Editors' Introduction


  • Matthew S. Weber,

  • Chung Joo Chung,

  • HanWoo Park

In today's networked society, hyperlinks have become increasingly critical communicative tools for individuals and organizations alike. The overabundance of information available online has placed an increased value on hyperlinks as organizing mechanisms, guiding attention and directing access to resources (Turow & Tsui, 2008). Whether they are shared through news portals, search engines or emails, hyperlinks direct individuals through complex webs of information and ultimately dictate the type of information an individual is able to access. There is a clear need to better understand the impact that hyperlinks have guiding access to information and diverse viewpoints. On a larger scale, the aggregation of links is a proxy for partnerships and alliances between organizations, and even international flow of information. Research examining online networks draws on a wide range of analytical techniques, including large-scale network analysis, web crawling and scraping, and innovative approaches to data analysis. This special issue examines the role of hyperlinks in shaping and guiding today's information society, stemming from a number of cutting edge projects in this field.

The current special issue builds on work presented in a previous special issue on hyperlinks published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication in 2003. The special issue focused on the relation between formal analysis of networks and issues of the content and substance of these networks in Internet studies from two prevail hyperlink research trends at that time: substantial analysis on a case-by-case basis and formal network analysis. Although the use of the Internet produces a multitude of traces that are eminently countable (Beaulieu, 2003), we do not yet know enough about today's technology driven networked society. Today, however, new techniques and new methods of data analysis have propelled the study of hyperlinks forward, leading to increased calls for a study of the science of the Web (Lazer et al., 2009).

Indeed, as global Internet penetration continues to increase, hyperlinks play an increasing critical role guiding and structuring communication in online environments. The large scale of online information further permeates everyday society as the barriers between offline and online increasingly erode. Yet studies examining the ramifications of hyperlinks as a large-scale organizing principle have previously been few and far between. There is a continuing need for research that develops a more sophisticated understanding of hyperlinked networks and online information flow. Expanding our understanding of the role hyperlinks have in shaping society and directing the flow of information between organizations and countries. Furthermore, extending existing communication theories to the study of hyperlinks will continue to enhance research examining the effects of new information communication technology.

This special issue brings together a number of innovative projects from around the globe, and presents an overview of cutting edge research being conducted in communication, organization studies and network analysis. Leading off this special issue, the research by Shumate presents a longitudinal analysis of nongovernmental organization hyperlink networks. Her work treats hyperlinks as a representational communication system, and provides critical insight into the mechanisms that guide organizational evolution. The research presented by Hale gives an insightful analysis of discussion on the blogosphere following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. His work examines the notion of global discourse on the blogosphere, and sheds light on the degree to which blogs are interconnected across linguistic barriers. Kim's research also analyzes the interrelationship of distinct groups in the online space. This research examines the hyperlink and semantic networks of nanotechnology websites to demonstrate how the interrelationship of academic, public and private sectors intermingle to define and socially construct what is meant by nanotechnology.

Four studies in this special issue focus specifically on the importance of hyperlinks in providing structure and guiding information flow in the online news ecosystem. Chung, Nam and Stefano analyze hyperlinks as a component of the credibility of online news sources. Their analysis of the credibility of online news websites incorporates hypertextuality in a multivariate analysis of online news, presenting the reader with an additional dimension of hyperlink analysis. Where Chung, Nam and Stefano's study focuses on individual characteristics of news Web sites, the work by Weber presents a macroscopic analysis of the evolution of the online news media industry in the United States. His work examines hyperlinks as a representation of organizational affiliations, and examines the impact of hyperlinked relationships on organizations over time.

Hyperlinks are also a critical indictor of information flow, as demonstrated by the work Hsu and Park examining Korean and Chinese news blogs. Merging hyperlink analysis with content analysis, the authors demonstrate that online information flow is increasingly complex and nature, and driven by the globalization of previously isolated cultures. Changand Park also consider hyperlinks as a guiding factor of information flow in their examination of the dynamics of news diffusion through Korean blogs. Through a mixed method analysis of the network formed and the content contributed during the period of analysis, the authors show how subsets of users are able to exert influence of the flow of discussion. Concluding this special issue, Young and Leonardidevelop a theoretical perspective on the emergence of social issue networks. Their dual structurational model analyzes the emergence of issue networks from hyperlink networks, and focuses on the complexity of meaning that develops through the intertwining of issue and hyperlink networks. Central to their theoretical development is the boundary-defining role of hyperlink networks created by user's navigational choices.

In combination, these papers present a detailed overview of current research mapping the changing nature of the ‘networked public sphere’ (Benkler, 2006), and the role of hyperlinks in guiding public perception, organizational relationships and information flow. This innovative work draws on long tradition on communication research, and highlights the development of a number of new research tools. The work presented in this special issue is ultimately multidisciplinary, drawing on research traditions from the social sciences, management studies and computer science. In aggregate, this work sets a standard for a new level of rigor in online network studies, and continues to build an agenda for a new science of the Web.

The editors would first like to thank the 12 authors who contributed to this special issue, for their commitment to the study of hyperlinks. Thanks is also due to the 26 anonymous reviewers who provided invaluable advice and suggestions to improve the manuscripts in this special issue. Finally, a special thanks is due to Maria Bakardjieva, for her supportand guidance helping us through the processes and procedures associated with assembling a journal issue.

Matthew S. Weber, Chung Joo Chung and HanWoo Park