Echoing a previous post on the nature of research, today I am thinking about collaborative ethnography. Luke Eric Lasseter (whose name has been unfortunately misspelled in the source I am using) is the starting point for the type of collaborative ethnography I am interested in. This kind of ethnography involves including the conversation between the ethnographer and the “consultant” as a part of the research although that fits into the category of “reciprocal” ethnography. What makes it collaborative is making the research process and/or end product of some use or relevance to the consultant/s. Collaborative ethnography is not a parasitic relationship; it is a symbiotic mutualistic relationship where all involved are benefited.
This is where I think corporate media research in the home fails.
My favourite example is television research as I am personally quite invested in a number of television series. Nielsen invented television ratings. They measure “more than 40 percent of the world’s viewing behavior—hundreds of channels, thousands of programs, and millions of viewers. This measurement breadth allows clients to plan programming and advertising for their ideal audience.” Networks most commonly cancel a show when the viewership from Nielsen is consistently or increasingly low. This is an example of quantitative research that also carries a number of limitations. For example, Ivan has observed a habit of people leaving the television on in the home to simulate company without actually watching whatever it is showing. Nielsen is trying to expand its accuracy by measuring “Social TV” – the number of users engaging with Twitter during the live airing of a television show and also the reach those tweets have.
However Nielsen does not engage in the content produced by Twitterers. That is where the real qualitative data is and this is where collaborative ethnography can change things for the better.
My favourite example is a Tumblr conversation between Arrow showrunner Mark Guggenheim and Rosie Twiggs about the character development of Ray Palmer.
Twiggs claims a number of inconsistencies and arguably creepy behaviour that she wants Guggenheim to address and improve upon. By actively engaging in social media, Guggenheim has opened himself up to a conversation with his show’s viewers that could lead to a mutually beneficial product. (Here’s the link for further reading.) Now, I don’t know if he will take Twigg’s advice but I personally think he should.
Showrunners, actors and writers all engage with their viewers on social media, primarily Twitter. They are able to see firsthand how the viewers respond but this ultimately has no sway over the continuation or cancellation of the show. There’s a broken link in this chain that really needs to be addressed.