Proceedings of the AoIR-ASIST 2004 Workshop on Web Science Research Methods
Using Search Engines and Web Crawlers for Web Research
Mike Thelwall, School of Computing and Information Technology, University of Wolverhampton, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton WV1 1SB, UK. E-mail: m.thelwall @ wlv.ac.uk
The importance of the Web for publishing and seeking information is a powerful argument for the need for social scientists to develop sound methods to analyse it. This abstract suggests some lessons that web researchers can learn from link analysis in university web spaces.
Experts in citation analysis have conjectured that hyperlinks may be usable in an analogous way to citations: counting links to web pages/web sites/countries could be used to measure their online impact or to track the flow of scholarly communication. After many studies of this issue, hyperlinking between university web sites has been shown to be very different to citations in patterns of use. The findings, summarised below, point to the care needed to interpret any hyperlink data.
Why are inter-university links created? Relatively few, probably less than 1%, are directly equivalent to citations in the sense of connecting two scholarly pieces of work equivalent to journal articles or conference papers. Many links are purely symbolic, not referring to information but acknowledging a relationship between the source and target university, such as joint membership of a research project. About 90% of inter-university hyperlinks indicate some kind of scholarly or educational connection, however, with the rest relating to recreational, administrative or support activities.
Are inter-university link counts useful? Counts of links to a university can be used to estimate its research productivity, or, if this is known, can be used to assess whether its web presence is at the level to be expected for its research productivity.
For those analysing hyperlinks outside of academic sites, the most important lesson that can be learned from this research is the need to assess the meaning and value of link counts through (a) investigations of the purpose of random samples of individual links, and (b) correlating link counts with related measures that are hypothesised to be similar. Both approaches are needed: researchers should not assume that obvious reasons for link creation are the ones that are used in practice.