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Themes and new directions

June 8, 2011 3 comments

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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