Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Measuring Internet Behaviour: Total Time Diary and Activity Diary as Research Methods

Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Measuring Internet Behaviour: Total Time Diary and Activity Diary as Research Methods

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The central research question in this paper is: How do Total Time Diaries and Activity Diaries measure online behaviour? First a comparison is made between diaries and other methods to obtain information about user behaviour on the internet. Also the practical value of both Total Time and Activity diaries is discussed. The research question is answered by examining two diary studies on online behaviour conducted in the Netherlands in 2001 and 2003. Theoretical issues as well as practical issues that need to be taken into account to perform such a study successfully are addressed. Also the practical applicability of diaries as research instruments is elaborated on. This examination shows that, although not fully optimised yet, diaries are a good way to gain both quantitative as well as qualitative information on Internet behaviour.

INTRODUCTION

Diary research as a method in which respondents keep track of their daily activities is all but new. In the late thirties Sorokin and Berger (1939) made attempts to collect continuous 24-hour records of human behaviour. Since then the diary approach is often used in mobility studies (Breese, 1950; Timmermans, Waerden, Alves, Polak, Ellis, Harvey, Kurose and Zandee, 2003) time use studies (Broek, Knulst and Breedveld, 1995; Breedveld and Broek , 2001) and in medical research, where it is often used as an instrument to, for example, get more detailed information on patients' pain experience (Jamison et al., 2001; De Wit, 1999). In mass communication studies the diary approach of data collection is used to obtain a most accurate record of all communication activities (Wheeler and Nezlek, 1977; Gudykunst and Shapiro, 1996; Robinson and Godbey, 1997). For example, since 1930, the BBC has undertaken the Daily Life survey every decade to track changes in the way people spend their time and consume media. Since 1965 research is done on the media behaviour (radio and television) in the Netherlands. Participants keep a daily diary during one week, six times a year (Continued Listeners Research in The Netherlands). In this paper we focus on the use of diaries to study internet behaviour. The central question that will be focused upon is the following:

How do Total Time Diaries and Activity Diaries measure online behaviour?

In order to answer this question, first, a comparison is made between the diary and other methods to obtain information about Internet behaviour. After answering the central question the practical value of both methods of data gathering is discussed.

This paper will reflect on the experiences and results of two Internet diary studies that have been conducted in the Netherlands in 2001 (Maltha, Schuurman, Vermaas, Vandeberg, Bongers, Bekkers & van de Wijngaert, 2002) and in 2003 (Maltha, Bongers, Schuurman, Vandeberg, Vermaas & van de Wijngaert, 2003). As the vast amount of literature on diary research points out, many efforts have been made to help solve the theoretical issues involved in conducting diary research. Moreover the diary has shown to be a valid and reliable method in a variety of research areas, including the research area of communication. Surprisingly, diaries in which respondents are asked to write down daily Internet activities are virtually unknown. The two Dutch studies can be seen as a first exploration in developing understanding about how to implement diaries in Internet behaviour research.

DIARIES VERSUS OTHER METHODS TO STUDY INTERNET BEHAVIOUR

Over the years many methods have been used to study user behaviour regarding new media, such as the Internet. Online surveys are probably most often used to study what people do on the Internet in their daily lives. This method has proven to be a useful method, in which many users can be reached. A possible concern with regard to (online) surveys however, is the fact that people have to rely on their (selective) memory. This may lead to an incomplete or incorrect view on daily Internet usage. …

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