Patterns and Problems of Cross-Border Collaboration:

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]
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
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.,, 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
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).
Page 3 of 8
The AltaVista advanced search interface can be found at the following URL: 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 AND The first part gives the text
“” that must be in the URL domain name of pages to be found. The second
part gives the text “” that must be in a link in any page returned. Note that the
domain name of the University of Murcia is 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 AND 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.
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).
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
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
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.
Burnett, R. & Marshall, P. (2002). Web theory: An introduction, London: Routledge.
Page 7 of 8
Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Edler, J. (2003). The emergence of the European Research Area: An inter-temporal
comparison to make sense of a governance change in Europe. 6th European
Sociological Conference, Murcia, Spain, 23-26 September.
EICSTES (2003). European Indicators, Cyberspace and the Science-TechnologyEconomy System.
Etzkowitz, H. & Leydesdorff, L. (1997). Universities and the global knowledge
economy: A triple helix of university-industry-government relations. London,
UK: Cassell Academic.
Flowerdew, J. & Peacock, M. (2001). Research perspectives on English for Academic
Purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Garfield, E. (1967). English – An international language for science?, Current
Contents, Dec 26, 19-20.
Garrido, M. & Halavais, A. (2003). Mapping networks of support for the Zapatista
Movement: Applying Social Network Analysis to Study Contemporary Social
Movements. In: M. McCaughey & M. Ayers (Eds). Cyberactivism: online
activism in theory and practice. New York: Routledge, pp. 165-184.
Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P., & Trow, M.
(1994). The New Production of Knowledge. London: Sage.
Giddens, A. (2000). Runaway World. How Globalization Is Reshaping Our Lives.
London: Routledge.
Glänzel, W. & Schubert, A. (2001). Double effort = double impact? A critical view at
international co-authorship in chemistry. Scientometrics, 50(2), 199-214.
Gross, A.G., Harmon, J.E. & Reidy, M. (2002). Communicating Science: The
Scientific Article from the 17th Century to the Present. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Hine, C. (2000) Virtual Ethnography. London: Sage.
Hull, D.L. (1988). Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and
Conceptual Development of Science, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hyland, K. (2003). Self-citation and self-reference: credibility and promotion in
academic publication. Journal of the American Society for Information Science,
54(3), 251-259.
Kling, R. & McKim, G. (2000). Not just a matter of time: Field differences in the
shaping of electronic media in supporting scientific communication. Journal of
the American Society for Information Science, 51(14), 1306-1320.
Leydesdorff, L. & Curran, M., (2000). Mapping university-industry-government
relations on the Internet: the construction of indicators for a knowledge-based
Middleton, I., McConnell, M. & Davidson, G. (1999). Presenting a model for the
structure and content of a university World Wide Web site, Journal of
Information Science, 25(3), 219-227.
Moed, H.F. (2002). Measuring China’s research performance using the Science
Citation Index, Scientometrics, 53(3), 281-296.
Negroponte, N. (1995). Being Digital. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Park, H. & Thelwall, M. (2003). Hyperlink analysis: Between networks and
indicators, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, (special issue:
Page 8 of 8
Rehm, G. (2002). Towards automatic Web genre identification - A corpus-based
approach in the domain of academia by example of the academic's Personal
Homepage. In: Proceedings of the Hawaii International Conference on System
Sciences, January 7-10, 2002, Big Island, Hawaii.
SIBIS (2003). Statistical Indicators Benchmarking the Information Society.
Smith, A. G. (1999). A tale of two web spaces: comparing sites using Web Impact
Factors, Journal of Documentation, 55(5), 577-592.
Suarez-Villa, L., (2003). Technocapitalism and the governance of innovation: An
organizational perspective, 6th European Sociological Conference, Murcia,
Spain, 23-26 September.
Thelwall, M., Binns, R. Harries, G. Page-Kennedy, T. Price E. & Wilkinson, D.
(2002). European Union associated university Websites, Scientometrics, 53(1),
Thelwall, M., Tang, R. & Price, E. (2003). Linguistic patterns of academic Web use in
Western Europe, Scientometrics, 56(3), 417-432.
Thelwall, M. (2001). Extracting macroscopic information from web links, Journal of
the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 52 (13), 11571168.
Thelwall, M. (2002a). An initial exploration of the link relationship between UK
university web sites, ASLIB Proceedings, 54(2), 118-126.
Thelwall, M. (2002b). Evidence for the existence of geographic trends in university
web site interlinking, Journal of Documentation, 58(5), 563-574.
Thelwall, M. (2002c). Research dissemination and invocation on the Web, Online
Information Review, 26(6), 413-420.
Wilkinson, D., Harries, G., Thelwall, M. & Price, E. (2003). Motivations for
academic Web site interlinking: Evidence for the Web as a novel source of
information on informal scholarly communication, Journal of Information
Science, 29(1), 59-66.
WISER (2003). Web Indicators for Science, Technology & Innovation Research.
Zitt, M., Bassecoulard, E. & Okubo, Y. (2000). Shadows of the past in international
cooperation: Collaboration profiles of the top five producers of science,
Scientometrics, 47(3), 627-657.