Towards a hyperlinked society : a critical review of link studies
Article [Accepted Manuscript]
Is part ofNew media & society ; vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 737-751.
The hyperlink is a fundamental feature of the web. This paper investigates how hyperlinks have been used as research objects in social sciences. Reviewing a body of literature belonging to sociology, political sciences, information sciences, geography or media studies, it particularly reflects on the study of hyperlinks as indicators of other social phenomena. Why are links counted and hyperlink networks measured? How are links interpreted? The paper then focuses on barriers and limitations to the study of links. It addresses the issue of unobtrusiveness, the importance of interpreting links in context, and the possibilities of large-scale, automatic link studies. We finally argue that beyond the apparent diversity and ad hoc methodologies that the reviewed studies propose, a unified framework exists. It combines quantitative link counts, qualitative inquiries and valuation of field expertise to support link interpretation.