SSTNET - ESA 2003 Page 1 of 8 Patterns and Problems of Cross-Border Collaboration: the Social Impact of the Hybrid Web Mike Thelwall School of Computing and IT, University of Wolverhampton, 35-49 Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton WV1 1EQ, UK. Email: [email protected] Web: http://www.scit.wlv.ac.uk/~cm1993/mycv.html Introduction The continuing increase of cross-border collaboration between researchers and scientists has been simultaneously driven by forces of economic competition and pulled by the decreasing costs and increasing telecommunications speed and mediarichness. This has contributed towards a shift to a fundamentally new paradigm for scientific activity, the ‘Mode 2 Science’ of Gibbons et al. (1994), characterised by a blurring of boundaries between disciplines, between old style university pure research and industrial applied research, and between nations. There is now a need to understand how scientific collaboration is emerging in this new environment. New social structures will be associated with a developing central role in communication for the emerging and rapidly changing hybrid communication genres, principally the organisational Web site, but also the Web sites of individual scientists exercising their ability to be cultural producers of artefacts with a potentially mass audience. In this new era many new questions arise. • How are organisations and individual scientists with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds reacting and adjusting to the new hybrid communication genres? • Is the shift towards the use of new communication media and genres of communication having an impact on the age structure power relationships of scientific organisations? • Are there ethical and political ramifications associated with the partial switch from traditional media channels to the Web, and will science and scientists in poorer nations benefit or suffer from the changes? In this paper some recent research into academic Web sites will be reviewed in order to see how large-scale studies are beginning to give information that can be used to help address the above issues. The results individually do not prove sociological theories of the impact of the Web on science and technology collaboration but do provide background information which should help to ground future theories. The European Union has funded three projects relating to this issue (SIBIS, 2003; WISER 2003; EICSTES, 2003). The Hybrid Academic Web Fundamental to any understanding of the Web is its hybrid nature. It is a mass communication medium, (e.g. microsoft.com, yahoo.com), but at the other extreme it also hosts personalised self-publishing, pages perhaps only ever visited by the author’s friends. It contains many carefully written and designed pages, yet it contains SSTNET - ESA 2003 Page 2 of 8 millions of pages of rubbish, including the automatic outputs of machines. Its contents are mostly not significantly regulated, yet individual organisations can impose tight controls over their site’s contents and appearance. Burnett and Marshall’s (2002) Loose Web thesis exemplifies the idea that it is difficult to generalise and theorise effectively about the Web. It is a hybrid entity, one that should be studied only with great care. This is certainly also true of academic Web spaces, the focus of this chapter, because one study of 412 random links between UK university Web sites found a very wide range of reasons for linking, and also great disagreement between classifiers about why any given link had been created (Wilkinson et al., 2003). This experience connects with the hypotheses of earlier researchers that academic Web use was likely to be very varied and discipline and field dependant (Kling & McKim, 2000). One sociological response to the general problem of complexity in interpreting online phenomena is Hine’s (2000) Virtual Ethnography. Its premise is the explicit recognition that cyberspace is not an entirely separate place, but is woven into the existence of Web users. This is a critical point that many early Web theories missed, resulting in rather over ambitious predictions of the future. The hybrid nature of university Web sites can be usefully divided into two separate phenomena. First, their organised parts serve multiple roles to different consumers, including current and potential staff and students, and the press (Middleton et al., 1999; Wilkinson et al., 2003). Second, their unorganised components are created mainly by academics, knowledge workers in jobs requiring a high degree of creativity and operating in an environment where the boundaries between work and pleasure can be blurred or non-existent (see Suarez-Villa, 2003). This often applies to Web page creation which can be a non-compulsory activity but the end product, particularly the personal home page, is likely to contain a combination of the trivial and the genuinely useful (Rehm, 2002; Smith, 1999). The play aspect of Web publishing ensures a lack of uniformity in the personal home page genre (Rehm, 2002) and consequent difficulties in producing meaningful quantitative or qualitative studies of collections of academic Web pages. Using Search Engine Advanced Interfaces for Evidence of Online Connections There is a need for sources of evidence about Web phenomena that will allow researchers to explore hypotheses on the Web. Commercial search engine advanced search interfaces provide a partial solution because they can be used a source of quantitative data or qualitative information, as will be described in brief below. Search engines provide a window on the Web, allowing anyone free access to powerful tools for finding Web pages. Advanced interfaces offer some interesting facilities that can be exploited for research, particularly ones that allow hyperlinks to be searched for rather than text. For example, with AltaVista it is possible to request a list of pages in one university that link to another. This information can be useful either as data, perhaps to represent the strength of the connection between the two universities, or as a list of link pages that can be visited to investigate why the two universities have connections. As an example of the use of this facility in a sociological research context, Leydesdorff and Curran (2000) used search engine queries to compare university-industry-government relations in Brazil and the Netherlands, part of a research agenda to explore the Triple Helix thesis (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 1997). SSTNET - ESA 2003 Page 3 of 8 The AltaVista advanced search interface can be found at the following URL: http://www.altavista.com/web/adv. Supposed that we wished to find out whether any Max Planck Society Web pages link to the University of Murcia. The query to achieve this is host:mpg.de AND link:um.es. The first part gives the text “mpg.de” that must be in the URL domain name of pages to be found. The second part gives the text “um.es” that must be in a link in any page returned. Note that the domain name of the University of Murcia is www.um.es. Running this query finds one page (Figure 1). This may be used as evidence of a weak but real collaborative tie between the two institutions after an investigation into why they interlink. In other cases, a similar search may reveal many more links. For example, the search host:mpg.de AND link:uni-koeln.de finds 256 Max Planck Society Web pages that link to the University of Cologne, indicating a much stronger connection between these two organisations. Figure 1. The results of a search in AltaVista for all Max Planck Society Web pages that link to the University of Murcia. The section below both gives background information about patterns of Web use to serve as the context for further studies, and gives examples of more quantitative approaches that may be taken with this kind of data. Nevertheless, probably the most promising use for advanced search engine searches is to investigate online collaboration and provide evidence to confirm or deny new collaboration theses. The relative ease with which these powerful search tools can be used is a powerful argument for their incorporation into the toolset of the modern communication researcher. The challenge has started to be taken up in Social Networks Analysis (Garrido & Halavais, 2003; Park & Thelwall, 2003). EU Scholarly Communication on the Web: Quantitative Results This section reports some findings concerning EU university Web sites and their interlinking patterns. Its purpose is mainly to set a background for Web linking results, but it also serves to illustrate some methods that can be applied to data from search engines. SSTNET - ESA 2003 Page 4 of 8 Most of the results reported below are quantitative in nature, yet their importance still lies in providing information about Web use that can aid qualitative interpretations and the construction of theories. The focus of all is on university Web sites, rather than those of other scientific institutions. The reason for this is practical and developmental: university Web sites are easier to find and universities are less diverse than scientific companies. This makes university web sites the logical starting point for research, but future studies will probably have a broader scope. EU University Web Sites Do universities throughout Europe publish a similar amount on the Web? A comparative study in 2002 (Thelwall et al., 2002) found a big digital divide. The richer countries of Western Europe enjoyed large university sites with tens of thousands of pages whereas those of Eastern Europe were much smaller, typically not more than hundreds of pages, but often less than 10. Given the potential importance of the Web for many of the missions of a university, including publicising it activities to potential new collaborators, this shows an important major imbalance that may tend to further marginalize less well-off European nations. Linguistic Factors What impact does language have on European online communication? A study of EU university interlinking showed that most EU member states extensively linked to other EU pages in English. English language link pages account for about half of all such link pages in most countries except Ireland and the UK (almost all pages in English) and Greece (less than 10% of link pages in English). Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, countries tend to link to most others sharing a common language, and countries also link throughout Europe in their own language. In the last case these will typically be cross-language links, for example a Dutch page in the Netherlands linking to an English page in the UK (Thelwall, Tang & Price, 2003). The strong position of English for academic link pages mirrors its strong position for journal articles, conference proceedings and books. The dominance of English in the top academic journals is particularly noticeable (Garfield, 1967; Moed, 2002). In the more informal publishing environment of the Web, this dominance is clearly echoed. It is logical to see English as a language of international academic (and other) communication and so publishing in English can be seen as a positive statement of a desire to attract an international audience to web pages. The increasing tendency towards international research collaboration (Glanzel & Schubert, 2002) may well be a factor in this. Moreover, the ‘worldwide’ nature of the Web is self evident, which may create an environment where it is natural for any web publisher to think of possible international visitors. Geographic Factors Early enthusiasm about the explosive growth of both the Web and Internet use lead to a belief that cyberspace transcended reality and was not connected to it. Studies of UK university interlinking have shown that there are many patterns that can be explained in terms of real world phenomena such as research productivity (Thelwall, 2001) and institutional type and location (Thelwall, 2002a). In particular, a strong geographic trend can be seen in the UK, with universities being twice as likely to hyperlink to their neighbours than far away institutions (Thelwall, 2002b). SSTNET - ESA 2003 Page 5 of 8 EU Scholarly Communication on the Web: Interpretation and Analysis The findings summarised above for academic Web sites are probably not surprising to experienced Web users, but certainly reinforce the connection between the online and offline worlds. Theories of Web use for research and communication should be based upon existing relationships and communication knowledge, taking into account the changes made possibly by the potential of the Web, without seeing it as a replacement. Studies that investigate the Web must acknowledge its complexity, due to the variety of reasons for its use. However, the perception of the Web as international does seem to be encouraging page authors to take on an international perspective such as creating a significant proportion of pages in English. The Web may therefore serve to accelerate existing trends towards internationalism in academic research. There is a clear digital divide between countries with universities that publish extensively on the Web and the rest. At first glance, this may not seem important because the hybrid Web is used for many things from recreational activities to research dissemination, as discussed above. Nevertheless, some aspects of Web publishing are emerging as important, and Web publicity in particular (Thelwall, 2002c). Students can locate and evaluate universities online through Internet access anywhere in the world. Universities without effective student marketing Web pages, for example online prospectuses, risk loosing out. Perhaps overseas students are the group most likely to directly benefit from such Internet information, and these may tend to go to countries where such information is readily available. The same is true for graduates seeking a postgraduate position. In theory a search engine can be used to find potential PhD supervisors anywhere in the world, but of course only professors with online information published could be found, the rest will be invisible and therefore loose out on this potential source of PhD candidates. It is likely that other aspects of a university’s missions will also be affected by the quality of its online information as more of its constituencies use the Web as their primary information search tool. It is difficult to fully assess the potential impact of the Web publishing digital divide for universities across all relevant aspects of academic information provision but it should be worrying for those who are not publishing effectively online. The geographic patterns in linking point to Web user behaviour continuing to mimic to some extent offline behaviour, confirming Hine’s (2000) belief that the two should be seen as integrated rather than separate. The Web’s ability to be international and transcend geographic borders does not mean that individual Web users will necessarily become international information seekers, but the potential is undeniably there and so the impact of the Web should be seen as a tendency or potential to supersede geography, without overriding it. The impact of the Web in this respect thus falls short of the inevitable complete replacement of the real with the virtual that has been claimed (Negroponte, 1995). Linguistic patterns for scholarly web publishing in Western Europe again reflected existing trends: for communities sharing a common language to communicate in that language, and for English to be extensively used for scholarly information. A shortterm effect of this may be for English speaking nations to be advantaged because their SSTNET - ESA 2003 Page 6 of 8 Web material will be naturally in English, presumably gaining the largest audience. The situation is more complex than this, however, because in many countries the main university site pages are provided in translated versions, normally including English but also other common languages. Clearly a university with a multilingual Web site is capable of reaching the largest audience, but since English-speaking nations seem to rarely bother with multilingualism, this puts them at a disadvantage in this respect. Nevertheless, in the hybrid Web English-speaking countries will have the advantage for the unofficial web pages that presumably will not normally be translated in any country. As a result of this, the linguistic digital divide is not clear-cut. It should be noted that automatic translation tools such as that provided by AltaVista are also a factor in this debate, although little is known yet about their impact in academia. The appearance of English as an international Web language can also be seen as an aspect of globalisation in academia (see Gibbons et al., 1994; Giddens, 2000; Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 1997), and following in the footsteps of the globalisation of formal science communication that became dominant in the 20th century, in terms of the dominance of the English language and associated writing paradigms (Gross et al., 2002), a fact recognised in the research field of English for Academic Purposes (Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001). The importance of this is in the spread of contexts in which a specifically international language is used in academia. This runs parallel to the spread of business English in large areas of the world (Crystal, 1997). Previous research has found linguistic factors a potential obstacle to “the process of Europeanization in science” (Zitt et al. 2000. p. 627) and on the Web there is a clear attempt to overcome this. Note that there are two potential factors at work in promoting the use of English in European academic Webs: a general trend for globalisation of research and a specific need for, and drive towards, the creation of a coherent European Research Area (Edler, 2003). The potential gains for individual researchers able to take advantage of the new Web opportunities are through increased publicity of their research and research capabilities. Those most in a position to take advantage will be multilingual or at least English speaking, and capable of mastering Web authoring and publishing. Logically these will tend to be the younger researchers that are more likely to have had English and Web publishing built into their formal education or cultural background. An evolutionary sociology perspective is useful to understand the import of this. Evolutionary approaches to the analysis of science itself are based upon the idea that social norms may be products of natural selection in the same way as in genetics (Hull, 1988). Research is a competitive sport; academics compete for space in journals, for book contracts, and external funding but most of all for jobs and promotions. Web skills are a competitive edge by helping research publicity. Successful academics are those that employ a variety of strategies for selfadvancement (Hyland, 2003) and Web publicity has become a new factor. The big unknown is how much of an advantage Web and linguistic skills will be. This affects the speed with which natural selection operates to choose the newly desirable skills, and, by implication, more of the younger generations. Of course it is a normal process for younger researchers to replace the older as skills and approaches within fields move on, and so the argument presented here is for an acceleration of this process. 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