This idea for a blog entry came about because of the UK Grocer magazine carried an article on 29th November this year mentioning "webnography" and suggesting that some fmcg companies were now starting to employ semioticians to analyse the whole signifier structure surrounding a company/brand/product.
This word and also, "webography" are creeping up on the zeitgeist radar. See the Google Zeitgeist entry for webography.
Webography is defined on Wikipedia as:
"...a list of websites that pertain to a given topic. A webography is much like a bibliography, but is limited to a collection of online resources rather than books and academic journals. Research has been conducted comparing them to traditional bibliographies."
Whilst Webnography is defined not by Wikipedia as they do not have a listing (!) but a useful review is suggested by FBI Innovation where they state:
"Webnography, which is also known as Online ethnography or Virtual ethnography, is a new development in the field of Ethnography. Online ethnography is an online research method which extends the traditional notions of field and ethnographic study from the observation of co-located, face-to-face interactions, to technologically mediated interactions in online networks and communities.
In doing so it challenges the traditional concept of a field site as a localized space and moves it into the direction of online or computer-mediated communications and interactions.
In Webnography researchers study e.g. online communal forms, including blogs, web-rings, chat, SMS, gamespaces, bulletin boards, and mailing lists."
I wonder if these are not too narrow a definition and actually it may worth considering this research in terms of a biography, especially when you consider the utility to marketeers of gathering information on the life and times of a company, brand or product. What is the biography of your brand? What is, was, the social capital of the brand and business? Where is the potential to add value in the near and medium term?
Through new media can the reporting of webnography research actually deliver something I would term a webiography? Something to deliver the authenticity of the experience of your brand/company/product; something more deeply embedded in the global everyday? Maybe in a few years time webiography might actually move toward just "biography of the business" as the new media becomes the everyday. All part and parcel of the growth and development of the web and organizations.