The term netnography has gained currency within the field of consumer research to refer to ethnographic research conducted on the Internet. It is a qualitative, interpretive research methodology that adapts the traditional, in-person ethnographic research techniques of anthropology to the study of the online cultures and communities formed through computer-mediated communications (“CMC”).
At least four aspects of online, computer-mediated, or virtual, interaction and community formation are distinct from their in-person, real life (“RL”), or face-to-face (“F2F”) counterparts. First is the textual, nonphysical, and social-cue-impoverished context of the online environment. Second is an unprecedented new level of access to the heretofore unobservable behaviors of particular interacting peoples. Third, while traditional interactions are ephemeral as they occur, online social interactions are often automatically saved and archived, creating permanent records. Finally, the social nature of the new medium is unclear as to whether it is a private or public space, or some unique hybrid. Ethnography adapts common participant-observation ethnographic procedures—such as making cultural entrée, data collection, analyzing data, and conducting ethical research—to these computer-mediated contingencies and provides sets of specific guidelines (see Kozinets 2002 for a detailed development of the process; see also Kozinets 2006).