The ethnography of Twitter: follow their interests
The microblogging site Twitter has received a great deal of media attention in recent years, yet it remains oddly under-researched — especially by ethnographers. Twitter’s 2011 tagline “Follow your interests” captured neatly one of the site’s main attractions: the ability it affords users to keep track of people and issues that matter to them. This key socio-technical affordance (actualised through devices such as hashtags, tweets and lists) mirrors an old ethnographic maxim: “Follow their interests”, i.e. the interests of our research participants.
In my forthcoming IR13 conference paper, Session 142, Ethnographies of Online and Mobile Media Today (Salford, UK, 21 Oct 2012), I will draw on recent fieldwork within the Spanish Twitterverse to explore the opportunities and pitfalls of doing research in an environment that is so close to the heart of the ethnographic enterprise, and yet in many ways so different from all other sites familiar to us – including other international hubs such as Facebook, YouTube or Second Life. To keep the inquiry manageable, I will limit myself to a few questions of method, including how to navigate the peculiar ‘threaded sociality’ (Postill 2011) of Twitter hashtags (topical keywords), the politics of asymmetrical reciprocity, and the open boundedness of Twitter in relation to other regions of the social media archipelago.
Postill, J. 2011. Localizing the Internet: An Anthropological Account. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.