The World Wide Web (WWW) has changed how humans interact; for some scholars, we now live in the "Age of the Network". As online populations grow and the quantity and quality of interactions improve with new technology, social scientists are developing new approaches for understanding the impact of online networks on social interaction and economic and political participation. The vastness and dynamic nature of the WWW poses research challenges relating to data storage, management and computation. E-Research technologies address these challenges, facilitating collaborative access by distributed researchers to methods and large-scale datasets. The Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks (VOSON) Project is conducting empirical social science research into online networks and developing e-Research tools to facilitate this research. Further information on the VOSON Project is under the following topics:


People associated with the VOSON Lab
  • Assoc. Prof. Robert Ackland (School of Sociology and ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, ANU) established and leads the VOSON project and is involved in research, software development and teaching.
  • Tim Graham (School of Sociology and School of Computer Science, ANU) joined the ANU in 2017 as a postdoctoral research fellow with joint appointments in the Research School of Social Science and the Research School of Computer Science.  Tim research interests are computational sociology, social theory, choice and decision-making, social network analysis, data mining, social hypergraph analysis, applied machine learning.
  • Francisca Borquez (graduated from ANU Master of Social Research in 2010) worked as a part-time research assistant in 2010-11, comparing the methodologies of webcrawlers used for social science, and is now working again in the VOSON Lab.
  • Assoc. Prof. Mathieu O'Neil (News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra and Adjunct, School of Sociology, ANU) was a chief investigator on the ARC grant that led to the formal establishment of the VOSON project, and researches collective identity and issue diffusion.
  • Dr Jamsheed Shorish (Uberlink Corporation, Shorish Research) is a computational economist who contributes to various VOSON research projects and also VOSON software development.
People named in major research grants involving the VOSON Project and software
People who have previously worked in the VOSON Lab
  • Dr Haris Memic (Research Fellow in School of Sociology, ANU, 2015-17) - his research was focused on statistical social network analysis of online networks, with particular focus on Twitter.
  • Mahin Raissi (ANU PhD student, 2012-16) - her PhD research was on the topic of social influence in social media, focusing on social networks and successful ageing in Australia.
  • Dr Yenn Lee (SOAS, University of London) researches in the field of digital culture and politics (with focus on the Asia-Pacific region) and taught and co-taught in the Online Research Methods masters course at ANU (focusing online qualitative methods).
  • Lin Chen (ANU compsci masters student 2009, ANU employee 2010-2013) worked as a software developer and research assistant.  His computer science masters research project was on VOSON-sns.
  • Xiantong Chen (ANU compsci masters student 2009) worked on optimising the VOSON C++ code using concurrent programming techniques as the topic of his masters project.
  • Natalie Cooper (ANU employee, 2004-2005) worked as a research assistant to Rachel Gibson and Robert Ackland.
  • Heather Crawford (graduated from ANU Master of Social Research in 2010) worked as a part-time research assistant and also edited the VOSON website.
  • Stephen Gray (ANU employee, 2003-2007) contributed to code relating to the interaction between PHP and perl (in particular, use of XML to pass results from perl analysis code to PHP user interface code) and implemented a new menuing system using Yahoo UI library.
  • Joel McDonald (ANU employee and student, 2001-2004) contributed to code for an earlier Qt-based version of the software, and wrote the first version of the perl-based webcrawler (JSpyda).
  • Susannah Sabine (graduated from ANU Master of Social Research, Social Science of the Internet stream in 2010) worked as a research assistant to Robert Ackland, assisting with the chapter on WWW hyperlink networks in the NodeXL book.
  • Russell Standish (consultant, 2005) worked on incorporating web services into VOSON, including a prototype web service using gSoap, and provided general programming advice.
  • Jenny Ackland has provided research assistance and assistance with documenting and bug testing the VOSON System.


The VOSON project has been supported by (or contributed to) the following Australian Research Council grants:

  • DP0452051 "New Methods for Researching the Existence and Impact of Political Networks on the WWW" (R. Ackland and R. Gibson; 2004-2005)
  • SR0567298 "Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks (VOSON)" (R. Ackland, R. Gibson, M. O'Neil, M. Buchhorn, B. Bimber, S. Ward; 2005).
  • LP0990974 "The role of online social networks in successful ageing: benefitting from 'who you know' at older ages" (H. Booth, R. Ackland and T. Windsor; 2009-2012)
  • DP110100446 “The institutional structure of e government: a cross policy, cross country comparison” (P. Henman, R. Ackland, H. Margetts: 2011-2013)
  • DP140103688 "Understanding online attention and user-generated content creation: An information consumption and production perspective" (R. Ackland: 2014-2016)

How do I cite VOSON?

To cite the VOSON software please use the following (note: while this is in a book about NodeXL, it is the best published account of the VOSON software and underlying research concepts):

Ackland, R. (2010), "WWW Hyperlink Networks," Chapter 12 in D. Hansen, B. Shneiderman and M. Smith (eds), Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL: Insights from a connected world. Morgan-Kaufmann.  Download pre-print.

New Research

VOSON research into online networks draws from the social sciences (primarily economics, political science and sociology) and other fields such as applied physics and the computer and information sciences. In addition to the grants listed above, more information about VOSON can be found on the outputs page.

New Tools

The VOSON System The VOSON System is web-based software incorporating web mining, data visualisation, and traditional empirical social science methods (e.g. social network analysis, SNA). Web services facilitate access and sharing of distributed resources such as datasets, methods and computational cycles. The VOSON System features: Linux operating system, PHP/javascript web interface (AJAX improves interactivity), MySQL database, Perl-based web crawler, Perl/C++ data manipulation/analysis, 3rd-party text analysis and visualisation tools. Web mining/text mining. A web crawler and the Google API are used to identify hyperlinks between web pages. Page meta-data are extracted and page text content parsed using Link Grammar Parser. Data preparation. Data are collected at the page-level, but analysis is conducted over aggregations of pages (network nodes represent organisations, groups or people, not web pages) by aggregating web pages into "pagegroups" or sites. Data visualisation and analysis. Maps of the shortest path between a root node and other nodes are constructed using the Large Graph Layout algorithm. Simultaneous visualisation of all nodes and links is via the LinLogLayout force-directed graphing algorithm. Concept maps (for frame analysis) are drawn using statistical routines available in the R statistical software. Because of the large size of the graphs involved, much computational work is done in C++, making use of the Boost Libraries. Basic SNA measures are calculated at both the network- and node-level.

Figure: VOSON System screenshot

VOSON Data Provider for NodeXL In February 2010, we released an alpha version of the VOSON Data provider for NodeXL, which is an Excel 2007 template for analysing social media network data. So we are providing two ways that you can use VOSON for analysing hyperlink networks: (1) via the VOSON System (which you login to using a web browser); (2) via NodeXL. The VOSON System is a specialist tool for hyperlink network construction and analysis. NodeXL allows access to various types of social media network data, e.g. Facebook, Twitter and hyperlink networks (via VOSON). This is a great example of how e-research technologies (web services, in particular) can enable access to distributed research resources (data and tools). So, a NodeXL user in the United States, for example, will be able to access VOSON network data services (which are hosted in Australia) all from within NodeXL (as long as they have a VOSON user account, and they are connected to the Internet).


Figure: VOSON Data Provider for NodeXL screenshot