Digital Ethnography: New Ways of Knowing Ourselves and Our Culture

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Presentation given at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York on Nov 11, 2009.

Online advertisers and web analysts are awash in a sea of data: pageviews, CPMs sold, subscriptions, sentiment, friends, fans, click-through rates, comments, posts, re-tweets… These metrics are great at identifying the “Who?” and “What?” of online behavior but they often leave out the “How?”, “Where?”, and “Why?”.

Unlike traditional market research, ethnography uses observation to focus on what people do, not on what they say they do. Ethnography communicates a social story, pulling the audience into the daily lives of the respondents. Despite the introduction of new technologies like social media, humans are still telling the same, vivid stories, just in different ways.

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Digital Ethnography: New Ways of Knowing Ourselves and Our Culture

  1. 1. DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY RUSS NELSON TANDEM RESEARCH TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  2. 2. AGENDA 1.BACKGROUND 2.DEFINITIONS 3.RESEARCH METHODS 4.CASE STUDIES: STATUS, CULTURE, IDENTITY 5.DISCUSSION TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  3. 3. BACKGROUND: FROM STUDYING WEST AFRICAN CULTURE... ...TO STUDYING CONSUMER CULTURE AND SOLVING BUSINESS PROBLEMS TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  4. 4. ANTHROPOLOGY is the scientific study of people, including their origins, behavior, and beliefs. ETHNOGRAPHY is a research method for studying culture in context. Strategies include interviews, direct observation of behavior, and participation in the community. Ethnography communicates the story of everyday life. TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  5. 5. With the introduction of new technologies, how and where we tell our stories has changed. But they are still the same stories. Digital Ethnography is often easier than offline research: •Social networking sites visualize relationships •People are more honest when they write behind a pseudonym •Respondents have more control over what they share •Researchers are less obtrusive and less likely to affect the behavior of the people they are studying TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  6. 6. VIDEO: OUR RELATIONSHIPS ARE CONVEYED THROUGH MEDIA TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  7. 7. INTERVIEWS PHONE DIARIES DIGITAL VIDEO DIARIES ETHNOGRAPHY RESEARCH METHODS RFID OBJECT TRACKING PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION
  8. 8. CASE STUDY: How is Twitter like village politics? HOW: Do we create our identities? Show status? Enhance social ties? WHAT: Languages do we use? Social rules govern our interactions? Are our values? TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  9. 9. CASE STUDY: How is Twitter like village politics? 1. Create identity 1. 2. 2. Collect contacts 3. Exchange information 3. to strengthen connections ----------------------- 4. Create content to define 5. perspective/identity 5. Network grows beyond friends and family 4. 6. * 6. Information exchange becomes more uni-directional 7. Feedback loop: popularity increases followers 7. 8. Popularity increases credibility
  10. 10. CASE STUDY: How is a hostile culture beneficial to an online forum? “Bster, Maybe you just don’t like authentic Thai food. There’s no crime in that.” -stevez “So an inexpensive, incredibly delicious [neighborhood restaurant] had a hard time one night... They forgot an entree, and couldn’t find a ‘manager.’ It is so incredibly pointless to post about this.” -Kennyz “Braised steak? That tells me pretty much all I need to know about where you’re coming from.” -elakin TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  11. 11. CASE STUDY: How is a hostile culture beneficial to an online forum? TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  12. 12. CASE STUDY: Why do some people look like their avatars while others don’t? TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  13. 13. CASE STUDY: Why do some people look like their avatars while others don’t? PRIVATE OFFLINE LURKING STAYING BRAND IN TOUCH CONNECTING PRIVATE BUILDING PUBLIC ONLINE ONLINE PUBLIC OFFLINE TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY
  14. 14. DISCUSSION russ@researchintandem.com twitter: @tandemresearch TANDEM RESEARCH 11.18.09 | WEB 2.0 CONFERENCE DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY

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