Roles in CoP’s Revisited: Linking

(This is the third post in a series of six that is a revision of a post I wrote on ATD’s “Learning Circuit’s Blog” on June 10, 2006 entitled “Roles in CoP’s” in which I introduced the 4L Model of Roles in Online Communities.)

Why do people join online communities?

  • Socialization – They want to be around like-minded people.  “I want to be around people who speak my language and understand my problems.”
  • Expertise – They want to learn from and with the leaders on a topic. “I want to learn from them.” “I want to understand how they do what they do.”
  • Reputation – They want to build their status within the community, field, or their own organization.  “I want to be respected by these people.”
  • Affiliation – They are attracted by the community’s purpose and membership.  “I want to be a part of that group.” “I want people to know I’m a member of this group.”
  • Behavior – They want to do what the community does or helps people do.  “I want to do what they are doing.” “I want to change what I’ve been doing.”
  • Contribution – They want to help a community achieve its purpose.  “I want to use my knowledge and skills to help.” “I want to give my time and efforts to a worthy cause.”
  • Competition – They want to learn what is going on in other organizations.  They may even be looking for employees or experts to poach.  “I want to know if they are doing something that we don’t know about.” ” I want to find out who they are talking to/with.”
  • Assignment – and some people are assigned to participate in communities for projects or courses.

To be clear, I am defining “joining” as taking an action that intentionally brings a community into my life.  This can be as formal as paying a membership fee or achieving a certification or as minimal as signing up for a newsletter or bookmarking a web link.

Groups in Online Communities (formerly Roles in CoPs)

I know, about time. Right?

Let me start with a couple of key principles around groups.

  1. These groups are not mutually exclusive of each other. The boundaries between the groups are not starkly defined. The groups are descriptors of general behaviors.
  2. An individual can play more than one role in a community.
  3. We all play different roles in the different communities we join.

There may be a fifth group to consider, but I’m not to the point of adding them to my model, but I will talk about them briefly.  Based on his research around the Landscape of Trust and Communities of Practice, Julian Stodd is suggesting that communities are more defined by their community than by their common purpose.  He argues that the shape of the community may come from understanding who is left out – disenfranchised, excluded, denied membership, lack of technical access, lack of specific knowledge, etc – than by who is in the community.

Linking and Lurking

The first two roles I’ll discuss are Linking and Lurking.  Often these two groups are lumped together, but I think there are differences between the two that are important.

Research has clearly shown that these combined groups are by far the largest group of people involved in open online communities.  Closed communities that restrict access to a membership and internal communities will not have these groups of members (or very limited ones). Valdis Krebs, says this group can be as much as 2/3’s of a community’s participants.

Back in 2006, there was very little ability to see Linkers and Lurkers.  Today, thanks in

Linkers and Lurkers Illustration
Linkers and Lurkers in Online Communities

large part to the efforts of our colleagues over in Marketing who have had to deal with the massive shift to Social Media Marketing, there are simple ways to get an understanding of not only how many Linkers and Lurkers an online community have, but to understand a great deal about who they are, what they value, and what they do.


These people have taken the most minimal actions possible to join your community. They may have bookmarked your URL or signed up for your mailing list. Some may not realize that you consider them to be a part of your community.

Of course, the question begged here is “If they aren’t involved in the activities of the community, why should we care about them?”  There are several reasons to strive to understand these members of your community.

  1. Future members – Clearly they are interested enough in what you are doing to have taken action to join your community. Analyze what the action was that drew them in. Follow up with more similar opportunities.
  2. Feedback for Improvement – You likely have some way of reaching out to these folks.  Survey them regarding why they haven’t participated.  What would it take to get them more involved?
  3. Dissonant Voices – It’s very likely that there are disgruntled potential participants and former participants among your Linkers.  While approaching them may be tricky, they are likely a drag on the community now. Find out what their pain points are and see if you can’t meet them.
  4. Your Brand – Despite their lack of participation, there are a lot of them and their views on your community can have an impact on your brand’s reputation in the marketplace. Letting Linkers know you are aware they are there can create that little spark that will lead them on a path to becoming members.  Asking their opinions can accelerate that process.

Some Linkers will “check in” on your community from time to time.  Make sure the initial image of your community is dynamic and current.  If they are linked to you by a newsletter, make sure the newsletter is appealing and tells a compelling story about your community.  In both cases, you might have a special offer of new content or a simple community poll. These efforts could be the thing that gets a Linker to start Lurking.  The key is to make sure that the public facing side of your community is attractive to potential new members.

How Do We Know They are There?

When I wrote the original post in 2006, there was really no great way to tell who was a Linker. Sure there were things like tracking if someone posted your permalink somewhere – but that data was limited and didn’t include folks who simply bookmarked your site. At Learning Circuits Blog, we tried a number of tactics to get a better idea of how many linkers we had.  The best tool we added were anonymous mini polls that addressed an issue in the blog post. This did shine a temporary light on our linkers.  We had proven they were there, but only episodically.

Today there are a number of devices and tools that Social Media Marketers have developed to see who is visiting their sites, where they are coming from, what campaigns led them to their site, etc.  In addition, social media listening tools are powerful ways to keep an eye on what people are saying about your community. We in L&D need to spend time understanding these techniques and adapt them to meet our needs.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the Lurking role.

Previous posts in the series:

Coming posts in the series:


Organizing Your Lightbulbs

Vint Cerf, “one of the Fathers of the Internet,” presents a list of properties he feel are vital to the Internet of Things being a success in the Shannon Luminary Lecture at Nokia Bell Labs in March of 2018.

Earlier this summer I came across the video below.  It is a recording of the Shannon Luminary lecture by Vint Cerf at Nokia Bell Labs in March of this year. Cerf is often referred to as the “Father of the Internet” for his work co-inventing the TCP/IP protocol which is the foundation of the internet and enabled it to scale to the ubiquitous utility it is today.

The reality is this may be fairly complicated.  Figuring out how do we do this in a smooth way that will be intuitive is going to be a challenge?   – Vint Cerf

In this presentation, Cerf turns his attention to the Internet of Things and particularly the properties that need to be addressed to enable the Internet of Things to prosper in the same way the Internet did.

It’s a lengthy video, but he’s pretty entertaining.

Cerf walks through a long list of scenarios that he believes the developers of IoT devises and systems must collectively and collaboratively consider to ultimately lead to successful implementation of this emerging technology.

He lists 16 categories that he feels need to be addressed to assure a smooth running, intuitive IoT that may meet the expectations for a new world filled with tools that make our lives easier and more comfortable.  They are:

  • Reliability – They work all the time
  • Safety – Won’t use if not safe
  • Security – Won’t use if it appears that it can be easily hacked
  • Privacy – Will by privacy be secure or will
  • Interoperability – All the devices need to be able to work together
  • Autonomy – If the internet goes down, the IoT house continues to function
  • Scaleability – Installation and configuration must work for a dozen devices to thousands
  • Permissions – How will systems know who has the right to access which devices
    • Parents, kids, guests, emergency responders
    • what authorities are given to who?  To which devices?  How are they rescinded?
    • Would emergency responders have situational access? overrides?
    • Parental controls/User controls
    • How do you add a new user?  Drop one?
  • Ownership – What happens when devices are transferred to a new owner or a new owner takes possession of a house/office?
  • Updates – how do the devices know that updates are legitimate
  • Instrumentation – must easily know that each device is working properly
  • Data Control – Does data need to be shared? With whom? Under what circumstances?
  • Firewalls/Hubs – How do the lesser devices (like lightbulbs) protect themselves?  or how are they protected?
  • Effortless Configuration – How do you set up a system?
  • Paranoid Devices – Devices need to be smart enough to know where they belong and don’t.  Systems need to know what devices belong to them.
  • Standards – A devices following industry-wide standards to ensure interoperability of various devices with each other.

How do I refer to the lights I want to turn off and on? Do I have to give them names like George and Eddie and Frank?  – Vint Cerf

My reaction to this lecture was one of a bit of relief.  With all the soaring predictions of robots and chatbots and artificial intelligence transforming our world, Cerf’s concerns sound like brakes being applied to the headlong rush into the future.

Meeting the optimal end of all 16 of these principles is going to be challenging and will simply take time to reach the nirvana some predict IoT will bring.  Although between now and then or if we stray from pushing for these properties, we may experience “Nightmare on Elm Street”, as Cerf calls it.

Cerf finishes with a number of “Bottom Line” comments:

  • We’re going to put billions of these devices to work
  • some of them will get inadequate or no support after installation
  • Some of them will not meat reliability, privacy, and safety expectations
  • Roles for regulation, industry standards/norms, consumer training
  • New jobs: IoT Installers, Maintainers, Remote Diagnosticians
  • IoT could herald a utopian future or usher in a new Nightmare on Elm Street
  • It is a shared responsibility to try for the former and avoid the latter

YOUR TURN:  Where do you sit with IoT and the impact it will have on the future?  Do you have any IoT devices currently?  Do any of Cerf’s properties ring true to you given your experiences?  Please leave your ideas in the comment section below.



Photo by Diz Play on Unsplash  (lightbulbs)

Photo by Gian D. on Unsplash (billions)