Yet another gem from Christine Hine’s Virtual Ethnography…
Virtual ethnography allows a researcher to review community communications, such as discussion boards or chat transcripts, after the fact. This departs from a traditional ethnographic approach because it denies the researcher the experience of living in the community, experiencing it and gaining a much richer perspective.
Experiencing a virtual community in the moment helps provide the following essential context for the researcher:
- how the information is socially meaningful
- knowledge of the audience/users
- engagement with the users
- the experience of being a user herself
In other words, just reading the archives or reviewing a communications transcript does not a true ethnography make. This gives me hope around some of the difficulties I’m currently facing with screen-capture technology. Given the already s – l – o – w speed of my older computer, it’s pretty difficult to get screen capture software to run alongside the SL client without really bad lag time or crashing. Plus, there is the issue of storage.
So, I’ve been freaking out about the possibility of not being able to record my observation sessions as planned. However, according to Hine, conducting the research in the moment may end up being more productive than later analysis of recordings.
I’ve wanderings a bit around SL this week in hopes of spotting good places for observation. This has pointed out to me that (most of the time) interactions in-world are usually slow enough that I could take comprehensive field notes during observation. And, I’d have chat/IM transcripts for verification of certain information.
However, there are three areas of logistical concern with this potential approach:
- Lands o’ voice: In areas where voice communication is used, my ability to take sufficient field notes is severely compromised without back-up video recording
- Getting social: My ability to truly interact with the community is more limited if I am taking more extensive fieldnotes, given that I have no ability to go back to fill in information as needed
- Busy places: When areas do get crowded and lots of avatar activity springs up, I may not be able to record everything I’d like to by hand.
I may have to simply live with these concerns, given the technical issues that could prevent any consideration of using screen capture technology. I can try my best to compensate by budgeting enough post-session time to fully record all field notes. Also, I may shorten my sessions. Instead, I could do many more sessions at 1-hour each, allowing me to better remember the full span of what occurred when I’m transcribing notes just one hour later, as opposed to three (my original plan called for 3-4 hour observation sessions).