Social Science Computer Review

Volume 29, Number 3

Fall 2011


Symposium Issue on Political Communication

Edited by Carol Soon, Jean Burgess, Axel Bruns, and Han Woo Park.


Editorial Introduction - Carol Soon

The proliferation of user-generated content on the World Wide Web through Web 2.0 technologies has further increased the potential for research based on online data mining. Some key trajectories of investigation include the use of expansive cyber-infrastructures or e-science for data collection and analysis (e.g. Jankowski, 2009; Soon & Park, 2009); and the mapping of communicative flows in various national contexts to track political discourse and social engagement (e.g. Adamic & Glance, 2005; Kelly & Etling, 2008). Edited by Carol Soon, Jean Burgess, Axel Bruns, and Han Woo Park, this special issue collects eight articles that advance this emerging field of research.

Mapping the Australian Networked Public Sphere / Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Tim Highfield, Lars Kirchhoff, Thomas Nicolai

This paper reports on a research program that has developed new methodologies for mapping the Australian blogosphere and tracking how information is disseminated across it. We improve on conventional Web crawling methodologies in a number of significant ways: First, we track blogging activity as it occurs, by scraping new blog posts when such posts are announced through RSS feeds. Second, we utilise custom-made tools that distinguish between the different types of content and thus allow us to analyse only the salient discursive content provided by bloggers. Finally, we are able to examine these better-quality data by using both link network mapping and textual analysis tools, to produce both cumulative longer-term maps of interlinkages and themes, and specific shorter-term snapshots of current activity which indicate current clusters of heavy interlinkage and highlight their key themes. In this paper, we discuss findings from a year-long observation of the Australian political blogosphere, suggesting that Australian political bloggers consistently address current affairs, but interpret them differently from mainstream news outlets. The paper also discusses the next stage of the project, which extends this approach to an examination of other social networks used by Australians, including Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. This adaptation of our methodology moves away from narrow models of political communication, and towards an investigation of everyday and popular communication, providing a more inclusive and detailed picture of the Australian networked public sphere.

Networked Politics on Cyworld: The Text and Sentiment of Korean Political Profiles / Se Jung Park, Yon Soo Lim, Steven Sams, Sang Me Nam, Han Woo Park

Cyworld, a Korean social networking site (SNS), enables politicians to establish and maintain their online presence and allows them to communicate with constituents through their personal profile. This paper identifies the most visible politicians on Cyworld in terms of comments posted on their profiles between April 1, 2008 and June 14, 2009 and examines the text and sentiments reflected in those profiles. A content analysis combining semantic network analysis and sentiment analysis illustrates the meaning and collective sentiment of the comments. The results suggest that progressivism dominated political discourse and that the members of the ruling party received more negative comments than those of the opposition party. Further, group-oriented terms indicated the existence of collectivism, which is representative of Eastern culture. The results suggest a significant relationship among gender, comment types, and SNS activities.


Mapping Political Connections in Japan: The Functions of Hyperlinks on Japanese Diet Member Websites / Leslie Tkach-Kawasaki

As an information provision and communications medium, websites offer networking opportunities for politicians, particularly in terms of hyperlinking capabilities. Hyperlinks are unique in that they can be used to actually connect the website viewer with other politicians, interest/support groups, government institutions, political parties, local communities, and individual users. Furthermore, as noted by Park and Jankowski, “a hyperlink is not a monolithic construct and can entail several activities with important implications for communications.” While politicians’ hyperlinked relationships have been analyzed with reference to South Korean politicians (Park and Thelwall, 2008), to date, no studies are available that focus on the networks revealed through hyperlinks on Japanese Diet member websites. The within paper analyzes hyperlinks found on a sample of 100 Japanese politician websites in 2010 and demonstrates that hyperlinks may serve as prominent displays of position, interest, authority, affiliation, and power-base relations.


Mapping the Norwegian Blogosphere - Methodological Challenges in Internationalizing Internet Research / Hallvard Moe

Even as the blog has become an established genre of computer-mediated communication, questions remain about how different blogs are from mass media, and what the transformative potential of blogging is. This article argues for the need for further explorations, especially outside the Anglo-American blogosphere. The article discusses key challenges in light of an ongoing research project aiming to gain insight into how blogging in Norway – a small democratic nation state with a correspondingly small language area – compares to other cases, and to assess how online media participation matters for the structure of the public sphere. On this basis, the article presents preliminary findings from a mapping of the Norwegian blogosphere.


A Random Digit Search (RDS) Method for Sampling of Blogs and Other User-Generated Content / Jonathan J. H. Zhu, Qian Mo, Fang Wang, and Heng Lu

Blogs are arguably the most popular genre of user-generated content (UGC), which make blogs a gold mine for social science research. However, existing research on blogs has suffered from non-probability samples collected either manually or by computerized crawling based on random walks method. The current paper presents a probability sampling method for blogs, called “random digit search” (RDS), that is modified from the popular “random digit dialing” (RDD) method used in telephone surveys. The RDS method was tested in a study of Sina Blog, a popular blog service provider (BSP) in China. The results show that, while “random walks” sampling tends to oversample popular/active blogs, probability samples generated by RDS yield consistent and precise estimates of population parameters. Although the RDS takes advantage of the numeric ID system used on Sina Blog, the general principles may be applicable to other BSPs and many other genres of UGC.

Challenges of tracking topical discussion networks online / Tim Highfield, Lars Kirchhoff, Thomas Nicolai

Attempts to map online networks, representing relationships between people and sites, have covered sites including Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. However, the predominant approach of static network visualisation, treating months of data as a single case rather than depicting changes over time or between topics, remains a flawed process. As different events and themes provoke varying interactions and conversations, it is proposed that case-by-case analysis would aid studies of online social networks by further examining the dynamics of links and information flows.


Sociology of Hyperlink Networks of Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Twitter: A Case Study of South Korea / Chien-leng Hsu, Han Woo Park

This paper illustrates the structural changes in hyperlink networks from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and describes Web 1.0 by using hyperlink data obtained from websites of South Korean National Assembly members between 2000 and 2001. The websites were sparsely knitted and formed a hub-spike network. Hyperlinks were created to enhance the interface and navigation ability of websites. The paper also examines how hyperlink patterns began to change in 2005 and 2006 when Web 2.0 (blogs) was introduced. A key difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 was that the Assembly members were relatively well connected in the blogosphere. Furthermore, prominent Web 1.0 hubs with many links tended to disappear, but butterfly networks based on political homophily emerged. Lastly, the hyperlink network of Twitter, a recent Web 2.0 application, is examined. Twitter’s network diagram shows that online social ties between politicians are becoming denser.

Uncovering transnational hyperlink patterns and web-mediated contents: A new approach based on cracking .com domain / George A. Barnett, Chung Joo Chung, Han Woo Park

An important but unresolved issue in the study of the international telecommunications network is how imperfect spatial information may inadvertently alter the perceived structure of the network (Grubesic & Murray, 2005). One example in telecommunications research is the examination of the international hyperlink network that excludes the ubiquitous .com domain. Traditionally, research examining the international Internet has not considered gTLDs (generic top-level domains) such as .com, .net and .org. Recently, Park, Barnett, and Chung (in press) noted that there was an inherent bias in previous studies of the international hyperlink network because such studies did not consider the hyperlinks of gTLDs in examining links among country code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as .kr, .au, and .sg. Studies did not take into account the wide-ranging geographical presence of the ubiquitous .com domain. As a result, the connectivity of the U.S. and other countries that rely heavily on .com rather than on ccTLDs has been underreported.