After some time in the publishing mill my paper on observational research in virtual worlds (such as Second Life) is now available in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology.
The paper tackles some technical issues relating to conducting field observations in virtual worlds and might be of interest to those who (like me) have used, or are considering using, the approach as part of their research.
The complete summary:
Virtual worlds, such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, have seen remarkable mainstream uptake in the last decade. Such environments have grown from hosting niche interest groups to providing sites for leisure, business and education for tens of millions of Internet users. Concurrently, a multi-disciplinary research field exploring the application of such spaces has emerged. This article examines in detail one data collection practice – observation in virtual worlds – that has been applied extensively, but without extensive methodological discussion. By revisiting and extending earlier work on this topic, the article presents four key considerations for those conducting observational research in virtual worlds: defining and delimiting field sites, discerning attention, charting actions and attributing intention. It is concluded that researchers must both ward against flawed assumptions about virtual world observation and consider multi-method strategies to overcome limitations in observational data.