Task: Ethnography of an online community

Stranger in a strange land

Moving resources and communication tools online is more than a simply practical change. We communicate differently with the internet between us than we do in person and the particular organization and structure of the online tools we use can greatly alter the dynamics of that online communication. The technologies we use have politics attached and each community of users has specific social norms and expectations of each other.

As someone participating in a public online course, you may notice different expectations you have for yourself and for the rest of us participating. You may be unfamiliar with the tools we are using here for discussion or the whole idea of a self paced course that still follows a schedule. That is all perfectly natural and, even if you do not feel it in this simple online environment, your students are likely to. As the tools and online communities become more complex we all end up feeling lost at some point or another. The best way to move past this feeling of being a stranger in a strange land is to acknowledge it and get proactive.

This week and next I want each of you to find an online community and study it like a foreign country. Put together a guide book or reference sheet for your peers who might want to use it. Some things to consider:

  • how do you mechanically use the tool that community is built around, ie post, edit, register, etc
  • what are people using the tool to try and accomplish?
  • how does the community of users talk to each other?
  • where do you go when you get lost and need some help?
  • is there a place specifically for new users to go for help?
  • who is using the tool?
  • are there any community norms for how the tool should be used? Is it written down anywhere?
  • is there a code of conduct for how the community behaves? How is that set?

Two interesting communities I would suggest are those using Wikipedia and Twitter.

In order to make sure you have enough time to really explore your community I would strongly encourage you to form a group or at least find a partner interested in the same community. To that end, please post on the discussion board the community you intend to research.

Please publish your final work as a post in your blog. You can save your work as you go if you don't want to share it with the rest of us until it is finished. Simply hit the "Save as Draft" button in your Wordpress edit window instead of the "Publish" one. Be sure to include a link to your partner or other group member's blog posts so that readers can see the whole project.

Note: If you have decided to build a specific kind of site, perhaps a visual portfolio, that does not have a function for blog-like posts, or if you are following the course for different themes and are not even building a website, feel free to post your research in the discussion board for this course or ask someone else if you can post to their site. You can refer to this page on adding new users to a WordPress site for instructions. The process is straightforward and having accounts on the same blog can make group work easier.


comments powered by Disqus