You may want to look into doing a “netnography”. The book by Robert Kozinets, “Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online” is a wonderful book (Sage Publications)!! I will be using this methodology for my dissertation and the book really takes you step-by-step on how to do it, the rationale, etc. It is a good read and he talks about the caveats of not observing the participants. Then check-out “Virtual Ethnography” by Christine Hine and see the contrast between the approaches. Kozinets has a website as well, http://www.netnography.com and maybe the folks can give you a hand there. Hope this helps.
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