Home > Uncategorized > Themes and new directions

Themes and new directions

Brief update this time – I’m spending a lot of time in and around hospitals at the moment, trying to do what I can to help my family though a difficult week.

I’ve been trying to collate together ideas scattered across many different areas, in an attempt to link things into large enough themes make decent chapters. It’s also helped me to spot what I haven’t found or written yet. Being able to see the thesis as a project with a known shape and structure makes writing it much, much easier – it’s no longer an amorphous mass of text with no beginning or end to the work required to complete it. Once you can name it and put boundaries around what it should contain, you can get stuck into the real work: getting those ideas on paper and into a form that can be drafted and shared with supervisors and peers.

There are three main themes that I’ve begun drawing out of my fieldwork so far, and each will form a chapter over the next six months. At the moment, this is what they look like:

Blurred lines: personal and professional identity.  This will look at one of the things I find really interesting about micro businesses – the blurred line between the owner/manager and their business. I want to explore the ways in which business owners present themself and their business online, and the techniques they use to construct those identities. There’s some interesting stuff on audiences (imagined or otherwise) as well.

Trust, reputation and social capital. Building on the paper that Barbara and I will be presenting at ICWSM. This is an area with a lot written about it already, and I want to dig into the literature to a much greater extent than I have so far. I’m also fascinated by the intended and accidental things that people do to affect their business’ reputation online.

Learning curves: technology adoption, adaptation and diffusion. The original focus of my project, following on from a rich tradition of adoption studies that have looked at IT use in business. Social media adoption is a little more tricky to define, as there’s no hard line between a “social” website and its alternative (anti-social sites?)… many sites are beginning to incorporate social elements, from bookmarking/recommendation/’like’ buttons, to user-led discussions and feedback. Instead, I want to see how each business owner has incorporated social media into their online presence: what they use, how they learned to use it, and what their information network looks like.

Over the next few months, I’ll be taking some tips from these two posts and sitting down to rough out the basic structure for these chapters. It won’t be pretty, and there will be a lot of gaps in there – social capital theory in particular is something that I’ve been skirting around so far, because I wanted to wait until I had a decent amount of time to read through the literature. However, unless I get some kind of structure in place the chapters may never get started, let alone finished…

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  1. June 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    The trust, reputation and social capital theme sounds really interesting Ben. Have you read much Erving Goffman?

    • June 8, 2011 at 6:02 pm

      Not yet, but I intend to! Do you have any particular favourite articles or books?

      I find the role of audiences in interactions fascinating, as people typically won’t know what their audience will look like online. We make assumptions (sometimes they might even be accurate), and some people go to great lengths trying to find out details via stats and analytics, but ultimately we don’t know a great deal about the people who read our work. Instead we imagine what they might be like, and shape what we write accordingly…

  2. Jonathan O'Donnell
    June 9, 2011 at 10:35 am

    One way to think about your nascent chapters is to imagine the book you would have loved to read at the start of your thesis. What would it have covered? What would the table of contents have been?

    Your topic is a great one, and you should think about reworking your thesis into a book (or two – one academic and one helpful to your constituency). Write accordingly.

    Trust is such a weird space. Lots of articles and policy documents start from the premise that there is no face to face interaction in an online transaction, so there is no trust. But there is no trust in most face to face transactions either. I don’t ‘trust’ the person at the Coles checkout (neither does Coles, for that matter). I’m not forming a contact with that person, either. I’m contracting with Coles, who I have had no face to face interaction with, if you see what I mean.

    I believe that trust in on-line business to consumer settings revolves around delivery (I’m not standing at a check-out, so will I ever see my goods) and return (It doesn’t fit/ work/ look any good, so I want to send it back. Will I get a refund/ replacement?).

    If the Internet has done anything, it has allowed me to have a more meaningful interaction with the people that I buy stuff from, because it has allowed me to buy niche products direct from the small business that makes them, sometimes.

    There is also the issue of third party identity theft (which I know you have direct experience of). That gets in the way – people who are afraid of identity theft are reluctant to purchase from any business online, no matter what relationship they have with the proprietor.

    It comes back to the stuff that we did about business-to-business online. When a business is a supplier, they want to build a personal relationship with their customer. When a business is a customer, they want the process to be as streamlined and impersonal as possible. There is a contradiction in the heart of that statement. And it is not about trust, imho.


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