Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks (VOSON)

The Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks (VOSON) Lab is located in the Research School of Social Sciences at The Australian National University. We are advancing the Social Science of the Internet through an innovative program of researchresearch tool developmentteaching & research training.  We use various terms to describe what we do: web sciencenetwork sciencecomputational social sciencebig data analyticse-research.

The VOSON Lab was formally established in 2005 with an Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative grant and this year we are celebrating our 10th anniversary! We have been researching online networks since before the era of Facebook and Twitter, and our research has been funded by several ARC grants.

The VOSON software is a web application for the construction and analysis of hyperlink networks.  It has been publicly available since 2006 and has been used by over 2000 researchers worldwide.  Please visit Uberlink Corp if you would like to apply for a VOSON user account or to get further information about how to access the VOSON software.

VOSON System

The VOSON System is web-based software for the collection and analysis of hyperlink networks. It incorporates web mining, data visualization, and social network analysis (SNA).

VOSON SNA hyperlink network

Filtered NodeXL visualization of seed sites focused on "social network analysis" plus important sites (sites with degree greater than or equal to two). The favicon (where available) is displayed for the seeds, while red discs are used to represent non-seed sites.

VOSON 2 degree

NodeXL visualization of the VOSON 2 degree hyperlink network created by crawling plus 15 additional seed sites that link to it

VOSON SNA hyperlink network - 2

Filtered NodeXL visualization of network of sites focused on "social network analysis", using the favicon (where available) for the graph vertex.


The VOSON Data Provider for NodeXL allows VOSON account holders to access VOSON System functionality (data collection and processing) from within NodeXL (a free template for Excel 2007/2010).

  • August 2014 - The Studying the Chinese Web workshop (研究中国互联网/ 研究中國互聯網) was held at the ANU, 31 July and 1 August 2014.  The workshop was co-hosted by VOSON/ADSRI and the Australian Centre on China in the World.  The keynote presenter was Professor Jonathan Zhu (City University of Hong Kong) who presented on “Charting the Landscape of Chinese Social Media: What We Know and What We Don’t Know from Existing Research”.

  • March 2014 - The Smart Sensing & Big Data Analytics: Governing through Information symposium was held at the ANU, 3-4 March 2014.  The symposium was co-organised by Gavin Smith (School of Sociology, ANU) and Robert Ackland (VOSON Project, ADSRI).

  • November 2013 - Robert Ackland was awarded a 3-year Australian Research Council Grant for the project "Understanding online attention and user-generated content creation: An information consumption and production perspective".  There is a strong practical need for methods for understanding and measuring online behaviour. In this project, economic index number theory will be used to study information consumption, leading to new ways of measuring online attention and influence. Techniques for studying scaling relationships in the physical world will be used to study information production, leading to new insights into the efficiency of production of user-generated content. The project will contribute to understanding how social media such as Twitter contribute to social unrest and affect consumer decisions, and how distributed online collaboration can produce economically-valuable information resources such as Wikipedia.

  • June 2013: Robert Ackland's new book Web Social Science: Concepts, Data and Tools for Social Scientists in the Digital Age (SAGE Publications) was published in June 2013!  Also see the Web Social Science website.

  • May 2013: There are now over 1200 VOSON registered users! more

  • January 2013 - Lexing Xie (Computer Science, ANU), Robert Ackland and Paul Thomas (CSIRO) were awarded Australia-China Science Research Fund Grant ACSRF06323 for the project "Collaboration with Tsinghua University Beihang University and CityU-Shenzhen and others to strengthen Australia-China cooperation in computational social science and research into information diffusion in social media".  This grant was awarded by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

  • December 2012 - Robert Ackland and Lexing Xie (Computer Science, ANU) were awarded an ANU Vice-Chancellor's Teaching Enhancement Grant for the "Computational Social Science Weblab". Computational Social Science is an emerging field involving the application of network science and computational approaches to the analysis of large-scale datasets collected from the Web, and is providing new insights into social, economic and political behaviour. The Computational Social Science WebLab (CSSW) will be a web application enabling students from social science and computer science to learn about using network science to study both offline and online social networks.

  • November 2012 - We have released a Facebook application called Australian Seniors' Online Networks (AuSON), which will help shed light on how Australian seniors are using the Facebook social networking site to connect with friends and family, and the relationship between social networks and successful ageing.  Once the AuSON is installed, it automatically collects information on the structure of users’ Facebook networks.  Participants are also asked to provide additional information about offline friends, how their social networks provide access to resources such as information and assistance (social capital) and measures of ageing status such as physical and mental wellbeing.  We are looking for research participants!  If you are a Facebook user, 50+ years of age and eligible to vote in Australia, or if you are a Facebook friend with someone who is 50+ and can vote in Australia, please participate by installing AuSON.

  • May 2012 - Robert Ackland and Mathieu O'Neil have been awarded the 2012 Communication and Information Technologies Section of the American Sociological Association (CITASA) Paper Award for their article "Online collective identity: The case of the environmental movement", which was published in Social Networks in 2011. The CITASA Paper Award recognises an outstanding published paper or book chapter related to the sociology of communications or the sociology of information technology.