Getting partially through Virtual Ethnography by Hine has helped me consider the ethnographic fieldwork component of my research. To start with, Hine’s words hit directly on why I am using participant observation as a method for studying information seeking behavior:
Ethnography holds particular appeal for studying ‘what people actually do’ with the technology. Once we think of cyberspace as a place where people do things, we can start to study just exactly what it is they do and why, in their terms, they do it.” (p. 21)
The ethnographer’s goal is to understand underlying cultural norms of a given community. The way people seek and utilize information (the focus of my project) is one part of the cultural landscape, making ethnography an excellent fit for investigating it.
My approach focuses on observation, asking informal questions and structured interviews. With just one month in which to accomplish this research, my project does depart from the longer length (one, two, even three years) and additional methods (drawing maps, taking pictures, learning techniques) of traditional ethnographies. Rather than uncovering the entire cultural milieu of Second Life, I am zeroed in on information seeking behaviors and have adjusted my methodology to be narrower in focus as well.