Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Netnography & Scraping

Netnography or digital ethnography, is (or should be) the correct translation of ethnographic methods to online environments such as bulletin boards and social sites. It is more or less doing the same that ethnographers do in actual places like squares, pubs, clubs, etc: observe what people say and do, and try to participate as much as possible in order to better understand what's involved in action and discourses. Using ethnography may answer a lot of what, when, who and how questions defining several everyday problems. However, netnography differs in many ways compared to ethnography; especially in the fashion it is conducted.
    Forums, Wikis as well as the blogosphere are good online equivalents of public squares and pubs. There are not physical identities, but online ones; there are not faces, but avatars; there is no gender, age or any reliable info about physical identities, but there are voices discussing and arguing about common topics of interests.
    The more popular a forum is, the more difficult it gets to follow it nethnographically. A nethnographer has to use a Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDA) tool (such as RDQA) on certain parts of the texts collected during his research. In a forum use case, these texts would be posts and threads. If the researcher has to browse the forum and manually copy and paste its content, a huge amount of effort would be required. However, this obstacle could be surpassed through scraping the forum with a web data extraction tool such as DEiXTo.
    A scraped forum is a jewel: perfectly ordered textual data corresponding to each thread, ready for further analysis. So, this is where DEiXTo comes into play and may boost the research process significantly. To our knowledge, Dr Juan Luis Chulilla Cano, CEO of Online and Offline Ltd., has been successfully utilizing scraping techniques so as to capture the threads of popular Spanish forums (and their metadata) and transform them into a structured format, suitable for post-processing. Typically, such sites have a common presentation style for their threads and offer rich metadata. Thus, they are potential goldmines upon which various methodologies can be tested and applied so as to discover knowledge and trends and draw useful conclusions.
    Finally, netnography and anthropology seem to be gaining momentum over the last few years. They are really interesting as well as challenging fields and scraping could evolve to an important ally. It is worth mentioning that quite a few IT vendors and firms employ ethnographers for R&D and testing of new products. Therefore, there is a lot of potential in using computer aided techniques in the context of netnography. So, if you are coming from social sciences and creating wrappers/ extraction rules is not your second nature, why don't you drop us an email? Perhaps we could help you gather quite a few tons of usable data with DEiXTo! Unless terms of use or copyright restrictions forbid it..

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