When I first started researching online texts I was drawn into looking at sites created by young people. This was way back in about 2002. I was looking at teens' personal websites (not blogs) and discussion boards relating to babyz... all sorts of weird things like sites for Wiccan teens. I was really interested in all the stuff they were collaborating on and looked at the texts really closely - was totally bowled over by what they could do. S I wrote about all these online texts and about what the kids were doing and how they were playing and learning online.
Then I started doing a blog myself and getting into Flickr and so was writing about Blogging and Flickring (and eBay, and YouTube) . This was good as I realised very quickly how and why young people were getting so seduced by, absorbed by technologies.
As time has gone on, I have realised that it is important to not just look at the texts that are being produced, but at the processes by which they are being produced. A text that is online reflects a social process. It has been produced within a social context that cannot be presumed or assumed. In order to understand online text production, we need to know about the provenance. The meanings are also rooted outside the text, often in social happenings and events that exist outside the online space. As researchers of online spaces we have to understand that those spaces are often rooted elsewhere and the texts are not always self-standing, independent and self explanatory.
So I have realised that you need to look at the texts, but also at where they are produced so look at both ends.
Nevertheless in what I would call 'mature' online spaces, - spaces which have a social history, an often intricate set of networks that have been woven within the web, - these can be comprised of texts that root into the virtual space itself and have independence from geographical place. Not all mature sites do this of course, since some social networking function alongside or in support of offline activities and relationships.
So I draw a distinction here between mature sites and less mature sites ... and texts which have roots in online and offline spaces; and texts which have roots just in the online world. I think that sites / online texts which root only in the offline world are less likely to survive.
Pic from Emblatame