Archive | September, 2012

Read-Along Ethnography: Struggling to Keep Up From Afar


Living with and witnessing first hand the culture / society you are interested in, the ethnographic imperative to immerse yourself in the field is a real logistical challenge. As the 18-months-in-the-field standard became a disciplinary right-of-passage, research predating the immersion imperative was downgraded (and denigrated) as “armchair anthropology.”

As ‘virtual ethnography’ has emerged, the possibilities of a genuine experience from the armchair have been, on some level, recovered. However, in ethnographies of online environments like Second Life (Boellstorff) and networked games like World of Warcraft and EverQuest (Nardi, Taylor), all participants presumably are operating from their armchairs (or office chairs, couches, etc).  Over at Savage Minds, P. Kerim Friedman suggested that the spill over of our field sites through the Internet creates a kind of “database of lived experience” that offers perhaps some greater legitimacy to forms of remote ethnography.

I recently embarked on a project with Janaki Srinivasan, a recent graduate of the ISchool PhD program. She is the lucky one who gets to actually do the fieldwork (on mobile phones and the fishing industry in Kerala, India). For me, it was an experiment to see how I might overcome my more limited opportunities to jet off for months or years.

What I’m attempting though is not remote ethnography, something I’ve heard of before and that usually seems to entail data garnered through sites like Flickr, Facebook (i.e. to learn about pop culture in India). This is rather read-along ethnography. Janaki writes notes, snaps photos, and then they appear through the magic of Dropbox. I try gamely to keep up, reading the documents as they come in, in chronological order. So far I would describe this attempt as a failure (on my part). We’re up to week 9. The struggle has forced me to think about all of the ways knowledge of a place and the people living there just doesn’t carry over in the field notes.

Read More… Read-Along Ethnography: Struggling to Keep Up From Afar

Can Ethnography Save Enterprise Social Networking?


Editor’s note: Enterprise software systems. Sounds a bit boring and inhuman. But they’re not! 

This month, Mike Gotta from Cisco Systems, makes the case for bringing the human back into enterprise software design and development, starting out with enterprise social networking (ESN).

ESN is like Facebook, but just for people who work within a company. But why are businesses investing in ESN when white collar workers are already using Facebook, Google+, or Twitter? Because existing social networks don’t fulfill enterprise needs for security, compliance, and integration with existing systems.  Employees don’t just time-in and time-out, they socialize. And companies want to make the most out of their employees’ social networks whether it’s making it easier for workers to find like-minded colleagues or identifying potential leaders or even locating expertise. Because here’s the thing that most companies really get – people do better work when they feel they have the social support to accomplish their task. 

Small companies might turn to an out-of-box ESN like Salesforce (Chatter), while larger companies buy an ESN platform and then customize it to fit their needs.  But one of the biggest problems with ESN’s right now is that developers and trainers don’t account for culture. Often times ESNs are implemented with little understanding of the company’s social and tech context. For example, companies try to incentivize employees to fill out social profiles, or blog, or join communities, but often employees don’t understand why, or what’s in it for them to change their behavior to collaborate in such a public way. The result – slow adoption of the ESN. Can better design practices solve the problem? How can ethnographers help fill the context and cultural gap?

One company that has been active in the ESN space from the user’s perspective is Cisco. Recently,  Cisco’s collaboration blog featured an essay by Mike Gotta, Design Considerations For Enterprise Social Networks.  We asked Mike to guest blog and he wrote a new introduction for Ethnography Matter readers, explaining why ethnographers are needed for ESN development. 

Mike is currently a senior technology solution manager at Cisco focusing on social software.  Like a true social scientist, Mike says that he’s “fascinated by the non-technological issues related to identity, media literacy, and participatory cultures and their influence on how people learn, share, and collaborate.”  You can follow him on twitter, @MikeGotta.

Mike is also looking for an ethnographer who has experience in social networking and enterprise software design to sit on an upcoming panel in November at the E2.0 conference in San Francisco. Get in touch with him if you know of someone or if you are the right person! 

– Tricia

Check out  past guest bloggers. Ethnography Matters is always lining up guest contributors, we would love to feature your work! Send us an email! 

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First, I’d like to thank Tricia for reaching out and asking me to provide a guest post. Coincidentally, I have been reading Ethnography Matters for a few months now and have become a fan of its content and contributors so I’m happy to participate.

So why am I here? Cisco has become active in the enterprise collaboration and social software markets for the past couple of years with a product called WebEx Social. Several weeks ago, I posted an article on enterprise social networking to our Cisco Collaboration blog. The goal of the article was to summarize a session presented at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston this past June. The second objective was to spark a conversation on the need for companies to invest in qualitative research related to social networks, integrate those practices into design programs, and apply those findings to improve the effectiveness of enterprise social networking (ESN) systems.Read More… Can Ethnography Save Enterprise Social Networking?

Where does ethnography belong? Thoughts on WikiSym 2012


On the first day of WikiSym last week, as we started preparing for the open space track and the crowd was being petitioned for new sessions over lunch, I suddenly thought that it might be a good idea for researchers who used ethnographic methods to get together to talk about the challenges we were facing and the successes we were having. So I took the mic and asked how many people used ethnographic methods in their research. After a few raised their hands, I announced that lunch would be spent talking about ethnography for those who were interested. Almost a dozen people – many of whom are big data analysts – came to listen and talk at a small Greek restaurant in the center of Linz. I was impressed that so many quantitative researchers came to listen and try to understand how they might integrate ethnographic methods into their research. It made me excited about the potential of ethnographic research methods in this community, but by the end of the conference, I was worried about the assumptions on which much of the research on Wikipedia is based, and at what this means for the way that we understand Wikipedia in the world. 

WikiSym (Wiki Symposium) is the annual meeting of researchers, practitioners and wiki engineers to talk about everything to do with wikis and open collaboration. Founded by the father of the wiki, Ward Cunningham and others, the conference started off as a place where wiki engineers would gather to advance the field. Seven years later, WikiSym is dominated by big data quantitative analyses of English Wikipedia.

Some participants were worried about the movement away from engineering topics (like designing better wiki platforms), while others were worried about the fact that Wikipedia (and its platform, MediaWiki) dominates the proceedings, leaving other equally valuable sites like Wikia and platforms like TikiWiki under-studied.

So, in the spirit of the times, I drew up a few rough analyses of papers presented.

(Wikipedia and its platform, MediaWiki are but one of a host of other wiki communities and platforms which is why I’ve distinguished between Wikipedia and others.)

It would be interesting to look at this for other years to see whether the recent Big Data trend is having an impact on Wikipedia research and whether research related to Wikipedia (rather than other open collaboration communities) is on the rise. One thing I did notice was that the demo track was a lot larger this year than the previous two years. Hopefully that is a good sign for the future because it is here that research is put into practice through the design of alternative tools. A good example is Jodi Schneider’s research on Wikipedia deletions that she then used to conceptualize alternative interfaces  that would simplify the process and help to ensure that each article would be dealt with more fairly.

Talking about ethnography?

I am still intrigued by the fact that so many quantitative analysts wanted to know about ethnography during our open space session. We started the session with those who had done ethnographic work talking about their experiences: Stuart Geiger talked about his ethnographic work on Wikipedia bots, Isis Amelie Hjorth talked about her ethnographic enquiry into Wreckamovie, the collaborative movie outfit from Finland and Paško Bilić discussed how he studied breaking news stories on Wikipedia. Others wanted to know how you even begin to do ethnographic research on Wikipedia when editors are a) anonymous and b) located all around the world. One participant said, “I’m faced with 3 million edits (in my dataset) and I have to say something about them. How do I even begin?”Read More… Where does ethnography belong? Thoughts on WikiSym 2012

Ethnozine: August Edition – the tools we use, ethnography of Occupy, EPIC12 preview, men peeing, & uprooting assumptions


As far as fieldwork tools go, hardly anything drives an ethnographer more crazy than trying to find the most appropriate fieldwork tools.  That is why we decided for the August issue of Ethnography Matters, we’d talk all about fieldwork tools and launch a new series called “The Tools we Use.”

Heather Ford starts us off with a discussion of the software she uses for her Wikipedia research, followed by Jenna Burrell’srecommendations for software she has tried and wants to try in the field. Rachelle Annechino suggests a few Android appsalong with colored markers and Tricia Wang tells us about her anxieties of not knowing which tools she’ll use for her analysis process.

“Tools we Use” is an ongoing series, so if you have a fieldwork process or an app review you’d like to contribute, please contact us!

Rachelle Annechino also offers another post this month on the fears and delights in using ethnography to research drug use. She reveals some assumptions around drug consumption. And she throws in Lady Gaga to her post!

This month we have a lot of exciting guest contributors. First up is John Payne from Moment in NYC, NY. Gasp! John is not a formally trained ethnographer, but he’s a designer who relies on ethnography and trains all his designers at Moment to use it. This month, in Teaching Ethnography For User Experience: A Workshop On Occupy Wall Street, John shares his process on a two and a half day training he held for a group of designers in NYC. The training aimed to improve communication for the participants of Occupy. John’s 3-part reflection shows us their entire process from research questions, observations, post-fieldwork analysis and to design solutions.

As the co-chair of EPIC 2012 (October 14-17), John gives us a preview of their upcoming conference in Renewing Ethnography: Exploring The Role of Applied Ethnography At EPIC 2012. Did you know that EPIC will have two amazing keynote speakers this year? John tells us about keynoters Emily Pilloton of Project H Design and Philip Delves Broughton, author of The Art of the Sale: Learning From the Masters about the Business of LifeIt’s not too late to register for EPIC.  And for those of use who can’t get to EPIC 20212, readers of Ethnography Matters can look forward to a special post-conference review of notes and highlights from EPIC panels and workshops.

Our next guest contribution is an incredibly beautiful and personal essay, Men Pee Standing Up: The value of an anthropological perspective. Anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff co-founded the global research group, Context-Based Research Group in Boston, USA, but he doesn’t talk about his industry work in his essay. Instead, Robbie shares with us his process of discovering his anthropologist identity and how it helps him see the world.

Journalist and researcher, Luisa Beck closes out our great guest contributor line up with a post on the joy of having one’s assumptions turned upside down. She shows us that good ethnographic inspiration comes in all forms, from blog posts to talks. 

NEXT MONTH

  • Gabriella Coleman will share with us her process for conducting ethnography on Anonymous.
  • Mike Gotta will tell us about ethnography and enterprise software.
  • John Payne will tell us about the history of EPIC.

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Would you like to be our next guest contributor? Ethnography Matters is your space. You can feature a project/paper/book/syllabus,  provide a fieldwork update, or share your thoughts.  Here are some more ideas for how you can participate. We’d love to hear from you.  Email us!

The tools we use: Gahhhh, where is the killer qualitative analysis app?


For the August issue of Ethnography Matters, Jenna, Heather, and Rachelle have written great posts about their fieldnote tools in the Tools we Use series. Now I have all these new apps I want to try for data analysis!

So this is when I admit here that I have no perfect process. I really don’t. Sometimes this upsets me and sometimes I just say whatever.  I’ve only figured out parts of the process. For example, last month, I wrote in depth about my use of Instagram to live fieldnote. But that’s just one part of the long path of fieldwork analysis. Now that I’ve finished data gathering,  I am no longer in the excitement of fieldwork. I don’t have a team of people to work with as I usually do on projects. For my China research,  it’s just me. And all I can think is, how am I going to analyze all this data without going crazy?

I’ve tried all the coding software possible for qualitative research, but there is no app that fulfills my needs. I have developed an aversion to anything that claims to be a “qualitative analysis tool.” These tools are lacking in user friendliness, collaborative features, platform diversity, and service support. If it doesn’t run on a mac and if the software’s website is unusable – that’s already a clue.

As far as fieldwork tools go, hardly anything drives an ethnographer more crazy than trying to find the most appropriate fieldwork tools. Of all the ethnography courses I’ve taken and all the books, dissertation, and papers I’ve read, none of them go into depth on the tools that ethnographers use to support their process. I suspect that one of the reasons why ethnographers don’t write about the tools they use is because they may use an ad hoc process that is messier and less structured than they’d like to admit. Read More… The tools we use: Gahhhh, where is the killer qualitative analysis app?