Cyber-Ethnography is a relatively new method of data collection that involves applying classical anthropology and ethnography techniques to the online world. It has evolved over the past ten years since the Internet has become both a medium for collecting data and an object of study in its own right.

Due to the novelty of the field, there is no canonical approach to cyber-ethnography that prescribes how it should adapt to online settings. Individual researchers must specify their own adaptations. Netnography is another form of online ethnography or cyber-ethnography with more specific sets of guidelines and rules. It also has a common multidisciplinary base of literature and academics. We will talk a bit about the general application of ethnographic methods to online fieldwork, as practiced by anthropologists, sociologists, and other academics.

What is Cyber-Ethnography?

Cyber-ethnography, more commonly known as online ethnography, is an online research method. Adapt ethnographic methods to the study of communities and cultures created through computer-mediated social interaction. It is by far the most widely used method.

Thus cyber ethnographers conduct qualitative studies of online communities and the type of interaction that takes place in cyberspace. This could involve observing participants in chat rooms, multi-user domains, email distribution lists, forums, and bulletin boards, as well as online interviews, conferences, and other types of computer communication.

Traditional Ethnography and Cyber-Ethnography

The study of traditional ethnography observes the interactions between the individuals that are located together. Ethnographies of online cultures and communities extend ethnographic study to settings where interactions are technologically mediated, not face-to-face.

While traditional methods of ethnography (i.e. in-person observations and informal interviews) are still helpful, researchers need to reconceptualize the space, as well as what counts as valuable interactions, and how existing (and new) tools can be used to collect data.

Therefore, cyber-ethnography addresses the limitations in the traditional notion of a field site as a localized space: it is clear to the researcher and theorist that the traditional concept of ethnography changes for the online environment; understands that online communities can create a shared culture through digitally mediated interactions. Although it has been questioned that ethnographic fieldwork can be meaningfully applied to online interactions, it is increasingly accepted.

Cyber-Ethnography Background

Like other early internet researchers, early cyber-ethnographers like Sandy Stone and Sherry Turkle observed that participants in online role-playing communities perform social performances that can differ dramatically from their offline characters. This led to the conclusion that online identities can be segmented from offline ones.

Cyber-ethnography was seen as a new type of methodology that could discover how the Internet would radically change society. However, as the Internet reached the mainstream and cyber-ethnographers sought legitimacy, cyber-ethnography was reformulated as an adaptation of traditional methods to a new context.

Understanding the extent to which divergent performances in online and offline environments reflect identity segmentation or continuous identity remains an important consideration for cybernographers. It is, therefore, a field in permanent conceptualization of its role, due to its own novelty.

Cyber-Ethnography Approach

Cyber-ethnography allows a reflective methodology to emerge, allowing participants in virtual communities to define their own reality and their perimeters. It is proposed that there are two elements in the virtual community. First, it is emphasized that a hybrid space that is neither absolutely physical nor virtual is rapidly emerging.

Through its convergence with the physical, the existence of the virtual community is evident, although not unconditionally virtual. Second, the participants are represented as having a transitory and unconditional relationship with the virtual community. That is to say; They will only participate for short periods when they require the use of the resources that the virtual community has to offer.

Evolution of Cyber-Ethnography

As people engage in more online activities and leave digital clues (photos, blogs, emails, etc.), researchers have begun to study human behavior in cyberspace. Cyber-ethnographers participate in and observe blogs, websites, and chat rooms. They analyze how people form social networks or online groups and establish a cultural identity.

Ethnographers have long been concerned with how individuals and groups live life in social spaces. As more and more experiences are framed by the Internet, researchers must consider how to integrate data from online spaces into "traditional" ethnographic research.

Technology is now a common aspect of learning and everyday life. Research from the UK revealed that 68% of 15-year-olds report that they use computers frequently for school work. A greater number routinely use ICT for entertainment and communication. Nielsen / NetRatings estimates indicate that there are 455 million people in the 'digital universe' who spend approximately 26.5 hours a month of their time at home connected to the Internet.

Special Features of Online Communities

First, the environment where the researcher is immersed is not predetermined and stable. Online communities are constantly redefining themselves as members come and go, so they tend to have fluctuating membership. This means that the researcher can only have a transitory relationship with their participants and must reflect on how their own presence throughout the study could change the dynamics of the group.

Second, the more anonymous nature of the interaction in cyberspace and its ephemeral nature over time may mean that participants are "disinhibited", revealing more personal information than they would in face-to-face interviews. It also opens the possibility of identity deception, both by the participants.

Both issues have serious ethical implications, and there is an ongoing debate about the perceived privacy of some online encounters versus their public accessibility. However, cyber ethnography has created an original and effective way of learning about online interaction, and therefore has increased our understanding of a relatively new phenomenon in social life.

Cyber-Ethnography Methods

Methods can range from blogging and video diaries to mobile communities. In fact, mobile is proving to be the key force driving the adoption of digital ethnography. The fact that it is a device that most of the participants are used to using in their daily life makes it a much more natural tool to capture everything from images to videos.

For example, a participant can complete mini surveys while shopping using a similar application or software loaded on their phone. They can also participate in research while doing their daily activities, and no one else around them should be aware of it. By doing mini surveys, this allows you to get richer information compared to traditional mobile survey methodologies.

Advantages of Cyber-Ethnography

The true power of digital ethnography comes from the independence it offers, for all parties involved. Using a device for familiar devices, such as a mobile device to capture behavior, also eliminates the need for an external advisor, which in turn helps deliver truer behavioral responses.

For the researcher the advantages are enormous. For starters, the lack of travel that is now required allows for a much broader pool of potential candidates and still captures the real picture and voice of the consumer. Since all data is digitally recorded, there is no longer any need to enter data or write notes. This not only reduces time scales, but also the risk of misinterpretation of the data.

Criticism of Cyber-Ethnography

Almost since its inception, some researchers have conducted purely observational studies of online cultures and communities, rather than as participating observers. This approach has been criticized by academics who argue that researchers should fully participate as members of the online community. These scholars value traditional ethnographic standards of participant observation, long engagement, and deep immersion.

Cyber-ethnography, like traditional ethnography, often aims to produce a broad description that can help a stranger understand the meaning of behavior in a culture or community. This emphasis on participation and immersion makes these approaches quite different from qualitative Internet research methods, such as online interviews and online content analysis.

Ethnographic methods are also quite different from quantitative Internet research methods, such as web mining or social media analysis. However, some researchers supplement research methods along with cyber-ethnography to triangulate their findings.


Ethnography has always been a valuable tool in qualitative market research. Being able to observe people in their natural surroundings offers a much truer picture than simply asking them to complete a questionnaire where what they say and how they behave in real life can be very different. The move to digital ethnography has further advanced the practice of ethnography, bringing new tools and skills to truly capture and assess behavior and reactions as they occur, delivering real data to life faster and easier than ever . At, we are here to fulfill your dream. Ask us any questions.

Bibliographic References

Ardévol, E. y Vayreda, A. (2002). La mediación tecnológica en la práctica etnográfica. Universitat Oberta de Cataluña, Barcelona.

Castells, M. (2001). The Internet Galaxy: reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society. University Press, Oxford

Ferrada, M. (2006). Etnografía un enfoque para la investigación de weblogs en Biblioteconomía y Documentación. Universidad Tecnológica Metropolitana, Chile.

Cybernetic Ethnography


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