The utility of “Researching Cybercultures” is not that it presents any new knowledge but rather the rich literature upon which it is drawn. Essentially Bell is concerned with research methodologies and ethics in cyberspace research and its related debates. Bell positions cyberspace as a site with questionable intellectual rigor, who’s the expert, and denotes its ephemeral nature all of which could prove problematic for researchers.
The bulk of the reading concentrates on textual analysis and cyber-ethnographies as “useful” methods and the unique ethical considerations one faces in cyberspace research. Textual analysis, in this case, is just the transference of an off-line method to the online environment, investigating style, layout, relationships with other texts, and “multimedianess” etc. However, the blurred lines between producer/consumer, and “intertextuality” of web documents can make textual analysis in cyberspace more challenging.
Is cyberspace a site for fieldwork? For many researchers virtual ethnography is thought the best and cost effected methods for getting at the rich data contained in chat, email, and “MUD/MOO sessions.” The biggest debate here appears to center on verifiability which gets into a larger debate on adaptability in new spaces. Many feel that cyberspace is a new world with different realities and thus, methodologies and researchers should evolve to meet these new dynamics.
The ethical considerations were perhaps the most thought provoking. Is masquerading in cyberspace wrong? Is that what people do in cyberspace? Does asking a series of questions count as spam? Are chat rooms and discussion lists public or private space? These are some of the unique ethical considerations faced by cyberspace researchers. Unfortunately Bell provides little in the way of answers to these questions; but perhaps that is beyond his scope here.