A NICE PLACE ON THE INTERNET: AN EXPLORATORY CASE STUDY OF TEEN INFORMATION PRACTICES IN AN ONLINE FAN COMMUNITY
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This dissertation focuses on the everyday life information practices of teens in the Nerdfighter online fan community known as Nerdfighteria. Nerdfighteria is the community of fans of vloggers John and Hank Green. This study examines aspects of everyday life information seeking (ELIS) by 1) focusing on an understudied demographic, teens between the ages of 13 to 17; 2) focusing on a fan community, Nerdfighteria, which has many members, but has been rarely studied in the academic literature; and 3) investigating everyday life information practices using a single community that utilizes multiple online platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Discord, and YouTube), rather than centering on a single platform. This dissertation is a case study incorporating a survey of 241 teens and semi-structured interviews with 15 teens about their experiences in Nerdfighteria, followed by a month-long diary activities. The study also included observations of public communities and review of documents related to the Nerdfighter community. Data analysis was iterative and incorporated grounded theory techniques. This study finds that teen Nerdfighters use their fan community to engage in a wide variety of everyday life information seeking around topics that are related to their personal development. Social, cognitive, emotional, and fan topics were predominant. Teen Nerdfighters engaged across platforms and were likely to switch platforms to find the optimal technical affordances while staying in Nerdfighteria. The teens viewed these changes as staying within the community rather than changing from one platform to another—illustrating the primacy of the community to the teens in meeting their information needs. Teens were drawn to Nerdfighteria because they believed it to be a unique place on the Internet, which valued intellectualism, positivity, and kindness. In many cases, teens preferred to observe other’s interactions in order to gain the information they needed or wanted, and waited to engage via posting or responding when certain criteria were met. These findings describe the complicated interplay of the ELIS topics sought, the preferred practices for meeting an information need, and the reasons for choosing one community over another.