ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Horses for Courses? A Comparative Study of Web Crawlers for the Social Sciences

Robert Ackland, Francisca Borquez

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 2 - Law Building, Room 026
Date: 2012-07-12 01:30 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2011-12-21


Hyperlinks are an essential part of the web and researchers from different disciplines have developed varied approaches to studying hyperlink networks. In parallel, this exploration has contributed to the development of specific tools for data collection and analysis, to address disciplinary research questions.

The objectives of this paper are to present a methodological framework for studying hyperlink networks as well as a comparative study of tools for hyperlink retrieval (web crawlers) that have been used in humanities and social science research. We contend that there are three broad approaches to humanities and social science research into hyperlink networks, and these approaches have their origins in particular disciplines or fields. In particular, we present examples of research where hyperlink networks have been studied as citation networks (library and information sciences), issue networks (media studies) and social networks (sociology).

These disciplinary approaches to studying hyperlink networks are our proposed “courses” in the title of the paper. The next question we address is: are there particular research tools (web crawlers) that are more or less suited for studying hyperlink networks as citation, issue or social networks? That is, are there “horses for courses”, or is it the case that a single web crawler can be used for the various research approaches? We focus on three particular web crawlers that have been developed in particular disciplinary contexts: Issuecrawler (media studies), SocSciBot (library and information science) and VOSON (social science).