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Digital Ethnography

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Digital Ethnography

Digital ethnography, which is sometimes referred to as netnography or virtual ethnography, is the term used to describe carrying out ethnographic market research in an online space.

Online spaces are often accessed by researchers to observe the participant in their natural environment.

An online environment often compromises text, images or videos and is the host to social interactions and behaviour patterns. For example, Twitter and/or other social media platforms are common digital spaces which researchers access, in order to observe the interactions and behaviours of particular cultures and subgroups.

As online observations are less intrusive and directly apparent, people’s behaviours are not as likely to alter as much as they would, should a researcher be physically present.

The main difference between ethnographic market research and digital ethnography is that the researcher does not have to travel to a particular location in order to make their observations. For example, a traditional ethnographer would have to travel to another part of the world/ country, in order to carry out their research - whereas digital ethnography requires the researcher to travel through the internet in order to find the field site.

Digital ethnography is different to tradition ethnography in that the toolset the researcher requires differs. A traditional ethnographer would be required to rely on video cameras, tape recorders, kinship diagrams and their notepad, whereas a digital ethnographer relies on a virtual set of tools such as; website archives, blogs, servers and content management systems (CMS). Although not traditional, they are the digital equivalent to a tape recorder and notepad.

With this in mind, it could be argued that digital ethnography is simpler than traditional ethnography as viewing interactions on websites and online communities visualises relationships.

When communicating behind a screenname or pseudonym, people are more likely to be open, honest and less self-conscious of what information they divulge.

Digital ethnography is often associated with corporate research.

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