Live blog of Connect@NMC: Michael Wesch and Digital Ethnography

I’m trying to live blog Connect@NMC: Michael Wesch and Digital Ethnography. I’m coming in late but ETA: here’s the discussion template ( He’s talking about the exploration phase of the course and the infrastructure on NetVibes ( using Diigo, ZohoCreator and other tools. They did initial exploration on topic (anonymity), had to find 5 articles and summarize, input them into Zoho Cretaor (a student pulled a JSON feed to collate them and tag cloud); everyone had to read all 94 summaries for class. They had to do trailers and then put all trailers into one master Anonymity project trailer on YouTube ( This helped them decide what aspects they wanted to focus on for their research projects

Self guided class/research mostly (he had to leave for family emergency and they gave themselves an assignment) and then more guided middle part by him then opening out again.
They had to put up research project ideas and then combined into one massive collaborative research project idea. Individual paper then collaborative research paper on Google Docs (just the middle of the semester!) then they share with world.


Prereqs for class: wide open. Sends out invitation to join, students apply, and he chooses.

Half had used wikis but others had not. They jumped on in. Age range: 20-27
How do you assign grades (randomly and brutally he says 🙂 ) Student says grade’s not first thing on her mind. He gave big goal at beginning of class which motivated her.

Topic of anonymity: identity students are used to thinking about; anonymity not so much. He chose theme this time and had to convince them. Worked pretty well.

How did having others see your work affect them? One student said both motivating and inspiring as well as terrifying. Assessment happening by students, constantly helping each other do better, Wesch says

Did anyone get rick rolled during this project? *g*

Part 2 of pres: What are they doing?

Basic idea: The medium shapes the message. (from media ecology and anthropology) First blogs had title, link and comment boxes. Blogger changed the landscape. Medium shapes identity, relationships, etc.
Twitter asks “What are you doing?” Existential question. People are lifecasting (diary), mindcasting (Jay Rosen), creating ambient intimacy (constant connection), self-reflecting but in public performance (Laura Fiitton: “In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself”), promoting their own brand/self-PR

What are they doing now? Looking at:

  • 4chan /b/ (random)-case study of anonymity and identity
  • Celebrity and microcelebrity projects: history of celebrity, anomie, 4chan attack on celebrity ( “Everyone thinks they are special,” Oprah attack, Anonymous, John Edwards, Second Life celebrity) and 4chan making celebrities-Chocolate Rain, rick roll

Discussion/Q&A Pt 2:

Ethics: not just one day of dry ethics talk but arise urgently out of activities (4chan participation, etc)

Study of Anonymous: not just 14 yo boys in their basements but RL people in dual lives which cross over

How does anonymity affect ethnographic research? Hard to map people when they are all anonymous. Forces them to think about anthropology. Some people have multiple names (talking to some guys on hacker chatroom who busted him as n00b)

How to study lurkers? Can’t. Screen scraping and such (like Britannica can)–expensive. Can do some great free research but data mining takes money

When you meet folks in RL, can integrate through knowledge of anime, video games, internet memes. After 2nd or 3rd month would play XBox Live together (maybe will interview them online to avoid exposing identities). Homework became his life

Difference between 4chan and gaming (WoW, EverQuest)-MMOGs require you to make up a pseud and other players know you by that name. 4chan is anonymous. Difference between anon and pseud

4chan is in top 500 in US. Basement Dad thing: Nobody talks about them–either b/c they are instantly wrong or NSFW. 4chan morphs and attacks. (They discussed that danger in class before joining). How many of them had to wipe their computers? 5 of them; Wesch was almost instantly shut down (Not malicious, just for the lulz)

Anonymity in other sites (4chan is playful hatred; other anon sites looking for beauty and new forms of connection). Student looked at PostSecret (; mostly) and Found Magazine (

Main goal in class: Examining historical crisis of significance and exploring how to create a sense of meaning in your own life, become creators not consumers.

Variation of anonymity cross-culturally-Japanese version of 4chan (2chan)–more anonymity there (and on other sites); 4chan came from 2chan. In Papua New Guinea, no anon-everybody knows everybody and how they are related

Articles on anonymity in education? Lots in early days of internet (look at 94 articles bib)

Studying whistleblowers? Yes, Wikileaks

94 articles: Wesch had no idea what was out there. Just left it open. Learning along with them. Not married to tech, use it as needed

How did you find those articles? Few repeats actually. They had to go back. Used Google, library databases like Anthrosource. Then they shared different ways of researching. Everybody had their own path, piece of the project too.

Looked at social rating and reputation systems last year. Not this year (since anon)

16-17 week class

ETA: Cleaned up a bit post-webcast

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