The best way, I believe, to study a virtual community, culture, or subculture is through immersion. There is no better way to study an online community then to just jump into it head-first and see where you land. Let’s examine Reddit. When one thinks of the typical “Redditor”, one thinks of a science-minded individual who questions religion, academia, and scientific developments. They also have a fondness for cats. The interests of the majority of the users shapes the community, culture, and the content of the website itself. When I first made a Reddit account, I had no pre-conceptions about what the community was like. I had joined Reddit blindly, on the suggestion of a friend. I was immediately exposed to people who loved to post pictures of cats, quotes by astrophysicist Neil De Grasse Tyson, and the latest science news. Naturally, through the immersion method, I learned a lot about what kind of culture Reddit had. Thus, I do not think that learning about an online culture is so much about asking questions as it is about the experience itself. But, if I had to ask questions, I would ask:
1. What is it about Reddit that attracts these types of people?
2. Is the Reddit culture unwilling to change?
3. How did the culture develop? What was Reddit like when it launched and how is it different today?
Building a reputable status on Reddit involves being incredibly active and creative. You must post on threads when they are newly posted to Reddit, or else too many comments will be posted for yours to gain any substantial attention. Others do more than just comment to attract attention. For example, take Reddit user awildsketchappeared (http://www.reddit.com/user/awildsketchappeared). Instead of posting a text-based comment, he creates unique sketches that are appropriate for whatever the discussion is about and posts them in the thread. By doing something creative while simultaneously contributing to the discussion, awildsketchappeared has established a reputable identity. In terms of gathering information, one needs to do no more than read the comments in the various threads to gain the community’s perspectives, opinions, thoughts, etc. on a given topic.
The potential problem I see in studying the Reddit culture is becoming too involved in the community. This would lead one to gain a biased viewpoint through which they are analyzing Reddit. Reddit is known for its addictive quality, and it is easy to become immersed in the community. This also relates to maintaining an ethical standpoint and quality research. A biased lens that an observer is looking through will surely negatively affect the objectivity of their analysis. One must immerse themselves in the community while simultaneously remain a conscientious observer.
Reddit is not the only online community to study. In fact, there are seemingly infinite online communities. I just found that Reddit provides the best example in reference to the questions posed.