Technical Cyberspace

Posted: November 3, 2008 in Methods, Readings, Review, School
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This week was a mercifully light one for reading. The only article to read was Laura Gurak and Christine Silker’s “Technical Communication Research in Cyberspace.” Which is good, because I also spent time working on my research proposal. But that’s for another post. For right now, let me talk about cyberspace.One thing I particularly liked about this article was the way it compared various methods of research in the real world with the same method performed online (in cyberspace). It compared the differences with ethnographies, field studies, rhetorical analysis, surveys, etc, and it did so in a very clear and engaging style. First, a brief discussion on the way things are done ‘traditionally,’ then a longer discussion on how its done online.

As Gurak and Silker point out, online research is very different. There are a lot of changes. After all, “issues of private versus public information become blurred in the cyberspace research site” (229-230). This is just one of the many differences with online research, one of the many issues that need to be considered. We also need to consider the changes in the speed of research such as surveys (240), as well as the difficulty of being anonymous in such a case (241), and the possibility to be a truly invisible ethnographic observer (232). Some of these issues, like the difficulty (or impossibility) of obtain informed consent online (233), are ethical in nature, some of them just details to keep in mind when designing online research.

I’d call the article very valuable for its comparing and contrasting of online and real life methods, without claiming that cyberspace is somehow inferior. It’s a good article to form a base from which to jump.

Actually, the analogy of base jumping may not be that far off, when you think about researching the Internet.

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