Author(s): Dean Lusher
Abstract: In this paper we propose relational hyperlink analysis (RHA) as a distinct approach for empirical social science research into hyperlink networks on the World Wide Web. We demonstrate this approach, which employs the ideas and techniques of social network analysis (in particular, exponential random graph modeling), in a study of the hyperlinking behaviors of Australian asylum seeker advocacy groups. We show that compared with the commonly-used hyperlink counts regression approach, relational hyperlink analysis can lead to fundamentally different conclusions about the social processes underpinning hyperlinking behavior. In particular, in trying to understand why social ties are formed, counts regressions may over-estimate the role of actor attributes in the formation of hyperlinks when endogenous, purely structural network effects are not taken into account. Our analysis involves an innovative joint use of two software programs: VOSON, for the automated retrieval and processing of considerable quantities of hyperlink data, and LPNet, for the statistical modeling of social network data. Together, VOSON and LPNet enable new and unique research into social networks in the online world, and our paper highlights the importance of complementary research tools for social science research into the web.