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Nose to the grind

Well you may think being a blog anthropologist is all parties and hot chicks, but unfortunately not :-(

The anthropological method is inductive, you’re meant to draw conclusions from data, rather than testing hypotheses and theories. So, a major task of any anthropologist is gathering empirical data – as much as possible: classically, this means participating and observing social life amongst the people you are interested in finding out more about, then going home and writing down all you can remember. You also do more formal interviews and perhaps surveys too.

An interesting thing about blog anthropology is that a lot of the social interactions happening are there on the net for all to see – i.e. in the blogs, the comments, the chat boxes. So I have spent the whole day archiving all the posts I can find about the Nuffnang Pajama Party; I found 64 posts done after the party, and 58 pre-event posts. It took nine full hours. After that I’ll need to analyse them, uncover patterns, etc…

A few points immediately:
• There were about 300 bloggers at the event. Most of them would have had to do a pre-event post to get a ticket. There were prizes too: the three lucky winners were Davidlian, valerie, and “Johnathan from Penang who won an Apple Macbook for having the most number of actual Chipster packs in one photo.” (robbchew).
I can’t find the post of the last guy, which highlights the first problem – I only have 58 out of approximately 250 pre-event posts (assuming some brought friends, etc.). Where are the rest?
• The number of post- and pre-event posts are suspiciously similar. The way I got them was through ‘snowballing’: going to one blog, clicking on the links left by commenters, checking their blogs, finding commenters there, etc.
So basically I’m going to get groups of bloggers who comment in each other’s blogs, and will miss out on isolates and groups that have no members in common.
The solution would be to ask Nuffnang kindly for the list of blog posts they had to have for organisational purposes. But that information isn’t necessarily theirs to give out…
• Which takes us to a third issue, relating to research ethics. There’s a lot of debate about the ethics of using material on blogs or other internet venues for research: the basic question is – do you need permission to use material in someone’s blog for research? Is the blog in a public space and therefore open for anyone to use – like I can use material from a newspaper or take pictures of public performers? A more accurate analogy perhaps is a person standing in a public square telling everyone what they think of the world, or something.

Do any bloggers out there have an opinion? How would you feel if you found out I’ve been saving all your blog posts for the last three months, and I’ve tracked all your online conversations that I’ve been able to follow? What would you want or not want me to do with that information?


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synical on :

As far as I know, there's no "plus one" for Nuffnang events, so "assuming some brought friends" is out UNLESS they were already friends who already planned to score passes to be there. So you still end up with about 300 or so posts about the event.

I was gonna suggest you try the aggregators like Technorati, PPS, Google Blog Search, etc etc but I didn't want insult you...

On the third issue: If I didn't know it was for research, I'd be a little creeped out.

amy on :

hmm... good question. and i agree that i'd be a little creeped out too if i didnt know that it was for research.

it brings out the debate on a blogger's freedom and the danger that lurks online.

i guess i would mind as long as the person doing so informed me of it.

and as to what i would want or not want you to do with the information... i honestly dont know. i cant think of anything at the moment.

p/s: your site is so unfriendly to my laptop! u wont believe how many times i've tried to leave a comment here, only to give up because the page wont load!

julian on :

synical - well I know that some people were able to go without having posted something, but ya i'd guess the great majority did. I've been too lazy to try Technorati etc, but you're right that's what I should do.
OK so I really have to make my academic credentials obvious...

amy - well thanks for persisting :-) Though it's worrying to know that you're having problems, you're not the first to say that... What browser do you use?
You're right about the whole online issue - a big ethical issue in internet research is about what you can or cannot use...
I'm planning to track some bloggers eventually, I wonder if I should tell them in advance?
In any case, I think permission should be asked to use recognisable material...

pamsong on :

Whoa. This is freaky!

But... what kind of research do you do with all this information? And how does it help you understand... uh, understand what? I'm so full of questions right now it's ridiculous! Haha.

julian on :

Well it's a long story, but basically I'm interested in blogs because:
1. It's a (quite) new way for people to interact
2. Following from that,social anthropology is all about people interacting and creating new 'realities' - so I'm interested in seeing what happens
3. Finally, I like blogging, so this is an excuse to keep on doing it :-D

Maybe you can check out this post to get some idea - it's one way of looking at blogging

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