My diagram attempts to illustrate how many participants in the online environment move through phases as they gain understanding and confidence.
consumer – The first phase is where participants (often referred to as lurkers) simply read and explore the posts of others. Far from being passive as the word lurker suggests, consumers can be very active participants in an online community – just not yet visible to others.
commentor – as this label suggests, these people make comments on others posts (either on blogs, or in discussion forums), often seeking clarification, agreeing with a statement, or offering a suggestion or link to something similar.
contributor – as this label suggests, contributors are those who have started their own blogs or who initiate new threads on discussion forums. They are confident about putting forth their own ideas etc.
commentator – a commentator is someone who frequently takes a ‘meta’ view of what is going on, providing a level of leadership within the community. Their contributions will often draw attention to the ‘bigger picture’, making links with other work – analysing and synthesising the contributions of others.