Nethnography: A Naturalistic Approach Towards Online Interaction

Nethnography: A Naturalistic Approach Towards Online Interaction

Adriana Andrade Braga (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-974-8.ch024
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Abstract

This chapter explores the possibilities and limitations of nethnography, an ethnographic approach applied to the study of online interactions, particularly computer-mediated communication. In this chapter, a brief history of ethnography, including its relation to anthropological theories and its key methodological assumptions is addressed. Next, one of the most frequent methodologies applied to Internet settings, that is to treat logfiles as the only or main source of data, is explored, and its consequences are analyzed. In addition, some strategies related to a naturalistic perspective for data analysis are examined. Finally, an example of an ethnographic study, which involves participants of a Weblog, is presented to illustrate the potential for nethnography to enhance the study of CMC.
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Introduction

The introduction of computing technology in recent times produced deep changes on communication processes and practices. The first generations of analysts presented a range of positions regarding the study of these new media environments, evidencing very often the limitations of deterministic evaluations of these social facts (e.g. Lévy, 1993; Rheingold, 1993; Turkle, 1995). The concrete uses of these new technological resources created other negotiations regarding meanings and identities. The introduction of the personal computer connected to the worldwide Web brought new ways of dealing with old matters. The interaction protocols and the identity production devices presented by these phenomena demand proper techniques of interpretation. Far from the speculation about the impact of computing technology on human communication, this chapter wishes to present some ways to investigate the social uses of digital environments.

In ordinary interaction, face to face or by telephone, people know how to behave in order to sustain or to cause a certain impression among their acquaintances. Even if there are no formally codified rules, there are tacit methods (Garfinkel, 1967) that allow ordinary members of society to expect some specific responses during social situations. Computer-mediated communication (CMC), as a novel medium, demands from its participants a certain degree of improvisation when facing unexpected or new situations. In these cases, patterns of conduct taken from other contexts are adapted, in order to create new tacit rules for behavior within these settings. As these new social environments demand improvisation and adaptation from the participants to deal with unexpected situations, it is argued that it also demands from the analyst a combination or adaptation of methods originally designed to investigate different contexts, in order to fully grasp the specificity of CMC.

The study of social behavior on Internet environments presents a great methodological challenge. A first remark on method refers to the historical period in which the research takes place. These forms of interaction are recent phenomena, and they depart from individual and group strategies not inherited, but acquired through the use and adaptation of already-existing rules, taken from other relational contexts. Such strategies are applied on a case-by-case basis, according to situational demands, prior to an explicit formal or even tacit codification. These rules-in-the-making will consolidate later, as online cultural activities go on.

Thus, the aim of this chapter is to present a methodological perspective through which social interaction in online environments can be studied naturalistically, that is, focusing mainly on the observation of naturally occurring phenomena.

In order to explore the possibilities and limitations of an ethnographic approach applied to the study of online interaction, a brief history of ethnography will first be addressed, including its relation with anthropological theories, and its key methodological assumptions. Next, one of the most frequent methodologies applied to Internet settings is discussed, that is to treat logfiles as the only or main source of data, and some of its consequences are analyzed. In addition, some strategies related to a naturalistic perspective for data analysis are examined. Finally, an example of an ethnographic study is presented which involves participants of a Weblog to illustrate the potential for nethnography to enhance the study of CMC.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Ethnography: Research technique used traditionally in Anthropology, in which long term permanence of the researcher in the field and systematic description of social situations provides data for analyzing the culture of a given group or society.

Fieldwork: Ethnographic activity held in a given period and place in which the researcher collects data through direct contact with the group being studied.

Weblog: Also known as blog, is a Web page in which the author(s) publish constantly updated contents. Entries are written in chronological order and commonly displayed in reverse chronological order, in the form of posts, usually describing personal experiences. A typical Weblog combines text, images, links to other Weblogs, Web pages and other media, and provides means of interaction with readers, using e-mail, guestbook or comments linked to single posts.

Logfile: log kept by a Web server regarding registers left on a Website.

Blogger: Person who creates and maintains a Weblog.

Interactional: (in the field of Social Sciences) related to or proper of the social interaction.

Ethnomethodology: Term coined by Harold Garfinkel in the 1960s, that refers to a branch of Sociology that examines the ways in which people make sense of their world, share their understandings and produce collectively the social order in which they live.

Naturalistic Perspective: Empiricist approach of the Social Sciences based on the premise of collecting data essentially from “natural” situations, those that happen despite the presence or participation of the researcher.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Communications that occur via computer-mediated formats (i.e., Weblogs, instant messages, e-mails, chat rooms) between two or more individuals.

Online Interaction: Social interaction held by co-participants of a digital environment.

Social Interaction: Mutual action and/or influence among co-participants of the same social situation.

Participant Observation: Research strategies based on a close and intimate familiarity with a group and its practices in their natural environment, usually over an extended period of time.

Nethnography: Ethnographic research concerning digital environments.

Blog-Circuit: Communicational circuit established among participants of different social networking sites, accomplished through links exchange and reciprocal visits.

Research Setting: Social situations in which an ethnographer develops his/her fieldwork.

Digital Environment: Social setting produced through computer technology.

Fieldwork Diary: Research technique in which the ethnographer take systematic notes describing fieldwork situations.

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Preface
Bernard J. Jansen, Amanda Spink, Isak Taksa
Chapter 1
Bernard J. Jansen, Isak Taksa, Amanda Spink
This chapter outlines and discusses theoretical and methodological foundations for transaction log analysis. We first address the fundamentals of... Sample PDF
Research and Methodological Foundations of Transaction Log Analysis
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Chapter 2
W. David Penniman
This historical review of the birth and evolution of transaction log analysis applied to information retrieval systems provides two perspectives.... Sample PDF
Historic Perspective of Log Analysis
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Chapter 3
Lee Rainie, Bernard J. Jansen
Every research methodology for data collection has both strengths and limitations, and this is certainly true for transaction log analysis.... Sample PDF
Surveys as a Complementary Method for Web Log Analysis
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Chapter 4
Sam Ladner
This chapter aims to improve the rigor and legitimacy of Web-traffic measurement as a social research method. I compare two dominant forms of... Sample PDF
Watching the Web: An Ontological and Epistemological Critique of Web-Traffic Measurement
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Chapter 5
Kirstie Hawkey
This chapter examines two aspects of privacy concerns that must be considered when conducting studies that include the collection of Web logging... Sample PDF
Privacy Concerns for Web Logging Data
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Chapter 6
Bernard J. Jansen
Exploiting the data stored in search logs of Web search engines, Intranets, and Websites can provide important insights into understanding the... Sample PDF
The Methodology of Search Log Analysis
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Chapter 7
Anthony Ferrini, Jakki J. Mohr
As the Web’s popularity continues to grow and as new uses of the Web are developed, the importance of measuring the performance of a given Website... Sample PDF
Uses, Limitations, and Trends in Web Analytics
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Chapter 8
Danielle Booth
This chapter is an overview of the process of Web analytics for Websites. It outlines how visitor information such as number of visitors and visit... Sample PDF
A Review of Methodologies for Analyzing Websites
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Chapter 9
Gi Woong Yun
This chapter discusses validity of units of analysis of Web log data. First, Web log units are compared to the unit of analysis of television to... Sample PDF
The Unit of Analysis and the Validity of Web Log Data
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Chapter 10
Kirstie Hawkey, Melanie Kellar
This chapter presents recommendations for reporting context in studies of Web usage including Web browsing behavior. These recommendations consist... Sample PDF
Recommendations for Reporting Web Usage Studies
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Chapter 11
Seda Ozmutlu, Huseyin C. Ozmutlu, Amanda Spink
This chapter summarizes the progress of search engine user behavior analysis from search engine transaction log analysis to estimation of user... Sample PDF
From Analysis to Estimation of User Behavior
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Chapter 12
Gheorghe Muresan
In this chapter, we describe and discuss a methodological framework that integrates analysis of interaction logs with the conceptual design of the... Sample PDF
An Integrated Approach to Interaction Design and Log Analysis
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Chapter 13
Brian Detlor, Maureen Hupfer, Umar Ruhi
This chapter provides various tips for practitioners and researchers who wish to track end-user Web information seeking behavior. These tips are... Sample PDF
Tips for Tracking Web Information Seeking Behavior
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Chapter 14
Sandro José Rigo
Adaptive Hypermedia is an effective approach to automatic personalization that overcomes the difficulties and deficiencies of traditional Web... Sample PDF
Identifying Users Stereotypes for Dynamic Web Pages Customization
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Chapter 15
Brian K. Smith, Priya Sharma, Kyu Yon Lim, Goknur Kaplan Akilli, KyoungNa Kim, Toru Fujimoto
Computers and networking technologies have led to increases in the development and sustenance of online communities, and much research has focused... Sample PDF
Finding Meaning in Online, Very-Large Scale Conversations
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Chapter 16
Isak Taksa, Sarah Zelikovitz, Amanda Spink
Search query classification is a necessary step for a number of information retrieval tasks. This chapter presents an approach to non-hierarchical... Sample PDF
Machine Learning Approach to Search Query Classification
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Chapter 17
Seda Ozmutlu, Huseyin C. Ozmutlu, Amanda Spink
This chapter emphasizes topic analysis and identification of search engine user queries. Topic analysis and identification of queries is an... Sample PDF
Topic Analysis and Identification of Queries
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Chapter 18
Elmer V. Bernstam, Jorge R. Herskovic, William R. Hersh
Clinicians, researchers and members of the general public are increasingly using information technology to cope with the explosion in biomedical... Sample PDF
Query Log Analysis in Biomedicine
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Chapter 19
Michael Chau, Yan Lu, Xiao Fang, Christopher C. Yang
More non-English contents are now available on the World Wide Web and the number of non-English users on the Web is increasing. While it is... Sample PDF
Processing and Analysis of Search Query Logs in Chinese
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Chapter 20
Udo Kruschwitz, Nick Webb, Richard Sutcliffe
The theme of this chapter is the improvement of Information Retrieval and Question Answering systems by the analysis of query logs. Two case studies... Sample PDF
Query Log Analysis for Adaptive Dialogue-Driven Search
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Chapter 21
Mimi Zhang
In this chapter, we present the action-object pair approach as a conceptual framework for conducting transaction log analysis. We argue that there... Sample PDF
Using Action-Object Pairs as a Conceptual Framework for Transaction Log Analysis
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Chapter 22
Paul DiPerna
This chapter proposes a new theoretical construct for evaluating Websites that facilitate online social networks. The suggested model considers... Sample PDF
Analysis and Evaluation of the Connector Website
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Chapter 23
Marie-Francine Moens
This chapter introduces information extraction from blog texts. It argues that the classical techniques for information extraction that are commonly... Sample PDF
Information Extraction from Blogs
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Chapter 24
Adriana Andrade Braga
This chapter explores the possibilities and limitations of nethnography, an ethnographic approach applied to the study of online interactions... Sample PDF
Nethnography: A Naturalistic Approach Towards Online Interaction
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Chapter 25
Isak Taksa, Amanda Spink, Bernard J. Jansen
Web log analysis is an innovative and unique field constantly formed and changed by the convergence of various emerging Web technologies. Due to its... Sample PDF
Web Log Analysis: Diversity of Research Methodologies
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About the Contributors