Since I came from Læsø [note the Wikipedia entry name in the address bar - not easy to recognize] late Tuesday evening, I have been catching up on my mail. And lots of it.
Doing fieldwork in an on-line community means that you’re reading lots and lots and lots of mail. From the various Ubuntu mailing-lists I get an easy 200 emails a day, So when I got back, after a holiday trip plus 2 weeks of intensive fieldwork, I had a couple of thousands of mails to go through for exciting ethnographic content.
Sorting my mail, I find there are the following main categories:
Bug mail – updates on various bugs that I subscribe or have been subscribed to, through the Malone bugtracking system.
Spec mail – updates on the various specs that I subscribe to through the Blueprint Specification tracking system.
Change mail – Every time a new version of software package is uploaded in the new Edgy Eft version of Ubuntu, a mail is sent to this list. A typical change mail.(I hope to examine this further as I find this to be a prime example of communication directly through technological production rather than actual conventional social interaction).
Ubuntu Mailing lists – This is the bulk of the mail I get. These are divided into Ubuntu-Devel for Ubuntu development discussion, Ubuntu-desktop for Desktop and Usability discussions (very little happens there…), Ubuntu-Doc for Documentation discussions, the Sounder (apparently named after a pack warthogs, because the first Ubuntu mailing-list was called Warthogs) for random community chit-chat and lots of other, specialized ones that I pay less attention to.
Obviously, I find the Sounder most readable, but it often degenerates into long, awkward discussions about very little. It seems that discussions are either specifically on the technical issues or it can explode in any other direction at any whim. As Biella Coleman observed somewhere, geeks often self-reflexively comment upon this, as in this email signature:
Arguing with an engineer is like wrestling with a pig in mud.
After a while, you realise the pig is enjoying it.
On top of all that, there’s my usual mail, and then there are the Blogs. Following GUADEC, I’ve begun to read not only the Planet Ubuntu feed (which I’ve been reading for a long time now) but also the the Planet GNOME and Planet Debian feeds in order to get an idea of what the upstream is up to. I did this when I found out how central the Planet GNOME is to that community’s communication.
Basically it is just one big blog combining blog posts from all the different individuals who have had their blog signed up, but it gives a much better feeling of community than the mailing-lists. Maybe it’s because of the little heads next to each blog post. These are called Hackergotchis by the way.
So, I find myself spending a good part of my day reading and writing notes just like if I was doing a literature project. The difference is that here I can ping the authors on IRC at ask them what they mean, exactly.