This reference to lurkers and a mention of learning after college got me thinking about my own lurking status. As I mentioned much earlier in my blogging career (ie over a year ago or around 8 posts back) I have to wonder if it is a form of striving for perfection. In a casual conversation its easy to just add content but a blog is permanent; surely each post should be meaningful, correct, and complete (and if you slog through my blog it seems like it must be long). Unless and until one starts getting feedback on a blog there is no way to tell how well you are doing. Performance anxiety goes away when you know you can do something competently. Or maybe even when you know the level that you can perform at even if it isn’t competent.

But after I participate on the web I receive little to no feedback. In person I’d get verbal or non-verbal responses that I don’t get online. Either my comment is shouted into the void (responding to anything but a very recent post on most websites) or it is swallowed up in a crowd (posting on a recent post or comment in a popular blog) such that specific replies to me are lost in the general hubbub. Rarely does a comment hit the sweet spot of an active conversation, with a good interface so that I do not have to constantly search for the new comments (I hate you nested comments!), and a conversation decay time that fits with my web habits. Google Wave, which in some ways reminds me a lot of a good old threaded offline email and newsreader from the 1990’s, might help with some of this by bringing a forum like structure to website comments but I’m not sure it will be enough.

Timely and appropriate feedback seems to be the key. It can be critical (with some derivative thoughts here), supportive, or even just an acknowledgment of existence. Effective learning communities, whether face to face or virtual, manage to match the conversation time constant with the participants’ time constant while also providing feedback.

Which brings me right back to my summer job or redesigning how I give and assess HW. Why do I suddenly feel a little like James Burke?


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