studying web-based collaborative communities

March 3, 2008

I’m working on some preliminary research for a study of DailyKos and some of the other political blogs that continue to define the networked public sphere.

In the process, I had to start thinking more seriously about what it means to do an ethnography of this kind of community.  I’ve done some work on this before, so I had a few ideas, but the challenges and scope of Kos are a bit daunting.

As a result, I’m focusing on breaking down an initial assessment of the site into several categories (see below). I then use these to structure my observations and to help define problems that I’ll have to solve later (possibly with more than just a tab-happy browser window, the Internet Archive, and two tired eyeballs).

The main categories are:

  • History and Evolution of the site – including community structure, software, interface, layout, etc.
  • Organizational/Institutional Structure (behind the scenes stuff like money, hosting, contractors, etc.)
  • The Current Community
    • social network topography (i.e. is it just another bow-tie?)
    • practices, norms, governance, etc.
    • signs of life off-line?
  • Technical Platform & Software
  • Content (production & consumption)
  • Networks and public-sphere functions (linking, SEO, connections to the media, political parties, etc.)

Obviously, these overlap a lot and the list can get much more detailed (indeed it does in my notebook). The important stuff – at least the stuff that a lot of smart Internet research has identified as important – seems to be accounted for…

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