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It is possible to carry out text-based interviews which are either facilitated 'asynchronously' through email or bulletin boards or 'synchronously' using a chat room or chat facility. You do not need to provide any video link up with the interviewees. However, the increased availability and lowering cost of webcams may provide a new dimension to online interviewing.
See 'Types of online interview' for more information.
It does not matter whether you choose to carry out interviews as synchronous or asynchronous encounters. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. For example, some researchers have found that interviewees do not feel comfortable in a chat room environment and have decided to use email interviews instead (Illingworth, 2001). The decision should be based on your research aims and your relationship with the participants.
A mixed approach to researching online communities has been adopted by a number of researchers for different reasons. For example, Orgad (2005) recruited respondents via health related websites and developed rapport in email based exchanges. She then went on to interview a number of her respondents face-to-face and provides some comparison of the different approaches. Similarly, both Sanders (2005) and Rutter and Smith (2005) successfully combined online and offline approaches to data collection.
One of the advantages of using an online as opposed to an 'onsite' approach is that some individuals who may find it difficult to express themselves verbally prefer to 'talk' online through a text-based discussion. For example, many teenagers are now used to expressing themselves online rather than face-to-face. However, there are issues associated with speed of typing with and some respondents may have difficulty 'keeping up' in a synchronous interview.
See 'Advantages and disadvantages' section for more information.
For synchronous interviews, the following types of software provide the means to interact through text:
- Free online chat providers
- Free software and messaging services
- Online meeting software
- Online customer support software
Audio and video can also be used where interviewer and participants have adequate access to technologies such as high-speed internet connections and webcams.
Please see the 'Technical guide' section for more information on this.