Recently I’ve been interested in the idea of “Trace Ethnography,” as developed by David Ribes and R.S. Geiger (a pdf of their article is available here). In a nutshell, Trace Ethnography describes a method for studying the actions of an online community “by combining a fine grained analysis of the various ‘traces’ that are automatically recorded by the [community’s] software alongside an ethnographically-derived understanding of the tools, techniques, practices, and procedures that generate such traces.” Trace ethnography provides an elegant name for the hybrid archival/ethnographic methods that have been used by both Joseph Reagle and myself to study WIkipedia. In addition, I have been trying to extend the idea to develop “trace pedagogy,” which would inform techniques for using wikis and related technology in the composition classroom.

In this session, I would like to begin a conversation about the best tools and techniques for reading and interpreting the traces left by users of a wiki community, or other online community. The archive of traces left by such communities can be large and diverse, making them both extremely informative and quite difficult to navigate. A discussion of how to select cases, how to read traces, and what sorts of tools might make it easier to derive both quantitative and qualitative information from trace archives might help both novice and experienced researchers engage with these techniques.