Lurking is typically the first stage of entering into a new social space online. Lurkers get to feel their way around and figure out the norms of the new space. In all reality, they are learning a new literacy practice and lurking is the scaffolding of sorts that new folks use. During the lurking phase newbies learn from more experienced individuals the norms and behaviors of their new social space. In education, lurking is encouraged to get individuals into new social spaces since students may be intimidated or could easily become frustrated with new spaces that they're introduced to. However, in the educational realm there is an expectation that students will move out of the lurker status and become not simply consumers, but prosumers--both producers and consumers. Much like having a conversation, online social sites cannot exist as a social site if there isn't another side of the story to keep it social--otherwise it's just another website.
When social sites are lurked upon by many and contributed by few, there is a very narrow scope of ideas flowing through the digital media despite that vast audience patronizing the site. Many folks have opinions, so why is it so hard for people to stop being consumers and become prosumers? Of course there could be digital literacy issues that hamper the contribution of would be prosumers. There could also be individuals who fear that their thoughts will be invalidated or rejected by the contributors of the site. There could also be apathy over taking time to craft a thoughtful response or to simply defend one's point of view from the regular site surfers. Personally I think that it has something to do with lurkers not valuing social site prosumerism as anything worthwhile. Lurkers in general could have a poor view of social site participation as a literacy practice. They may ask "where does it get me".
Unlike texting, phone calls, or paper and pencil communication lurkers may feel a disconnect between tangible participation (like a face-to-face conversation) and less tangible participation (forum posts). While most would agree, talking with someone in person is a highly tangible form of social interaction. However, in a digital space where communication can have lags in response or no response at all, this may lead to a slighted feeling and the time put into the social interaction was not worth the effort. However, just the converse is true. Each piece of participation to a social space builds up not only credibility as a prosumer within the social space, but builds up individual literacy skills within that space for the individual. In a society of instant gratification, the fact that a post or participation attempt goes unnoticed is seen as discouraging. in reality, people cannot expect to just go from lurker to social participant rockstar in a post or two. More lurkers turned prosumers need to understand that each participation effort should be viewed as a step toward perfecting a craft and literacy rather than speaking in an unheard voice in a sea of many other (perhaps much louder) voices. Like any other literacy practice not only takes time but yields results, tangible results. So for any of you lurking out there, try participating. When you turn from simply consuming on a social site to producing as well, you create something much more meaningful and much bigger than just place to read interesting thoughts.