Platform-based elicitation methods in qualitative research

This section from Jean Burgess and Nacy Baym’s new book on Twitter caught my imagination as a research method. It reminded me of this recent paper in The Sociological Review which used Facebook activity logs as an elicitation method. On pg 26 Burgess and Baym describe how they showed participants their Twitter timelines in order to prompt reflection on how they related to the platform and how this had changed over time.

We asked the interviewees to download their archives before the interview, to read through their tweets, and to identify points at which they felt that their tweeting practices had changed. During the interview, we projected their archives on a screen and let them walk us through their personal tweeting histories, beginning with their first tweet and going through the point where they felt their practices represented their current state. Explicitly engaging users (including ourselves!) in reflecting on their Twitter careers—effectively engaging them as oral history informants on the history of the platform—has helped us generate particular insights. The interviewees, too, expressed surprise at seeing their practices through this lens, rediscovering earlier practices and identifying changes in Twitter’s cultures that had been forgotten or that had not been salient at the time.

Importantly they note on pg 36 how one participant “surmised in our interview that they must have started posting pictures to Twitter when they saw their friends doing it, but their tweet archives revealed that this change in their communicative practice had actually coincided with a change in the app they were using to post—possibly indicating they had acquired a smartphone for the first time”. This highlights that users don’t have discursive penetration (as the 90s Giddensians would call it) into their participation on platforms, which is an important methodological caveat into platform-based elicitation methods.

These are also relevant, thanks to Sheena MacRae and Anuja Cabraal for highlighting them: and

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