Histo­ri­sche Tech­no­gra­fie des Online-Kommen­tars

B Popularisierung

In the earlier years of the world wide web, online comments were celebrated as a new medium of participation with a potential of democratization. During the 2010s, commenting functions were more and more problematized, sometimes even shut down – WIRED already bemoaned “the end of comments” in 2015.

The project researches the history of online commenting since the early 1990s and develops methods to work with web archive data. It develops and uses the Technograph, a tool that in a first step tracks and visualizes changes in HTML corpora that the project gets from the Internet Archive. With help of the Technograph, updates in commenting functions – when they have been changed or shut down, for example – can be identified.

These data are then used to elicit and triangulate them with other data types. To qualitative interviews with journalists, content moderators or software programmers for example, we bring snapshots of archived web pages, older versions of commenting functions and their updates in order to structure them. In this way, we let the media of commenting participate in the interviews that try to reconstruct the transformations of online commenting practices.

That means, the project uses web archive data to reconstruct past, historical practices by taking the technologies of these practices as point of departure – and not an ethnos as in ethnography. This is one reason why we discuss our methods in the discourse of Technography.

A second reason to conceptualize our method as Technography is the project’s procedure of iterative-cyclically combining semi-automated with rather ‘classical’ qualitative methods: With the Technograph, we develop a digital tool that helps us to sample, analyze and interpret the considerably ‘messy’ data that web archives provide. Qualitative methods are designed to work with ‘messy’ data, and web archive data can, as a result, often best be understood in a framework that understands also its digital tools as qualitative tools. In other words, the technology we develop (the Technograph) is an actor in our research – sometimes as an informant (when it finds updates in HTML corpora, for example), and sometimes as an interviewer (when the updates the Technograph finds become part of an interview).

From that results a third reason of why we understand our method as technographic: Our tool itself draws on historical, interpretive knowledge about the practices we are researching. In order to find commenting functions in corpora from the late 2000s, for example, we draw on knowledge about practices of building websites in the late 2000s. Rather than following the ideal of a ‘light’ or ‘neutral’ tool, the Technograph is what we call a “thick tool” that actively interprets data in our technographic field that is constituted – but not restricted to – data from archived websites.

Our iterative research approach
Lifecycle of detected commenting systems, so far, based on our corpus and search list
HTML code of a commenting section
The team at STS Italia conference 2023. Left to right: Lisa Gerzen, Martina Schories, Johannes Paßmann.


Panel Presen­ta­tion: Inter­net Histo­ries (2022)


Presentation at Panel 'Internet Histories', AoIR2022 Conference, Dublin

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