supported their roles as leaders and followers, and sustained a symbiotic relationship. Decisions to “lurk” arose from the need for these brokers to negotiate diverse boundaries: the boundaries of micro-culture associated with communication contexts, the theory-practice boundary, role boundaries, and the online-offline boundary. Combining the concept of polycontextuality with boundary spanning theory, we propose an alternative way of understanding both lurking and online communities: the three-tier knowledge transfer ecosystem (KTE), a system of engagement spaces comprising diverse online and offline contexts in which individuals make continual decisions to cross between less- or more-visible settings. The study illustrates how key phenomena may remain invisible without a shift in level of analysis, and how using an anachronistic concept to frame a study can unintentionally constrain its value.

History

Preferred citation

Cranefield, J. A., Yoong, P. & Huff, S. L. (2015). Rethinking lurking: invisible leading and following in a knowledge transfer ecosystem. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 16(4), 213-247. https://doi.org/10.17705/1jais.00394

Journal title

Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Volume

16

Issue

4

Publication date

01/04/2015

Pagination

213-247

Publisher

Association for Information Systems

Publication status

Published

Contribution type

Article

Online publication date

01/04/2015

ISSN

1536-9323

eISSN

1558-3457

Article number

3

Language

en

Exports