Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet

By Christine Hine | Go to book overview

7
Centring the Links: Understanding
Cybernetic Patterns of Co-Production,
Circulation and Consumption

Maximilian C. Forte

The visual stillness of a web site, static as it appears on the screen, can be an entirely deceptive optical effect that fails adequately to represent the depth and extent of social ties, networking and exchange that leads to its construction. Cultural practice, revealed partly by the embedding and projection of particular visual symbolism on a web site, might also be lost on the ‘average visitor’ if we are to believe that web surfers are often simply ‘speed clickers’. On the other hand, ‘speed clicking’ within a combine of related web sites might provide an effective impressionistic method for getting at the symbolic or ideological environment which can be observed by reading between the web sites. What lies between web sites is ostensibly undefined and possibly unintended, a kind of meaning suspended in the electronic equivalent of ether, a distillation of compounded impressions of images and ideas. What lies between web sites and what may also make a surface appearance on a given site, is also the product of actual patterns of exchange, information distribution, dialogue and revision that went into the construction of web sites whose only overt relation is a categorical one, that is, ‘Society > Ethnicity > Indigenous Peoples > Caribbean’ (as one would find in the Open Directory Project at http://www.dmoz.org).

The purpose of my chapter is to explore the social and cultural ‘constructedness’ of web sites, that is to say the patterns and processes of cultural practice that bring together individuals into online groups of producers, promoters and information consumers. There seems to be a prevailing concern in social scientific research about the Internet with synchronous modes of communication (typically chat) or more dynamic forms of asynchronous communication (such as email), with less attention paid to web site development and research using web pages. I address this oversight using the case of a group of nested (that is, tightly interconnected) web sites that come together in the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink (CAC), already more than five years in existence at the time of writing.

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