Gathering qualitative data, like interviews, presents an interesting alternative to classical online surveys. While in survey gathering we can setup an online environment, and leave it running for longer time without our strict supervision, in interview setting a real-time component is really important (unless you want to do a bit longer interview over e-mails).
Going the voice way
Our first option is to emulate phone interview, by using one of the IP/internet based – VoIP alternatives. Most well-known would certainly be Skype, freeware multi-platform Voice/Video/Chat system. It should be fairly easy to setup an interview session using this medium. You can even call them to a land-line or mobile phone and use one of the popular Skype recoding utilities to make a digital copy of the interview.
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Afterwards you should use a dedicated transcribingÂ tool, to easily make a transcript of your session. Do note that you really want to have a specialized utility for transcribing, since it allows you to slower down the recording, to the speed of your typing, pause and rewind easily with keyboard shortcut and a lot more.
Having a chat
Other alternative to voice or possibly video, would be asynchronous-chat. While it isnâ€™t as involved as interactive voice, it gives more ease to interviewee since they can take time to think of their answer, have someone else in a room, etc. The same luxury is also present on your side of the interview.
The tools of the trade would usually be chat applications like Microsoft Messanger, Google Talk, Skype, etc. The issue here is that connecting using these tools can present serious invasion into privacy of other user (as you now know their screen name), it also means that the person will be online at the time, making probability that some-one else will want to chat to her, much higher. It also turns out that a lot of people online still donâ€™t fully understand the Instant messaging, so this might lead to a serious of confusions and problems (especially if the person interviewing is not technically most skilled).
My proposed solution to this would be to use a tool like Campfire from 37signals, to setup a web based chat room, into which the interview participants would then be invited it. This is also good tactic for online focus groups, as it allows for easily connecting a number of people without worrying about their different screen names and incompatible applications.Â
There are a number of free alternatives that could be used to setup a Campfire like environment, one way would be to use Moodle with a chat module where you would treat participants as students and conduct chat sessions with them.
Image viaÂ Wikipedia
Second Life is today a de-facto standard for a virtual world. If you have luxury to place your participants there, you can also study their gestures and general body language while talking or chatting to them. The only problem is that itâ€™s quite a complex environment where all participants need to beforehand know how to navigate it.
Easier (but less powerful) alternative could be Googleâ€™s 3D world called Lively that allows a bit more freedom like traditional chat room, while still having limited enough controls to be within reach from technically less-savy participants.
While conducting interviews in online worlds looks like a great idea at the start, it usually turns out that youâ€™ve severely limited the amount of people who can participate because of hardware requirements, internet speed and technical knowledge. Depending on the type of research you do, this can present a serious set-back once you start your work.
Doing online interviews is demanding task that will folly occupy you. You should expect that each interview (esp. unstructured) could easily take you a few hours of involved typing. Afterwards you should also take time to go through the interview, adding the notes and studying responses so youâ€™ll have easier time later analyzing it.
Also donâ€™t forget to take time in the beginning to do a dry-run full interview with someone you know and trust so you can learn the technology and get general idea of things that could go wrong.
I mentioned just a popular few applications for doing the tasks. There are numerous alternatives with their own specific, but in this context I felt discussing them would add noise to the post.