Internet Inquiry (my new book!) ready for prepurchase

The book I co-edited with Annette Markham about the use of qualitative research methods, Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method, is now available for prepurchase at Amazon. It’s scheduled to exist on paper between covers next month, just in time for fall classes. You can also order it direct from the publisher or request an examination copy here. I don’t like that shade of green much, but think the book will be very useful for many people, especially those learning qualitative methods, or those trying to think through the issues that arise when methods designed for face-to-face interaction are used to study online contexts. Here’s the blurb:

Product Description

This collection of dialogues is the only textbook of its kind. Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method takes students into the minds of top internet researchers as they discuss how they have worked through critical challenges as they research online social environments. Editors Annette N. Markham and Nancy K. Baym illustrate that good research choices are not random but are deliberate, studied, and internally consistent. Rather than providing single “how to” answers, this book presents distinctive and divergent viewpoints on how to think about and conduct qualitative internet studies.

Key Features and Benefits

  • Presents each chapter in the form of a question in order to provoke explicit consideration of key issues
  • Illustrates choices made within larger disciplinary contexts to help students blend approaches, think broadly, and conduct internet research with the benefit of multiplicity
  • Offers a range of perspectives in each chapter to vividly demonstrate that there are many ways to answer methodological challenges well
  • Includes contributors from multiple disciplines and across the globe
  • Provides a highly reflexive writing style that allows readers to see processes that are rarely visible in finished research reports

Intended Audience

This edited volume is an excellent supplementary text for a variety of advanced undergraduate and graduate courses such as Internet Research, Research Methods, Qualitative Research Methods, and Computer-Mediated Communication in the departments of communication, media studies, sociology, and anthropology. It will assist new scholars as well as seasoned practitioners in this arena make informed choices in how they conduct inquiry.

A Few Quickies

I’m still far from home though (literally) out of the woods, having conceeded to the rain at Acadia Nat’l Park, but not quite ready to return to a life of blogging just yet. I figure I’ve slept in 12 places in the last 26 nights, and though I’ve been having a FABULOUS time, somehow the intellectual part of my brain is just not very interested in generating new content right now. Vacation, or something. Go figure.

But here are a couple of things that might interest you … two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Mesh (“Canada’s Web Conference”) where I participated in a panel on online privacy in which I apparently horrified a few people by pointing out that you don’t get to control what people say about you on the internet and, alas, people do have the right to say things about you that you might not like. You can catch a free little video of me saying something to this effect along with a smart thought or two from another tattooed professor, Mark Kingwell, if you go to the iTunes Music Store and search for mDialog’s Mesh podcast. There are other excellent video clips there, including several from Warner Bros. Records Chief Tech Officer Ethan Kaplan’s keynote about the music industry, which is nicely written up by Mike “What He Said” Masnick, my favorite tech blogger, who, I might add, is also really nice and interesting (well, we knew he was interesting, but the nice part was a pleasant treat). Kaplan’s keynote was alright — it’s great to hear a record company person who understands that the “value” isn’t in the artifact but in the fan experience, even if, as Masnick points out, he’s representing a corporation that doesn’t get it. I was interested to hear Kaplan talk about his sense that the future of the music industry is subscribing to a band — pay an annual fee and get a continuous experience of new songs, new videos, blogs, other content. Forget the windowing of album releases, subscribe to a continuous dribble of new content.

For those wondering whether my trek to Denmark to see my favorite band, Madrugada, perform was worth it: yes, yes, a million times yes.

For those seeking a great botanical garden: Montreal!

For those seeking vacation pictures: Ta-dum! Sneak preview (both sides of the Atlantic!)


Vieux Quebec


Aarhus Denmark

On Vacation

I’m on vacation for a few weeks and too busy being a tourist to blog. But hey, there are nearly 400 posts in the archives so dig into the deep past if you miss me. Otherwise, fear not, I’ll be back before the ides of June.

War of the Concepts: Virus vs Spread

Last Thursday and Friday I had the pleasure of attending a retreat of the Convergence Culture Consortium, an alliance between a core group led by Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, industry partners, and consulting researchers made up of people like myself looking at issues around participatory audiences, media convergence, and all that good stuff.

There were more interesting things than I can begin to recount here, but one that resonated a lot with me was an argument in the presentation Henry Jenkins, Ana Domb, and Xiaochang Li gave where they (among other things) critiqued the concepts of viral and sticky, pitching spreadable as a better alternative.

They said, and I agree, that the goal of creating “sticky” internet sites — sites that hold people’s attention, provide a unified customer experience, provide only top-down information and so on — needs to be (or is being) replaced with the goal of “spreadable content” which circulates among diverse, dispersed people as they participate in social networks and engage in grassroots activity. I’ve talked about this in the context of providing fans with widgets they can export to sites of their choosing in order to spread word of (keyboard?) about whatever it is they’re into.

They also went after the notion of “viral” with its biological language of infection. When something spreads virally — take, for example, the flu — people receive the virus without realizing (and sometimes never even manifesting) it. They pass it on to others without any effort — indeed, if they realize they have it, they have to put effort into NOT spreading it. From a marketers perspective, if you can engineer the perfect “viral” campaign, the people will be powerless to resist. They’ll be diffusing your ideas before they know what hit them.

This creates an illusion of control — a viral campaign will work if we design it right — and therefore feeds into what I see as a dying model of media control in which the big content providers get to manage everything from the top down (see “stickiness” above).

In fact, people are active. We spread things “virally” not because we can’t help it, but because we think it’s cool enough that we want to tell others. It resonates with us, we think it will resonate with others, we are socially engaged with others, we talk about it. We make choices and we enact behaviors in order to spread the things we like around, we don’t stand idly by while the virus travels through us to other destinations.

That said, there is one piece of the viral metaphor that works for me in a way that spreadable does not, and that is the truly physical feeling I experience when I am sucked into a new record I love. This doesn’t happen all that often, once a year if I’m lucky. It happened a few weeks ago with The Last Shadow Puppets. It happened with The Fine Arts Showcase’s “Radiola.” Bigtime with The Wrens “The Meadowlands.” Needless to say it’s a near-continuous state with Madrugada. And when it happens, that music gets inside of me and consumes me in a way that really does feel like biological infection. I am compelled to listen to it. I ache for it. I ache while I listen to it. I don’t listen to anything else. I talk about them incessantly while my ever-humoring husband laughs at me. And it runs its course, just as viruses do. Gradually, after anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, it lets up and I’ve built up enough resistance that I am no longer completely distracted. It doesn’t feel in those times like I have any power to resist at all. And what’s more, if I had power to resist, I wouldn’t.

In the end, though, when I write posts about it, or talk about it with friends, or send links to people, or twitter, or whatever I do to spread the word about that music, I’m making active choices that are deeply embedded in the social structures and connections I create through my everyday relational behavior. Even in the throes of the most infectious pop of all, the further spreading from me to the people I know depends on my making strategic decisions about what to communicate to whom and how.

Monday Copenhagen, Wednesday Toronto, Friday Montreal

Next week I’m living the globetrotter life, and I want to invite readers to come by and hear me talk if you’re in the region.

Monday, May 19, I am going to be in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen where I will not be singing Danny Kaye songs, but will be talking about how the internet was understood as a social medium in the early years of its mass proliferation. This is a public lecture and you’re welcome to come. Here’s the info:

‘Speaking of the internet: American cultural reception of the internet as a social medium’

Hosted by the research group on Digital Communication and Aesthetics, Section of Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen

May 19, 2008, 1-3 pm
Room 22.0.47
University of Copenhagen, Southern Campus / KUA

New technologies are historically met with both utopian and dystopian scenarios regarding their social impact. This talk considers how the internet’s consequences for social life were portrayed as it changed from a medium used by an educated, affluent elite to a common part of everyday life for most Americans. Letters and responses published in newspaper advice columns, New Yorker cartoons, and interviews with college students are used to show how positive and negative views played off of one another and moved toward a resolution we have not yet attained. The visions of the internet debated through the letters, responses, and cartoons are both funny and insightful.

Wednesday, the 21st, I am going to be in Toronto at Mesh taking part in a panel about the blurring boundaries between public and private in this age of social networking, twitter, etc:

Are society’s notions about privacy changing? Does anyone even care about privacy any more? Once you provide your information, does it belong to you or to Them? Younger Web users seem perfectly comfortable disclosing even intimate personal details to people they meet online. But some are concerned about what seems like excessive disclosure, and also wonder what happens to your data once social media sites get hold of it. Come and discuss these issues and more with Internet researcher Nancy Baym of the University of Kansas, philosophy professor and author Mark Kingwell, and assistant federal privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham, in a panel moderated by Rachel Sklar.

Mesh does require registration, and I gather it’s near sold-out, so if you’re in Toronto and want to come (I’m far from the only interesting person speaking!), sign up now. Whoops, sold out already. Congratulations to the organizers!

Friday, May 23rd I will be part of a panel called “Music Goes Online: Dissemination, Acquisition, Meaning, and Place” at the International Communication Association meeting in Montreal. With my collaborator Robert Burnett, I’ll be presenting a paper called “Constructing an International Collaborative Music Network: Swedish Indie Fans and the Internet.” Here’s the abstract:

As major labels, corporate radio, and the mainstream music press wane in importance, recording artists and labels increasingly find themselves competing for attention in a digital space that provides endless opportunities for listeners to discover new music. Having a MySpace page offers direct access to fans, but provides no guarantee that fans will take up that access. In this new environment, small sets of highly active fans come to serve crucial new roles as promoters and filters, becoming de facto taste makers and steering listeners toward new music. This paper presents a model of this phenomenon in the context of the Swedish independent music scene, where fans who write mp3 blogs, news sites, generate online archives, and book Swedish music clubs outside of Sweden are essential in exporting what would previously have been regional music to international audiences. Interviews with such active fans, musicians, and independent label executives are used to argue that these three agents work together to collaboratively construct international and local subcultures in which their shared interests can thrive. Robert Burnett is Professor of Media and Communication at Karlstad University, Sweden. His work on the music industry, the media, and the Internet has been published in numerous books and journals. Nancy Baym is an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas. Her work on online communication, fans and community has been published in the book Tune In, Log On: Soaps Fandom and Online Community (Sage) and in numerous journals and book chapters.

That panel is scheduled from 1:30pm – 2:45pm in Le Centre Sheraton, Salon 3. You are supposed to register for ICA, but if you sneak in to a panel no one will care. Except the people charged with making sure ICA is adequately-financed, that is.

After that, I will be going on vacation with my family for a few weeks. So though I hope to continue blogging, don’t be surprised if my posts are less frequent in the next several weeks.