Observation of Online Communities: A Discussion of Online and Offline Observer Roles in Studying Development, Cooperation and Coordination in an Open Source Software Environment

  • Sladjana V. Nørskov Aarhus University
  • Morten Rask Aarhus University
Keywords: online data, observation, observer roles, mailing lists, open source software communities

Abstract

This paper addresses the application of observation to online settings with a special focus on observer roles. It draws on a study of online observation of a virtual community, i.e. an open source software (OSS) community. The paper examines general and specific advantages and disadvantages of the observer roles in online settings by relating these roles to the same roles assumed in offline settings. The study suggests that under the right circumstances online and offline observation may benefit from being combined as they complement each other well. Quality issues and factors important to elicit trustworthy observational data from online study settings, such as OSS communities, are discussed. A proposition is made concerning how threats to credibility and transferability in relation to online observation (i.e. lack of richness and detail, risk of misunderstandings) can be diminished, while maintaining the level of dependability (which is potentially high due to a greater degree of anonymity and "isolation" in online settings). The paper thus suggests that the less participative the researcher's online observer role is, the more s/he should consider introducing offline data collection techniques rather than adopting a more participative role in the observed online setting. This methodological discussion forms the basis for making a well-considered choice of online observer role rather than passively sliding into a role assigned by the setting.

URN: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs110358

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Author Biographies

Sladjana V. Nørskov, Aarhus University
Sladjana V. NØRSKOV is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Business Administration, Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University in Denmark. She received her Ph.D. from Aarhus School of Business. Her research interests include user-centered innovation processes, community governance and new organizational forms. She studies these issues using mainly theory building from cases.
Morten Rask, Aarhus University
Morten RASK is Associate Professor at the Business Administration, Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University in Denmark. His research focuses on the global dimension of sustainable business models, organizing industrial marketing, purchasing & supply management, e-markets, e-commerce and m-commerce. He has contributed to Electronic Markets, European Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management, First Monday, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, European Journal of International Management, Journal of Teaching in International Business, Energy Policy and to the Danish Management and Business Economics. He holds a Ph.D. from Aalborg University in Denmark.
Published
2011-09-16
How to Cite
Nørskov, S. V., & Rask, M. (2011). Observation of Online Communities: A Discussion of Online and Offline Observer Roles in Studying Development, Cooperation and Coordination in an Open Source Software Environment. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(3). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-12.3.1567