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iSGTW Image of the week - An environmental activist on the Web

Image of the week - An environmental activist on the Web

The above image shows the minimum pathways (via hyperlinks) from the Web site of an environmental activist organization to other Web sites. Web sites are given initial random positions and modeled as electrostatic charges; hyperlinks between Web sites are modeled as springs.
Image courtesy of VOSON

How do we form online networks? How does that influence social interaction and political participation?

The Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks, or VOSON, is interested in finding out. VOSON is a Linux-based software that combines web services, data visualization and traditional empirical social science methods to delve in to the patterns we create through online networks.

Examples of VOSON research so far includes analysis of

  • environmental activist networks, to better understand the role of emerging issues such as the contestation of nanotechnology
  • the .au domain, to provide insights into Australian online life as part of the .au Census Project
  • the networking behavior of conservatives and liberals, and whether conservatives exhibit greater homophily in their linking, leading to denser web communities.
  • the web's democratizing potential for fringe political parties

Research in to the shape and form of online networks allows social scientists to better understand their impact on social interaction and economic and political participation

The VOSON project uses web services to facilitate access and sharing of its distributed resources, storing data on one server, calculating visualization geometries on another, and serving up the VOSON web application on a third, with web services being used to manage the flow of data between the servers.

VOSON researchers are also developing e-research tools to minimize topic drift during web crawls; help inform the aggregation of pages into pagegroups; and train machine learning models for identifying relevant new sites.

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