Information research is very interesting, because your field of work changes depending on the context of the information you are studying. For a person studying information flows in a business or multinational, that field may be at the site of practice where a researcher can watch the interactions between employees during their work, or in the policies they enact where their ramifications can echo in many unsuspecting ways. For laboratory researchers, their field is in the lab, looking at the dirty work that goes on during the crafting of knowledge. Context is key here, but I think that is one of the reasons information research is unique. When performing an ethnography, we can find value in everything and everywhere. The physical actions of a person can be the embodiment of decision making, and so we can easily justify observation as a method, but the artifacts they create, and their manipulation over time as they are examined and revised and re-interpreted is also perfectly valid place to study how we shape and control knowledge.
As such, I think I am letting Luker down when I believe my research may not necessarily break barriers because our field is so fluid. Studying gamers that make UGC content could occur in the homes of the gamers themselves, witnessing how they individually interact with a game and asking them about their understanding of their practice. However, I believe that there is an intensely collaborative aspect to this act as well, as communities often form in the creation of larger projects. Would being in the home of one member, or even alternating through several members, limit my perspective on this greater project? That question makes me believe that perhaps an online approach may be more suitable for this kind of research. However, forum posts and chat logs do not have the same depth as face to face interaction, and I may miss out on a lot of potential interaction that is either self censored or occurs in private chats. Then again, the typical interactions in this group occur in this fashion, and so I would be looking at the issue in the same way the other participants would be.
It is a shame Prof. Hartel didn’t have more to say on Virtual Ethnographies, but I understand that many other projects do not necessarily have to work online, and her expertise in ethnographies is very impressive (I am not sure if I have the mental capacity to organize all of the little artifacts from her research). The only thing I can maybe add to help is a book that we did readings from in Matt Ratto’s Methodology course last year. Hine, D. C. M. (2000) Virtual Ethnography (1st ed). London: Sage Publications Ltd.
There is a copy currently taken out of Robarts, but I’m sure if you dig around on the Internet you can find a lot of stuff about it.