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June 7th Meeting Notes

Who: Gitte, Bob, Elizabeth
Where: PARC, (old)SPL kitchen
When: June 7th 2005, 5.15pm-6pm(ish)
Topic: Issues and ideas for the cyberethno paper to be sent to EPIC
Purpose: Establish items for a possible paper, establish interest in working together on this, establish possible time frame for activities
[Note typoes will abound here, I am typing straight into this not into word first which I would normally do but am not on my own computer]

Note the deadline for abstracts for papers is June 17th 2005. No word length on abstract specified I think.

Notes from the meeting are not necessarily in order of what was said when but grouped more by topics.

(1) EPIC is about sociality and how we study, understand, represent that; we are interested in cyber-ethnography

(2) Brief possible outline:

Title (Gitte and Elizabeth to think about this, Bob wants to hold off on this for the moment)
1. What is cyberethnography (CE) and why do we care about it?
2. Why is cyberethnography important as a term, and what role does this term play in the area of technology studies and ethnographic method rhetorically. That is, why did we need a new category or a modifier to ethnography? Is to study someone’s experiences an “ethnography” with no “cyber” needed? It could be that the term signals that there are new methods of study needed to look at what we as observers and ethnographers cannot “see”, cannot get access to. But then that begs the question of whether we ever really could get access to all and points us to looking once again at the whole enterprise of ethnography – its way of understanding and the motivating desires of the observers to understand anyway (ie what are you looking for anf why). So is the term a flag that we need to rethink our practice or is it really pointing to something different that is going on.
3. What is covered by the term CE and what is not?
4. Issues that deserve more thought (“contested” for want of knowing what word I really want). Ethics, Identity, Personae

(3) What do we mean by “cyber” ethnography?

We spent some time trying to decide what cyberethnography (CE) is. Ways in which we thought about varied, but in each case we came up with some idea of studying mediated interaction. Here are our notes:

>> We thought about the following words as the start point for our discussion:

Tech supported (interaction)
Web based
Tech mediated
Telephone was considered to be a problem – not “cyber”

>> we discussed audio spaces to see whether they were cyber spaces? EC we may want to look at the book Cyberspace, I have it on my shelves. EC brought up Sandy Stone’s discussion of sex workers and the shared (conceptual) space of communication that is created.
>> synch and asynch communication was discussed
>> “online” versus “offline” – CE always has some component of looking at people’s interactions online
>> CE is not the same as computer-based, specifically when we talk about cyber we do not mean computer. When we talk about CE we are, however, talking about mediated communication.
>> Gitte’s database example: Gitte repoorted that she had read a paper that decribed a database, yet had “ethnography” in the title. This si not an ethnography. An ethnography needs to have some aspect of “use” described. EC: perhaps the authors were thinking of intended or imagined use when they said “ethnography”
>> All agreed that the use of the word ethnography is very sloppy.
>> All agreed that we are not of the opinion that face-to-face (FTF) communication is the baseline, the “gold standard” to which all other communication (mediated) may be compared.
>> CE is not describing a technology
>> People communicate through an “ecology of artifacts” EC: Bonnie Nardi has written about this in her paper on IM. It may be worth looking at her spreadsheet work and her IM work again.
>> Proposal that we determine a Range of “CYBERNESS” rather than have yes and no categories.

Collection of cyber-ness examples:

Chat rooms
Media spaces?
Audio spaces?
Social networking sites (e.g. Friendster, dating sites)

Things to read:

Wasson, Hine

(4) What does ethnography in this context (looking at relationships online) care about/address?

>> *shared* practices, meaning shared by some group and where some new member has to learn something to be part of the group
>> not individual practices
>> looking for patterns over time, not single instances
>> perhaps an ethnography is to look at what are shared practices and what are not.
>> we discussed whether two people who happened to do the same thing on Flickr had a “shared pratice” or not. EC I was at the time convinced that if they did not know about each other this was not interesting, but then on second thoughts it comes back to what we are interested in as to whether I think this is interesting and therefore a topic of an ethnographic study or not.

(5) Other issues: identity and presence

We briefly discussed identity and presence. We talked about people having different idenitities or personae online and what that means for an ethnographic study. We raised the issue of ethics in this context. EC: again Sandy Stone’s book has a nice chapter that is relevant to this on the person who masqueraded as a therapist (female) and turned out to be male – a great story.

(6) What are the units of analysis?

We discussed whether CE was a form of smapling data. Is it a sampling method thar focuses on the person’s interactions online. It depends on what we are looking at – Bob pointed out that studies that looked purely at interaction in the world, were often just of the interactions there, and do not worry about the transitions from “on ” (or in) to “off”(or out). We talked in this context about what the questions were that were being posed in the research and how that affects what you choose too look at and how (ie the unit of analysis and the method). This was discussed in terms of Gestalt figure/ground – are we looking to understand primarily the person in which case the transitions through social spaces, across boundaries and landscapes matters (e.g. EC mobile work, G’s home/work comments). Or are we looking at the spaces and how that “contains”, “constrains”, provides a bound for the study of the people.

These different foci determine the lens of the study.

We talked a little of “lifeworlds”, habitus, people’s experiences versus understanding people’s actions and experiences in a particular place (or space)

We considered some criteria for what makes an ethnography, and then considered how a virtual world could be a world – that is what would be needed to make it a “world” and not simply a conduit for bits and bytes that are the component pieces of interaction (sound, touch, gaze) but which do not in themselves constitute interaction. These were

a. “feels like a place” – PLACE
b. “community of people” – COMMUNITY, PEOPLE (not persons) and noting the caveat on use of the term community which is in some ways problematic
c. “iinetraction” – INTERACTION between people
d. “pratices and participation” – PRACTICES that fall into patterns and that people participate in creating, maintaining, “norming” and “transforming”.

Finally, we talked about people’s sensory capabilities, which includes smell, hearing, taste, touch, vision and then considered briefly the enhancement of those.


EC summary -> Important words here were USE DESCRIBE ; important concepts to spell out in the paper -> what we mean by CYBER and ETHNOGRAPHY

Action items:: All to think about the terms and the discussion and come up with definitons and scope; all to think about things from their own experience they would like to include as examples and why


Planning: EPIC; cyberethnography

Initial thoughts on a paper/abstract for the EPIC conference:

Who is involved: Gitte, Bob, Elizabeth (perhaps Brinda)

Background motivation:

* discussions between Gitte and Elizabeth on a paper written by Gitte and Brinda
* a concern for how to access (“get at”, observe) and faithfully represent people’s experiences with each other when their connections are mediated
* if we are to look at how, for example, teams work at a distance – how they build trust and interact over time – how will we be able to faithfully represent that, or indeed understand it, if our methods of observation require us to “be there” to see.

Topics we have expressed an interest in addressing:

Cyber-ethnography, querying what that term means, what experiences do we collectively have in ethnography in the “online” world, methods of data collection and analysis, units of analysis, orientation (the place, the person, the group, the artifacts that are produced).

A quick plan of action:

1. meet up and discuss broadly the “space” of ideas (first meetings between Gitte and Elizabeth taken place for general idea; one meeting with Bob, Gitte and Elizabeth on 7th June
2. Write up notes and generate potential content: Action EC to write up notes, ALL: collect ideas and references; ALL: consider our own experiences
3. Generate outline: ALL – hypothetical outlines to be shared.

EPIC call: deadline for abstract is June 17th

Call for Participation: Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) 2005

EPIC will be Nov 14-15, 2005 on the Microsoft Campus, Redmond, WA, USA

Theme: Sociality: Are we getting enough?

Working within or with industry, ethnographers are expected to pay attention to corporate priorities and current trends. One of the predominant themes in new product development has been the focus on the individual and personalization. Although ethnography can address this issue, one that has received less attention has been on the social and collective nature of people’s interactions with products and services. Ethnographic work is often used to generate ideas about the individualized behaviors or experiences of consumers. However one distinctive contribution of an ethnographic approach is its ability to understand and translate the complexity of sociality into actionable terms. Sociality comprises the complex, dense and dynamic set of social relations within which people conduct their lives, and through which material culture comes to have meaning.

The exact nature of sociality has been a topic of recent discussion. On the one end of the spectrum is Richard Sennett (1998) provides a description of a sociality that is grounded in community, stability, coherence, strong ties, social responsibility, trust and a common history or narrative. The social bond is organizational or bureaucratic. Community sociality, Gemeinschaft, is visible in some emerging economies especially among “the next 10%.” On the other is Andreas Wittel’s (2001), as well as Sennett, a networked sociality that is fleeting, transient, based on “contracts,” with ephemeral but intense encounters. The social bond is informational. Networked sociality is most visible with the new middle class in urban areas. The nature of sociality has a direct consequence on what we study, how we study it, and the nature of corporate life in which we find ourselves. We would like the conference to explore, understand and celebrate sociality as a crucial aspect of everyday life.

MUD papers available online by Churchill et al

The MUD papers by Elizabeth et al that were published are these:

Culture Vultures: Considering Culture and Communication in Virtual Environments.
Elizabeth F. Churchill, and Sara Bly
In SIGGroup Bulletin, Volume 21, Number 1, April 2000. ACM Press, pp 6-11., April 1, 2000

It’s all in the words: Supporting work activities with lightweight tools.
Elizabeth F. Churchill, and Sara Bly
In Proceedings of GROUP ’99 (Phoenix, AZ), ACM Press, 1999., November 14, 1999

Virtual Environments at Work: ongoing use of MUDs in the Workplace.
Elizabeth F. Churchill, and Sara Bly
In Proceedings of the International Joint Conference on Work Activities Coordination and Collaboration, pp. 99-108, 1999., February 22, 1999

Defining “cyber”

We had some discussion of what “cyber” meant anyway, and Gitte sent the following:

Etymologically, cyber comes from the greek word for helmsman. It’s use for computer- and internet-related topics dates to William Gibson, the premier cyberpunk writer, who apparently coined the term “cyberspace.”