Ethnography

Please view my visual ethnography here

Introduction

I have stumbled upon the Weight Weenies website for this ethnographic study due to a discussion with friends about forums and who actually uses them. I am not an active member of any forum, firstly because I don’t have time and I feel they need a certain level of commitment to make them worth while, secondly I don’t want to put my name on the internet anymore than necessary (I could always assume an identity) Thirdly I don’t really feel passionate about an online community other than through this course.

Weight Weenies provides the reason why the site exists

Postings saying “How much does X bike component weigh?” can be found on almost every bicycle related message board.
Often the same parts weight is stated several times further down the board.
So, why isn’t there a website that already lists component & bike weights?
Well that’s what we do. Component lists are updated almost daily.

Ethical considerations

I started by thinking becoming a member would be enough to allow me to access information and do this ethnography but discussions in the hub gave me a better understanding and if it is a private group i.e. you have to become a member before accessing posts I wouldnt be able to use it without permission. I didn’t have the time to ask and wait for a response so although I did become a member, I only used information from posts I could access as a non member. This limited me in that I couldn’t use the search facility, and it took longer to find information. I also thought about the sensitivity of the information and decided it was not somthing people would feel sensitive about. I therefore felt able to use the forum for the ethnography without asking for permission

Authenticity
I posted on the blog It also comes up in the following section when members are instructed not to have two identities or they will be banned. I have no explanation of why they would want to do this?

A brief over view of what happened when (not so sure this is brief!)

Website set up and forum created in Decemeber 2000. There are no records from 2000 until 2004 when the first recorded instruction came in June 2004 against unsolicited advertising by companies, however it was noted the companies could answer questions about their products. It was perhaps an indicator that the site was becoming popular and reputable as the advertisers had moved in. By August 2004 there were 1000 Users in the forum and the listings were divided into different categories for different users which is quite a big marker of the development of the site and community – road bike and mountain bike users are very different communities, with different interests and often a pseudo dislike for one another!

In 2005 the first recorded instructional note was placed “Please do not repost – if you think that your original topic wasn’t answered to your satisfaction feel free to bump it by posting a reply in it” The community was still relatively small at this point and perhaps were not posting responses to questions asked by members as quickly as they wanted. The small community may also not have had all the answers at this time. Or it could have just been annoyance by the moderators in having reposts!

In the same month another two instructions were placed “Please read before posting” which had the added information to clarify “Threads which turn into endless off-topic chit chat might get the postings removed or even locked.” This was also followed with advice to “Please open only one thread to introduce yourself & your bike(s)” These instructions appear to be about the organisation of the forum, an attempt to keep the focus and structure of the forum intact. The next month forum members were advised “Please don’t crosspost and give the people a chance to post in your original thread. Not all WW live in the same timezone and some use to work over the day” Again this is about keeping the structure and also trying to prevent any negative feedback and comments between users which may have been starting to arise due to speed of replies and interactions.

By the end of the year the forum had 100,000 posts so it was really growing and got its own server in May 2006 and many commented on the increased speed and lack of double posts that had been problematic before. The website also got a new server and the company stated “the site should now have enough resources for future growth and features and the performance problems at certain times should be solved.”

By mid 2006 the advertisers had found a new way to promote their products, so another rule came in place “Advertising banners on signatures are banned” This would have helped to ensure that forum members were genuinely interested weight weenies.

The sales section of the website and forum must have developed further with the increased speed of the new server as new instructions were given on who could sell their bikes and bike parts ” In order to be allowed to post an add users (posting in the marketplace) must have a minimum of 30 posts. And users (posting in the marketplace) must be an active member of the board for a minimum of one month. – Posts by members that do not live up to these rules will be removed by the moderators. – If we find you spam posting the forums in order to increase post count you will get one warning.” These instructions appear quite harsh but they are obviously there for a reason. The moderators must have decided what actually constitutes a community member and how this is represented. I liked the fact they added that spam postings would not count – which shows a dedication to the forum and an interest in the relationships in the community. They also show they do not want to be just another sales site by the commitment to the saring of information.

At the end of 2006 members were reminded that they shouldn’t have dual accounts and that some member had been banned because of this, I am not certain why this rule would come about, it could be perhaps to increase clarity and visibility between users, I am aslo not certain why member would want to have two accounts?

There was a minor intsruction to “Only post images of new builds in Gallery section” in 2007 followed by an “On topic” note in 2009 Things must have been going well since the new server was in place

At the start of 2010 there were two instructions “Do not reply to spam posting” followed by a request to “report off topic conversations” These sound like organisational instruction which perhaps follow an increase in members or posts as was seen in 2005, but there are no figures for this at this time.

In October 2011 Forum rules were posted - they are organisational – where postings should be placed. Instructional – what members should and shouldn’t say. Punative – what will happen if you break the rules!

Advice was given in March 2012 “Do not use paypal as a gift to pay for items” as members had been subject to scams from sellers who had obviously got past the restrictions on posting items for sale. Later in the year there were a few instructional reminders “No off topic talk in Introductions” and “not to use the quote button” except for “the special occasion such as reacting to a post 2 or more posts up on the page”

There was a final request to “stop adding new topics” to a specific section in 2013 but this is just an organisational request.

The site and the forum has really grown – Total members 24807 Total posts 914425 Total topics 70984 over the last few years and is very popular amongst keen cyclists and they now produce their own cycling clothing range.

Although this may not be very interesting to read it has been very interesting to do. I have thoroughly enjoyed searching through postings and TimeToast (although not aesthetically as pleasing as i hoped) has been great for organising the information chronologically and has helped given some clarification to why things change. It is interesting to see how the inadequacies of the server affected the community relationships and effectiveness. It was interesting to see how as the size of the forum grew the number of instructions increased. It was also interesting that the moderators decided on the level of participation one must have before posting sales and i wonder if a new level will come into force in the near future as that was decided over 5 years ago.

A great website and great moderators, who are reacting to change and keeping true to their ideals.

15 Comments , , , ,

15 Responses to “Ethnography”

  1. Jen Ross March 6, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    hi Anabel – very interesting description of how a site’s norms and practices evolved over time – nice idea. You said you weren’t sure why “members are instructed not to have two identities or they will be banned”. I’ve can imagine a case where someone posed as two different people in order to create ‘drama’ or to boost their ‘core’ reputation (by having the other identity say lots of nice things about the first one!). I think something like this happened on Amazon not long ago – an author created a second identity in order (if I recall correctly) slag off a competitor’s book… aha – found it! http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/03/rj-ellory-secret-amazon-reviews

    I think your description raises all kinds of interesting issues about trust and how it is created and sustained. I’d be interested to hear how you might respond to that, perhaps in relation to Bell’s chapter about community and his discussion of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft?

    • Anabel Drought March 7, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

      HI Jen
      Thanks for this, The Guardian article was very interesting, but I guess the duplicity was for personal gain – fame and financial. I assumed because this community was for information, there wouldn’t be a desire or need for creating two accounts, I think perhaps I have been naive to assume there wouldn’t be a beneficial reason to create an alter id for members of this community – ego is enough of a reason.
      The Weight Weenies community is essentially Gesellschaft as described by Bell (2001) in that members appear to be transient, relationships are mostly shallow, partial and transitory depending upon need of information or desire for communication with like minded people. Bell (2001)quotes Edensor 2001 to say “these kinds of communities, moreover, only exist because their members believe in them, and maintain them through shared cultural practices”
      I would have enjoyed looking further into a community like this and gain a better understanding of how the community develops over time.
      Thanks Anabel

  2. sbayne March 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    I really enjoyed this Anabel – it felt to me like the start of some really interesting work in tracing the genealogy of rules, trying to make sense of how they come about and how they inform the growth and flow of a community. It’s interesting that there were no moderator posts for the first five years of the site: it made me wonder how the moderators were ‘made’, who they were, and by what methods of governance they achieved the moderator role. I guess you wouldn’t know this unless you did a much bigger piece of work, but for me it raised a lot of interesting questions about how groups attain positions of power and authority within such groups, and what the wielding of that authority does to the culture of a community.

    • Anabel Drought March 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

      Hi Sian, I really enjoyed creating the genealogy, reading through the postings and making assumptions based on what I could find, very aware that I probably have incomplete records! It was very interesting that there wasn’t any input from moderators for the first 5 years. I assume this is because the site was in its infancy and the site developers were perhaps new to the process and there were relatively few members. As it grew there needed to be more rules and regulations. At a later stage a forum member was appointed as a moderator, however their input was not evident and it was not clear how long this position was in place.
      It would definitely require a much longer, in depth study to get a greater insight in to how this role evolved and why they decided to appoint a forum member. Thanks Sian

  3. Phil Devine March 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    Hi Anabel – I’ve heard of this site but never used it! I’m a very keen cyclist and understand the obsession with weight! When I think of some of my training partners I can imagine them posting on this site (maybe some do :) ). What interests me is what component is being weighed, and how much does it weigh. I also want to know about the characters behind the site users, and how they find use identity online. You commented on the visual aspect of timetoast, maybe of you added images of user identity, components and weights? Great stuff :)

    • Anabel Drought March 7, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

      Ah you should take a look! People are weighing everything and often obsessively so, they are impressively light though!

      I had started adding different images for the data and considered using the avatar for the moderators, but decided against it. I felt it would compromise the identity of the moderators and would perhaps unfairly link them to my interpretation of the events without fully knowing the facts. I also decided that there were two issues going on, the growth of the forum and the addition of rules and regulations on users, so I changed the images to forum and rules logo’s. I would have liked the timeline to have an image behind it – perhaps the scales would have been a good idea. Thanks Phil

  4. Giraf87 March 7, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

    hi Anabel, I could not access timetoast, came up with: We’re sorry, but something went wrong.
    We’ve been notified about this issue and we’ll take a look at it shortly.

    • Anabel Drought March 9, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

      Hello!
      I have just tried it and it appears to be working at the moment, but here is the link incase it stops again!
      Thanks for looking!
      http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/micro-ethnography

      • Giraf87 March 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

        hi Annabel, just realised I did’t have a chance to look at this before, because of the error. I think you have captured well the sheer volume and hence manageability issues of the forum. It seems amazingly dense, technical, and without surprise matches with the minute detail that goes into it, reflecting the exactness of the discussions. Comparing it with my YouTube community it seems quite the opposite ethos.
        I also think Timetoast does a good job here, although I preferred reading it in time view rather than time line.

  5. Candace Nolan-Grant March 9, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Anabel I found it very interesting how the rules trace the development of the community, and maybe the moderators’ perceptions of the community too… It struck me how off-topic posts and ‘chit-chat’ seemed to be reviled : ) I suppose some sites solve this problem by creating forums that are especially for posts that aren’t related to the site topic, and which people can move conversations to if they go off-topic (or if they want to talk to people they already know about different things). I’ve always assumed that the sties that do this are managing the off-topic stuff by giving it a place, but also fostering a sense of community on the site–where you can talk to people you already trust about different things… But maybe they don’t have enough server space for that : )

    • Anabel Drought March 9, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

      Hi there Candace, great idea, I may suggest the off topic area to the administrators as it would save them a lot time and energy and would as you say help to develop the relationships within the community. However, I would then have to admit to having studied them and I’m a bit worried about negative feedback. Which is perhaps something Ethnographers have to deal with.
      Cheers
      Anabel

  6. cmeckenstock March 10, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    I have enjoyed reading your ethnography. The weight weenies site looks like something that is really specialised, and so will invite what Kozinets calls ‘geeking communities’ perhaps?

    I can identify with the kind of geneology of the forum, no one can anticipate how successful a forum like this is going to be until you get started. And then there is the issue of funding, management, moderation etc. It kind of grow organically! Considering that the site seems really quite neat. I get a little suspicious with really polished sites where forums go.

    Thank you for the interesting ethnography.

  7. Steph Carr March 10, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    Hi Anabel, this is great and I really like the timetoast element. I think it gives context and justification to your study.

    I think the moderator role here is quite fascinating, I wonder whether they are shaping the rules and behaviours because of their own value judgements as to what a forum should look like; or whether they are reacting to feedback from their members.

  8. Nikki Bourke March 10, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    Hi Anabel,

    I really enjoyed your ethnography. I think that Timetoast is a great visual platform for presenting your findings. I think it is fascinating to see how the WW rules structure evolved over time. Thanks for sharing this!

    Nikki

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