This is a paper I co-authored with David Ribes and recently presented at HICSS, the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences.  It’s a qualitative methodology based on analyzing logging data that we developed through my research on Wikipedia, but has some pretty broad applications for studying highly-distributed groups.  It’s an inversion of the previous paper we presented at CSCW, showing in detail how we traced how Wikipedian vandal fighters as they collectively work to identify and ban malicious contributors.

Abstract: We detail the methodology of ‘trace ethnography’, which combines the richness of participant-observation with the wealth of data in logs so as to reconstruct patterns and practices of users in distributed sociotechnical systems.  Trace ethnography is a flexible, powerful technique that is able to capture many distributed phenomena that are otherwise difficult to study.  Our approach integrates and extends a number of longstanding techniques across the social and computational sciences, and can be combined with other methods to provide rich descriptions of collaboration and organization.

Trace Ethnography: Following Coordination through Documentary Practices (PDF, 361KB)

Citation: Geiger, R.S., & Ribes, D. (2011). Trace Ethnography: Following Coordination Through Documentary Practices. In Proceedings of the 44th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences.  Retrieved from

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