* Determine size, number of posters, average number of posts or interactions per day. It's easier to think of these spaces as functioning somewhat like a large mall -- if you want to study one, you need to get a grasp on how many people usually show up and which areas or shops they frequent. So too with message boards and other spaces (such as Second Life.) To begin to understand the perspective, you first have to see it as the entity it is.
* Position it in relation to other big boards. No board is truly unique in the most complete sense. All boards have competitors. Consider it, then, as an ecology within a bigger ecology (the Internet). It does vie for attention (the big boards get revenue from advertisers) and for status among the internet culture groups that it serves.
* What administrative structures does it have -- How many administrators, what types of administrators are there? One of the most significant groups in any large community is the administrative group. In order for a board to come into existence, one or more individuals must create a message board. The board itself must comply with the rules imposed by the owner of the host computer and the rules of the host computer's ISP. These standards vary according to the host -- boards hosted on European servers and run by European administrative teams may have very different standards than boards run on American servers and created by Americans.
* Who determined the "TOS" (Terms of Service)? Boards created by a corporate entity (for example, the forums for World of Warcraft), have a very complex legal agreement between the user and the company... which usually isn't read (this is actually true of most TOS documents.) Corporate run boards are more tightly controlled than other types of boards, and are able to take more drastic measures against those who violate the standards. An example of this would be the ability of Blizzard Corporation to shut down (and possibly sue) anyone rash enough to post on the forum boards and announce that they wanted to sell characters or in-game gold (both violations of the TOS.) Non-corporate boards may or may not have legal advisors, and the amount of punative action taken may be limited by the persuasive skills or technical skills of the top level administrators.
* Are there levels of users? Are there ranked priveleges? Does the user's profile reveal how often they post and when they joined? Arguments by senior members usually carry more weight and they have more social status.
* Are there rewards for certain levels of posting -- such as special ranks or titles or icons added to the user's avatar, name, or profile?
* What special terms do they use which have little meaning to an outsider but are meaningful to the insider (such as "MSM" for "Mainstream media")?
* Are there bonus points for posting or interacting in certain areas or are there points that one can spend access certain areas or place more artifacts on the site? These sorts of rewards increase the rate of posting, though they may not guarantee quality posts.
* What penalties are incurred by social deviancy? Are points reduced? Are the troublemakers banned for awhile or permanently? Boards without penalties tend to have faster-flowing (but ruder and more off-topic) conversations than tightly monitored boards. They also may have more obvious "possees" or "cabals."
* Are there recognized experts (by title) certain areas or are there only unofficial community experts? How are the experts identified, and are there titles or other items usually associated with their avatars or namespace?
* What kinds of artifacts are commonly associated with this? Typical examples would include podcasts, mobcasts, chat events, conventions, local meetings, in-person meetups for an area (or clubs), derivative fiction, game groups, news reports, art, photos, videocasts, music, as well as items available for sale to the community (such as tee shirts).
* What kinds of temporary associations do they form? (debate teams, newbie greeters, etc?)
* what beliefs are seen as "troll-ish" or socially deviant? For example, on many Evangelical Christian boards, a gulf occurs between pre-tribulation believers and post-tribulation believers and many boards will hold to one view and disallow the other. Many of these same boards will ban anyone expressing any philosophies that might be considered to be atheist, pagan, or Catholic.
* Are there sections that serve as communities of purpose for recruitment or other purposes (approaching other boards as a team, etc)?
To try and examine a large cyberspace area without taking any of these into consideration can lead the researcher to many conclusions that would be instantly rejected and scoffed at (or found offensive) by the participant community.