Building Bridges: Online & Offline

Orgad admits the challenges in comprehensively describing and conducting qualitative Internet research, which she tries to address and approach from the interpretivist paradigm. She argues that to understand the meanings and experiences of Internet phenomena, researchers need to look at how and why these phenomena occur. For instance, to know what is crowdfunding, we need to know how it occurs, which first and foremost would inform us of the platforms being used, and we also need to know why it is happening, which would give us insights into the motives of the users in using different platforms for crowdfunding. In Orgad’s study, she uses qualitative methods to understand how cancer sufferers and survivors use various CMC platforms to share experiences and find meanings, and also why some of them find comfort and a community online while others don’t.

Typically, online data inevitably conjures up images of web analytics and statistics such as clicks, hits, visits and views. But Orgad refers to online data in a qualitative way, by way of online ethnography through interviews and participant observations. She begins by distinguishing the two vital steps to conducting Internet research—data collection or obtaining data and data analysis or interpreting data. After segregating the two-step process, she further makes essential distinctions between online data and offline data focusing on their contexts and uses.

Orgad examines online and offline generated data. Consider the distinction that she makes. What is the utility as a researcher in thinking about distinct types of data based on where/how they are generated?

Even though she makes distinctions between online and offline data, she does not segregate online and offline phenomena and mostly focuses on methodological differences in collecting and analyzing data. While it is definitely helpful to think about where and how data are being generated and obtained, it is the purpose and context of the research question that should guide the researcher whether they should expend resources in those two distinct sources. If someone wants to study how teenagers use text-based communication with their parents and other significant social connections, both online and offline data could provide information into an evolving socio-cultural phenomenon being facilitated by digital platforms. However, in the case of how a visually-impaired toddler forms long-term relationships with her parents and caregivers, it will be futile and pointless to try and substantiate the study with online data due to the nature of the study, unless emails and instant messages between the parents and the caregivers regarding the toddler’s behavior and developmental needs inform the research in some way.

When you consider your own project, consider whether the phenomenon of interest to you manifests solely online or is it a phenomenon that occurs beyond the internet but that is easily observable online?

In terms of my own research pertaining to content credibility and persuasiveness of three different online phenomena of online reviews, crowdfunding and e-petitioning, it could benefit if I not only consider both online and offline data, but also quantitative and qualitative methodologies in data collection and analyses. All three of these online phenomena—online reviews, crowdfunding and e-petitioning are rooted in offline phenomena of word-of-mouth marketing, face-to-face fundraising and door-to-door canvassing respectively, highlighting the need to tap into such socio-cultural relationships by means of both online data such as these various user-generated content as well as offline data by means of interviews with those who are affected by these online phenomena.

Reference

Orgad, S. (2009). How can researchers make sense of the issues involved in collecting and interpreting online and offline data? In: Markham, Annette and Baym, Nancy, (eds.) Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method. SAGE, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 33-53. ISBN 9781412910002
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