Hyperlink networks: data pre-processing techniques

rstats hyperlink networks vosonsml

Steps for collecting hyperlink networks with vosonSML and processing hyperlink data using R tools.

Robert Ackland https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0008-1766 (VOSON Lab, School of Sociology, Australian National University)http://vosonlab.net/ , Sidiq Madya https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8444-3145 , Francisca Borquez

1. Introduction

The VOSON software web app – first made publicly available in 2006 – was a tool designed to enable researchers to study Web 1.0 websites as online social networks (Ackland, 2010, 2013; Ackland & O’Neil, 2011; Lusher & Ackland, 2011). Hyperlink collection was reintroduced in VOSON R tools (vosonSML) in 2021) and it was made available in VOSONDash version 0.6.1 in February 2023. This post provides the methodological steps and code for collecting hyperlink data using vosonSML and pre-processing hyperlink network data via R, including the specific approaches that were previously available via VOSON software web app (pruning, preserving and pagegrouping).

2.1 The seed set

The organisations represented in this collection are a sample of non-state or non-government entities (for-profit and non-for-profit), which actively engage in ‘data sovereignty’ debates as part of their concern in contemporary data politics. These organisations include NGOs, research think tanks, companies, industry associations, and movements or initiatives from communities. These different group of organisations deal with various issues and values when promoting their agenda ranging from security, privacy, innovation, entrepreneurship, to human rights and social justice.

Being involved in the emerging issues of global data politics, these organisations are based or headquartered in different countries across the globe including the US, UK, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark – which represent the Global North – and South Africa, India and Hong Kong, representing the Global South. The websites are being used by these organisations to participate in the emerging debates on data politics. Their participation in the debates are becoming more intense in the midst of the ongoing process of massive ‘digitisation’ and ‘datafication’ in societies. We have selected 1 or 2 pages from each website and are using these as “seed pages” i.e. starting points for the crawler. In this way, we are directing the crawler to the pages we think will be most “productive” in terms of containing hyperlinks and text that are of interest to the study.

2.2 Data collection

The first step involves the collection of hyperlink data using vosonSML. To do so, we read a .csv file which includes the URLs of 20 organisations actively involved in data sovereignty debates and we create a dataframe containing those pages as seeds.

library(magrittr)             #only need to load this if we use %>% as pipe, otherwise can use |>

#For more information on collecting hyperlink networks using vosonSML, see: #https://vosonlab.github.io/posts/2021-03-15-hyperlink-networks-with-vosonsml/.

# The dataframe needs to have the folllowing fields, 
#for hyperlink collection via vosonSML:
# page: the seed pages
# type: the type of crawl, with allowed values:
#   int: collect all hyperlinks but only follow links that have same domain as 
#        seed page (internal)
#   ext: collect all hyperlinks but only follow links that have different domain
#        as seed page (external)
#   all: collect and follow all hyperlinks
# max_depth: how many levels of hyperlinks to follow from seed page
#For example:
#pages <- data.frame(page = c("http://vosonlab.net",
#                             "https://rsss.cass.anu.edu.au",
#                             "https://www.ansna.org.au"),
#                    type = c("int", "ext", "all"),
#                    max_depth = c(1, 1, 1))

pages <- read.csv("seed_sites_20.csv")
page type max_depth domain country
https://womeninlocalization.com/partners/ int 1 womeninlocalization.com US
https://womeninlocalization.com/data-localization-laws-around-the-world/ int 1 womeninlocalization.com US
https://iwgia.org/en/network.html int 1 iwgia.org Denmark
https://www.iwgia.org/en/indigenous-data-sovereignty/4699-iw-2022-indigenous-data-sovereignty.html?filter_tag[0]=37 int 1 iwgia.org Denmark
https://indigenousdatalab.org/networks/ int 1 indigenousdatalab.org US
https://indigenousdatalab.org/projects-working/ int 1 indigenousdatalab.org US
#remove pages that caused error with crawler
#note: this error may no longer be present in latest version of vosonSML
pages <- pages %>% filter(!grepl("ispa.org.za", pages$page))

Note that for the crawler all we need is a data frame with three columns: page (URLs), type (int), max_depth (1). See code commented above for an explanation of these terms and also see the VOSON Lab blog post on crawling using vosonSML) for detailed steps. It might be useful to include other meta data in this file that is used in analysis later, for example the field Country as presented in the table above.

Now, we run the crawl and save an .rds file with the data:

#Remember to set `verbose=TRUE` to see the crawler working
crawlDF <- Authenticate("web") %>% Collect(pages, verbose=TRUE)

#We will save this dataframe, for use later
#saveRDS(crawlDF, "crawlDF.rds")
saveRDS(crawlDF, "crawlDF_20_sites_depth1.rds")

Let’s now create networks from the crawl data. First, we read in and inspect the dataframe structure. This data contains 2,826 rows and 9 columns.

crawlDF <- readRDS("crawlDF_20_sites_depth1.rds")

# explore dataframe structure
Rows: 2,826
Columns: 9
$ url       <chr> "http://goap-global.com", "http://www.reddit.com/s…
$ n         <int> 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1,…
$ page_err  <lgl> NA, NA, NA, NA, NA, NA, NA, NA, NA, NA, NA, NA, NA…
$ page      <chr> "https://womeninlocalization.com/partners", "https…
$ depth     <dbl> 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1,…
$ max_depth <int> 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1,…
$ parse     <df[,6]> <data.frame[23 x 6]>
$ seed      <chr> "https://womeninlocalization.com/partners", "ht…
$ type      <chr> "int", "int", "int", "int", "int", "int", "int", "…

3.1 Activity network

First, we create the activity network using vosonSML. In hyperlink activity networks, the nodes are web pages and edges are hyperlinks. For the purpose of visualisation, we will simplify the network by removing loops and multiple or parallel edges, using igraph.

# create activity network: nodes are pages hyperlinks were collected from
net_activity <- crawlDF %>% Create("activity")
g_activity <- net_activity %>% Graph()
#simplify the network - remove loops and multiple edges
g_activity <- simplify(g_activity)
png("activity_network.png", width=800, height=800)
plot(g_activity, layout=layout_with_fr(g_activity), vertex.label="", 
     vertex.size=3, edge.width=1, edge.arrow.size=0.5)
Figure 1: Hyperlink activity network - Nodes are web pages and edges are hyperlinks between pages.

We can see from the visualisation that the hyperlink activity network consists of a number of connected components (sets of nodes that are connected either directly or indirectly). We can look further at these clusters or components.

cc <- components(g_activity)
List of 3
 $ membership: Named num [1:1736] 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 3 3 3 ...
  ..- attr(*, "names")= chr [1:1736] "http://1001lakes.com/products" "http://abo-peoples.org" "http://aimitindia.com" "http://artexte.ca/lang/en" ...
 $ csize     : num [1:15] 195 222 77 55 253 191 68 203 103 92 ...
 $ no        : int 15
   Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max. 
   25.0    52.5    92.0   115.7   193.0   253.0 

The above indicates we have 15 weakly-connected components, and these range in size from 25 nodes to 253 nodes. It is not unexpected that the hyperlink activity network is quite disconnected since two seed pages \(i\) and \(j\) will only be directly connected if they link to each other and they will be indirectly connected if they link to the same third page.

3.2 Actor network

Now, we will create the actor network using vosonSML. With hyperlink actor networks, the nodes are web domains (in this document we use “site” and “domain” interchangeably) and edges are hyperlinks between them. Again, for the purpose of visualisation, we will simplify the network by removing loops and multiple (parallel) edges. Multiple edges between sites can arise because multiple pages within a domain can link to the same or multiple pages within another domain. We will also create an edge weight field (“weight”) to store this information on multiple links between domains.

# create actor network: nodes are site domains of pages hyperlinks were collected from
net_actor <- crawlDF %>% Create("actor")
g_actor <- net_actor %>% Graph()
[1] 497
[1] 2826
#simplify the network - remove loops and multiple edges
#we will also create an edge attribute "weight"
E(g_actor)$weight <- 1
g_actor <- simplify(g_actor)
[1] 559
png("actor_network.png", width=800, height=800)
plot(g_actor, layout=layout_with_fr(g_actor), vertex.label="", vertex.size=3, 
     edge.width=E(g_actor)$weight, edge.arrow.size=0.5)
Figure 2: Hyperlink actor network - Nodes are web domains and edges are hyperlinks.
cc <- components(g_actor)
List of 3
 $ membership: Named num [1:497] 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 ...
  ..- attr(*, "names")= chr [1:497] "1001lakes.com" "2022.mydata.org" "abo-peoples.org" "ada-x.org" ...
 $ csize     : num 497
 $ no        : int 1

The actor network has 497 nodes and 559 edges. The above indicates we have a single (weakly-connected) component: with hyperlink actor networks seeds are more likely to be connected to one another (either directly or indirectly) as they only need to link to a common domain.

For the rest of this exercise, we will use the actor network. We will now look at three approaches for processing hyperlink network data: pagegrouping, pruning, and preserving.

4.1 Pagegrouping

Pagegrouping refers to merging nodes within a hyperlink network. A common example of a situation where you may want to apply pagegrouping is when you would like to ensure that a subdomain node is not shown separately in the network i.e. it is merged with its domain node. For example, we might want to merge www.anu.edu.au with anu.edu.au (or rename www.anu.edu.au to anu.edu.au if the latter does not already exist). It should be noted that whether this pagegrouping is enacted is dependent on the research setting: it might be the case that you want to keep particular subdomains separate to their parent domain. For example we might want rsss.anu.edu.au or cass.anu.edu.au to be separate nodes, and not merged with anu.edu.au.

There are two approaches we can used to undertake pagerouping: (1) operating on the vosonSML network object (that is then used to create the igraph graph object); (2) operating on the igraph graph object. In this document we will demonstrate method (2).

4.1.1 Merging the “www” subdomain into a canonical domain

First, we are going to consolidate nodes into a single canonical domain. This will involve stripping “www” from www.x.y if only www.x.y exists and if both www.x.y and x.y exist then the former will be merged into the latter. Note that the following code also works if the canonical domain contains three or more parts e.g. x.y.z. Also note that the following step will only modify the www subdomain (e.g. www.x.y): other subbdomains (e.g. othersub.x.y) are handled below.

Let’s focus on an example present in this dataset:

g <- g_actor             #easier to write code

V(g)$name[grep("mydata.org", V(g)$name)]
[1] "2022.mydata.org"   "mydata.org"        "oldwww.mydata.org"
[4] "www.mydata.org"   

This first step will involve merging www.mydata.org into mydata.org.

g <- g_actor             #easier to write code

#create vector of the sites that start with "www"
t2 <- 1
www_sites <- V(g)$name[grep("^www\\.", V(g)$name)]
for (c in www_sites){

  #cat("working on:", c, "\n")
  if (t2%%100==0)
    cat("Finished working on", c, "(", t2, "of", length(www_sites), ")\n")

  ind_i <- grep(paste0("^",c,"$"), V(g)$name)
  i <- str_remove(c,"^www.")
  #if (c=="www.mydata.org")
  #  break
  #print(V(g)$name[grep(i, V(g)$name)])
  #num_parts <- str_count(c, "\\.")
  #ind <- grep(paste0(i,"$"), as.character(V(g)$name))
  #ind <- grep(paste0("\\.",i,"$"), as.character(V(g)$name))
  #this is a hack...want to match on ".abc.com" or "abc.com"
  #ind <- union(grep(paste0("\\.",i,"$"), as.character(V(g)$name)), 
  #             grep(paste0("^",i,"$"), as.character(V(g)$name)))
  ind <- grep(paste0("^",i,"$"), as.character(V(g)$name))

  if (!length(ind)){     #only the "www" version, just rename node to domain
    V(g)$name[ind_i] <- i
    t2 <- t2 + 1
  #Otherwise, we have two versions: www.x.y and x.y: merge these
  #Note we will deal with situation where we have e.g. othersubdomain.x.y below
  ind <- sort(c(ind_i, ind))
  #ind <- sort(ind)

  #if (length(ind)>1)
  #  break
  #merging nodes involves creating a map of vertices e.g. if we have 5 vertices 
  #to merge nodes 1 and 2 and also merge nodes 3 and 4 the map needs to be:
  #1 1 2 2 3
  #i.e. nodes 1 and 2 become node 1, nodes 3 and 4 become node 2, 
  #and node 5 becomes node 3
  map_i <- 1:ind[1]
  t <- ind[1]+1
  for (j in (ind[1]+1):vcount(g)){
    if (j %in% ind){     #node to merge 
      map_i <- c(map_i, ind[1])
    }else{               #not node to merge
      map_i <- c(map_i, t)
      t <- t + 1
  #need to use vertex.attr.comb="first" or else get weird lists in attribute
  #and it messes things up.  Replaced anyway...
  g <-contract(g, map_i, vertex.attr.comb="first")
  V(g)$name[ind[1]] <- i                #rename the node to the non-www version
  t2 <- t2 + 1
Finished working on www.globalhealthstrategies.com ( 100 of 262 )
Finished working on www.privacyshield.gov ( 200 of 262 )
#We have reduced the number of nodes from:
[1] 497
[1] 478

4.1.2 Merging other subdomains into the canonical domain

Now have only a single canonical version of the mydata.org domain, but there are still two subdomains (other than www).

V(g)$name[grep("mydata.org", V(g)$name)]
[1] "2022.mydata.org"   "mydata.org"        "oldwww.mydata.org"

In this next step, we will merge all remaining subdomains into the canonical domain. However, there might be examples of subdomains that we want “preserved” (not merged into the canonical domain); they should be specified in advance. A good example is websites created using Wordpress.

V(g)$name[grep("wordpress.com", V(g)$name)]
[1] "coporwa1en.wordpress.com"              
[2] "datasovereigntynow.files.wordpress.com"
[3] "en.wordpress.com"                      
[4] "indigenousdatalab.wordpress.com"       
[5] "institutdayakologi.wordpress.com"      
[6] "isocbg.wordpress.com"                  
[7] "ourgovdotin.files.wordpress.com"       
[8] "subscribe.wordpress.com"               
[9] "wordpress.com"                         

If we don’t “preserve” these Wordpress websites (which are run by different organisations or groups) then, they will all be merged into a single node Wordpress.com.

We will implement two types of preserving: (1) preserve specific subdomains, (2) preserve all subdomains via a wildcard match.

In the example below we will preserve specific Wordpress subdomains (and the rest will be merged into the canonical domain wordpress.com) and we will preserve all subdomains for mydata.org.

A final point to note is that the “wildcard” approach to preserving subddomains (what we are doing for mydata.org) will only work if mydata.org exists in the network. From the following, we can see that mydata.org exists, but fraunhofer.de does not exist.

V(g)$name[grep("mydata.org", V(g)$name)]
[1] "2022.mydata.org"   "mydata.org"        "oldwww.mydata.org"
V(g)$name[grep("fraunhofer.de", V(g)$name)]
[1] "isst.fraunhofer.de"              
[2] "websites.fraunhofer.de"          
[3] "dataspaces.fraunhofer.de"        
[4] "iee.fraunhofer.de"               
[5] "iml.fraunhofer.de"               
[6] "medical-data-space.fraunhofer.de"

If the canonical domain doesn’t exist, as in the case of fraunhofer.de, then we need a separate process to undertake pagegrouping. We do this for fraunhofer.de in the section on “custom merging” below.

#vector containing the information for preserving subdomains
#we would most likely store this as a csv file with notes on choices made
preserve <- c("*mydata.org", "coporwa1en.wordpress.com", 

for (i in V(g)$name){

  #cat("working on:", i, "\n")
  ind_i <- which(V(g)$name==i)
  #want to match only on ".x.y" not "x.y"
  ind <- grep(paste0("\\.",i,"$"), as.character(V(g)$name))
  #skip any subdomains that are to be preserved
  ind_g <- grep(i, preserve)
  for (j in ind_g){
    if ( grepl("^\\*",preserve[j]) ){        #wildcard, skip all subdomains
      ind <- NULL
      ind_rem <- which(V(g)$name==preserve[j])
      ind <- ind[-which(ind==ind_rem)]
  if (!length(ind))              #there is no subdomain(s)

  cat("working on:", i, "\n")
  #We have one or more subdomains


  ind <- sort(c(ind_i, ind))

  map_i <- 1:ind[1]
  t <- ind[1]+1
  for (j in (ind[1]+1):vcount(g)){
    if (j %in% ind){     #node to merge
      map_i <- c(map_i, ind[1])
    }else{               #not node to merge
      map_i <- c(map_i, t)
      t <- t + 1
  g <-contract.vertices(g, map_i, vertex.attr.comb="first")
  V(g)$name[ind[1]] <- i

working on: arizona.edu 
[1] "nni.arizona.edu"           "nnigovernance.arizona.edu"
[1]   9 163 164
working on: innovalia.org 
[1] "idsa.innovalia.org"
[1] 118 127
working on: internationaldataspaces.org 
[1] "docs.internationaldataspaces.org"
[1]  66 128
working on: wordpress.com 
[1] "datasovereigntynow.files.wordpress.com"
[2] "en.wordpress.com"                      
[3] "isocbg.wordpress.com"                  
[4] "ourgovdotin.files.wordpress.com"       
[5] "subscribe.wordpress.com"               
[1]  50  79 131 168 200 228
working on: amazon.com 
[1] "aws.amazon.com"
[1]  13 240
working on: google.com 
[1] "docs.google.com"     "maps.google.com"     "podcasts.google.com"
[4] "policies.google.com"
[1]  65 143 172 173 323
working on: linkedin.com 
[1] "de.linkedin.com"
[1]  53 364
working on: microsoft.com 
[1] "azure.microsoft.com"
[1]  14 376
working on: nativeweb.org 
[1] "ayf.nativeweb.org"   "saiic.nativeweb.org"
[1] 248 380 413
working on: wto.org 
[1] "docs.wto.org"
[1]  67 456
#We have reduced the number of nodes from:
[1] 497
[1] 459

The following shows that the correct subdomains have been preserved. The two subdomains of mydata.org have been preserved.

V(g)$name[grep("mydata.org", V(g)$name)]
[1] "2022.mydata.org"   "mydata.org"        "oldwww.mydata.org"

We have preserved three subdomains of wordpress.com, and the rest have been merged into the canonical domain.

V(g)$name[grep("wordpress.com", V(g)$name)]
[1] "coporwa1en.wordpress.com"        
[2] "wordpress.com"                   
[3] "indigenousdatalab.wordpress.com" 
[4] "institutdayakologi.wordpress.com"

4.1.3 Custom merging of domains

The above code showed how to merge subdomains “in bulk”, and we also showed how to control this merging by “preserving” subdomains. But we might need to undertake an additional step for merging domains and subdomains. When an organisation uses two or more websites, it might be desirable to merge the relevant domains into a single node in the actor network. The following approach also takes account of the situation we found above for fraunhofer.de: the bulk merging did not work because the canonical domain fraunhofer.de doesn’t yet exist in our hyperlink actor network.

The following code does this with reference to the following examples:

V(g)$name[grep("womeninlocalization", V(g)$name)]
[1] "womeninlocalization.com" "womeninlocalization.org"
V(g)$name[grep("fraunhofer", V(g)$name)]
[1] "isst.fraunhofer.de"              
[2] "websites.fraunhofer.de"          
[3] "dataspaces.fraunhofer.de"        
[4] "iee.fraunhofer.de"               
[5] "iml.fraunhofer.de"               
[6] "medical-data-space.fraunhofer.de"
 [1] "digitallibrary.un.org" "en.unesco.org"        
 [3] "lac.unwomen.org"       "tierracomun.org"      
 [5] "undocs.org"            "unstats.un.org"       
 [7] "undp.org"              "uneca.org"            
 [9] "unhcr.org"             "unpo.org"             

As with the above, this step involves pre-specification of how the sites are to be merged. We will use a wildcard to merge the two womeninlocalization sites. We will also bulk merge subdomains of fraunhofer.de, preserving two subdomains. Finally, we will merge selected domains from the UN into a canonical domain un.org. Note that in the case of fraunhofer and the UN, the decision of exactly which subdomains and domains to merge is arbitrary: this is just for purposes of showing example code.

#vector containing the information for preserving subdomains
#we would most likely store this as a csv file with notes on choices made
preserve <- c("dataspaces.fraunhofer.de","medical-data-space.fraunhofer.de")

#the above process of merging subdomains will only work if there was www.x.y in
#the original dataset if this is not the case, and want to merge subdomains
#using a wildcard, then specify the canonical domain here note that here we use
#a dataframe with the first column being the canonical domain (what other
#domains/subdomains will be merged into), and subsequent columns are the other
#domains/subdomains.  If only the first column is specified, then a bulk merge
#will be undertaken. There are two types of merge below:
# (1) bulk merge: this is when there is only one column in the data frame, 
#     the canonical domain.  
#     This domain needs to be contained in the subdomains that are to be merged
# (2) bespoke merge: this is when the first column contains the domain which
#all the other subdomains/domains will be merged into.  Note that this domain
#does not even need to exist in the hyperlink actor network the following will
#only work if the canonical domain is contained in at least one. 
#Note that this would normally be stored in csv file
ex1 <- data.frame(V1="womeninlocalization.org", 
                  V2="womeninlocalization.com")    #bespoke merge
ex2 <- data.frame(V1="fraunhofer.de")              #bulk merge
ex3 <- data.frame(V1="un.org", V2="en.unesco.org", 
                  V3="lac.unwomen.org", V4="undocs.org", 
                  V5="unstats.un.org", V6="undp.org", 
                  V7="uneca.org")         #bespoke merge
mergeDF <- bind_rows(ex1, ex2, ex3)
#note that we preserve particular subdomains of fraunhofer.de by including
#in preserve above

#seems most efficient to iterate over nodes first, 
#rather than iterating over merges first
for (i in V(g)$name){
  #cat("working on:", i, "\n")
  ind_i <- which(V(g)$name==i)

  for (m in 1:nrow(mergeDF)){
    col1 <- mergeDF[m,1]
    othcol <- NULL
    for (m2 in 2:ncol(mergeDF)){
      if ( !is.na(mergeDF[m,m2]) )
        othcol <- c(othcol, mergeDF[m,m2])

    if (is.null(othcol))                 #bulk match - grep match on first col
      ind_g <- grep(col1,i)              #should search on ".[pattern]"
      ind_g <- match(i,othcol)           #exact match on othcol

    if (!length(ind_g))
      ind_g <- NA
    if (!is.na(ind_g))                   #we have a match

  if (is.na(ind_g))        #no merging for this node
  #we are going to merge only node i (this is different to the above code)
  #but first check that this node is not to be preserved
  #can be exact match for this
  if (!is.na(match(i, preserve))){
    cat(i, "is to be preserved\n")
  #Also check that the node we are merging is not the same as the node
  #we are merging to i.e. not merging
  #fraunhofer.de -> fraunhofer.de
  if (i==col1){
    cat(i, ", trying to merge node with itself...\n")
  cat(i, "merged to", col1, "\n") 

  #next we check if the node that i is being merged with even exists
  #if it doesn't then we just rename i, and we are done
  dom_match <- match(col1, V(g)$name)
  if (is.na(dom_match)){
    V(g)$name[ind_i] <- col1
    cat("renaming", i, "to", col1, "\n")
  #the following will only have two nodes in it, but use it 
  #so can re-use code from above
  ind <- sort(c(ind_i, dom_match))
  map_i <- 1:ind[1]
  t <- ind[1]+1
  for (j in (ind[1]+1):vcount(g)){
    if (j %in% ind){     #node to merge
      map_i <- c(map_i, ind[1])
    }else{               #not node to merge
      map_i <- c(map_i, t)
      t <- t + 1
  g <-contract.vertices(g, map_i, vertex.attr.comb="first")
  V(g)$name[ind[1]] <- col1
en.unesco.org merged to un.org 
renaming en.unesco.org to un.org 
isst.fraunhofer.de merged to fraunhofer.de 
renaming isst.fraunhofer.de to fraunhofer.de 
lac.unwomen.org merged to un.org 
undocs.org merged to un.org 
unstats.un.org merged to un.org 
websites.fraunhofer.de merged to fraunhofer.de 
womeninlocalization.com merged to womeninlocalization.org 
dataspaces.fraunhofer.de is to be preserved
iee.fraunhofer.de merged to fraunhofer.de 
iml.fraunhofer.de merged to fraunhofer.de 
medical-data-space.fraunhofer.de is to be preserved
undp.org merged to un.org 
uneca.org merged to un.org 
#We have reduced the number of nodes from:
[1] 497
[1] 450

The following confirms that the merges have taken place correctly.

V(g)$name[grep("womeninlocalization", V(g)$name)]
[1] "womeninlocalization.org"
V(g)$name[grep("fraunhofer", V(g)$name)]
[1] "fraunhofer.de"                   
[2] "dataspaces.fraunhofer.de"        
[3] "medical-data-space.fraunhofer.de"
[1] "digitallibrary.un.org" "un.org"               
[3] "tierracomun.org"       "unhcr.org"            
[5] "unpo.org"             

4.2 Pruning

Pruning refers to removing nodes that are considered not relevant to the analysis. It is highly likely that the web crawler will pick up pages that are not relevant to the study, and so we use pruning to identify and remove these irrelevant pages.

4.2.1 Creatng the network containing just the seed sites

We will first create an actor network containing just the seed sites: in effect we are “pruning” non-seed sites. To start with, we need to identify what are the seed sites: we do this using the pages dataframe we created above for the web crawl. Recall that the pages dataframe contains web pages that we have crawled, but the hyperlink actor network contains websites (or domains). So we need to process the pages dataframe so as to identify what are the seed sites (not seed pages).

# identify the seed pages and set a node attribute
# we are also removing http tag and trailing forward slash
seed_sites <- pages %>%
  mutate(site = str_remove(page, "^http[s]?://"), seed = TRUE)
# also remove trailing "/"
seed_sites <- seed_sites %>%
  mutate(site = str_remove(site, "/$"))

#The following will return just the domain name
a <- str_match(seed_sites$site, "(.+?)/")
seed_sites$site <- ifelse(grepl("/", seed_sites$site), a[,2], seed_sites$site)

#remove redundant column "page" and also user-created column "domain"
#(to avoid confusion, since not using) and put "site" column first
seed_sites <- seed_sites %>% select(-c(page,domain)) %>% relocate(site)

seed_sites <- seed_sites %>% distinct(site, .keep_all=TRUE)

site type max_depth country seed
womeninlocalization.com int 1 US TRUE
iwgia.org int 1 Denmark TRUE
www.iwgia.org int 1 Denmark TRUE
indigenousdatalab.org int 1 US TRUE
botpopuli.net int 1 India TRUE
cipesa.org int 1 South Africa TRUE
[1] 21

We have created a dataframe seed_sites which contains the domains extracted from the seed pages used for crawling - this is stored in the column site. We have created a column seed and set this to TRUE (this will be used below when we use this dataframe to identify seed sites in the hyperlink actor network). Note that there was also a column domain but this was manually created at the time the seed pages were identified (in the same way that the column was country was manually created); we do not make use of that column in what follows, and so we removed it from the seed_sites dataframe.

Before proceeding, we need to first make some modifications to the seed_sites dataframe. The pagegrouping step above means that we no longer have the “www” subdomain present in the hyperlink actor network, and so we need to modify seed_sites by stripping “www” from the seed sites stored in the column site. Also, the pagegrouping means that we no longer have womeninlocalization.com in the network, so we need to change the seed site to womeninlocalization.org.

seed_sites <- seed_sites %>% mutate(site=gsub("^www\\.","",site))

seed_sites$site[which(seed_sites$site == "womeninlocalization.com")] <-

seed_sites <- seed_sites %>% distinct(site, .keep_all=TRUE)

site type max_depth country seed
womeninlocalization.org int 1 US TRUE
iwgia.org int 1 Denmark TRUE
indigenousdatalab.org int 1 US TRUE
botpopuli.net int 1 India TRUE
cipesa.org int 1 South Africa TRUE
mydata.org int 1 Finland TRUE
[1] 20

So we have 20 seed sites and we are now ready to create the “seeds only” hyperlink network. To do this, we will create a node attribute “seed” which indicates whether a site is a seed or not.

V(g)$seed <- seed_sites$seed[match(V(g)$name, seed_sites$site)]



The above indicates that there are now 20 nodes in the network with the attribute seed equal to 1 (the rest have values of NA), so we have correctly identified our seed sites in the network. We can now visualise the seeds only hyperlink network.

#for the remainder of this exercise we will work with the simiplified network
#simplify the network - remove loops and multiple edges
E(g)$weight <- 1
g <- simplify(g)

g_seeds <- induced.subgraph(g, which(V(g)$seed==1))
png("seeds.png", width=800, height=800)
plot(g_seeds, vertex.label.color="black", vertex.size=3, 
     edge.width=E(g_seeds)$weight, edge.arrow.size=0.5)
Figure 3: Seeds hyperlink network.

The above figure shows that the seed sites are very disconnected, with only four pairs of sites connected; this is to be expected given we have only crawled to depth 1 (i.e. only the seed page is crawled). If we increased the crawl depth to 2, then it is to be expected that the seeds hyperlink network would become more connected.

4.2.2 Creatng the network containing the seeds plus “important” non-seed sites

Next we will create the “seeds plus important” network: this contains the seed sites plus those other sites that are hyperlinked to by two or more seeds.

g_seedsImp <- induced.subgraph(g, which(V(g)$seed==1 | (degree(g)>=2)))

#red nodes are seeds, blue nodes are importnant non-seeds
V(g_seedsImp)$color <- ifelse(V(g_seedsImp)$seed==1, "red", "blue")
png("seeds_important.png", width=800, height=800)
plot(g_seedsImp, vertex.label.color="black", 
     vertex.size=3+degree(g_seedsImp, mode="in"), 
     edge.width=E(g_seedsImp)$weight, edge.arrow.size=0.5)

Figure 4: Seeds plus important hyperlink network. The above visualisation indicates that we now have a much more connected network, indeed it is fully-connected (no isolates) but a casual inspection indicates that many of the so-called “important” sites are probably not relevant to the analysis. For example, the most central nodes are social media sites (e.g. twitter.com, youtube.com). This brings us to the final step in the processing of the hyperlink data: manually pruning irrelevant sites.

4.2.3 Manually pruning irrelevant sites

Whether a site is relevant to the research is something only the researcher will know, so this final step is necessarily a manual one. We recommend that the “seeds plus important” network nodes are written to csv file, and then this csv file is manually coded so either the relevant sites are kept or the irrelevant sites are removed. In the example below, we are keeping those sites that are deemed relevant.

#write the sites to csv file, for manual coding
#also write seed status, since this will be used to determine whether a site is relevant
write.csv(data.frame(site=V(g_seedsImp)$name, seed=V(g_seedsImp)$seed), "seeds_plus_important.csv")

The sites are manually coded - a new column “keep” is created, with a 1 indicating that the site is either a seed or it is a relevant non-seed site. The coded csv file is then used to create the new sub-network.

df2 <- read.csv("seeds_plus_important_coded.csv")
V(g_seedsImp)$keep <- df2$keep[match(V(g_seedsImp)$name, df2$site)]
g_seedsImp2 <- induced.subgraph(g_seedsImp, which(V(g_seedsImp)$keep==1))
#save to graphml for later use
#seed logical attribute wasn't writing to graphml correctly,
#maybe because because presence of NAs (which are FALSE)
V(g_seedsImp2)$seed[which(is.na(V(g_seedsImp2)$seed))] <- FALSE
write.graph(g_seedsImp2, "g_seedsImp2.graphml", format="graphml")
png("seeds_important2.png", width=800, height=800)
plot(g_seedsImp2, vertex.label.color="black", 
     vertex.size=3+degree(g_seedsImp2, mode="in"), 
     edge.width=E(g_seedsImp2)$weight, edge.arrow.size=0.5)

Figure 5: Seeds plus relevant important hyperlink network. The result is a graph presenting a connection or disconnection among organisations discussing ‘data sovereignty’ issues on the web. It shows that the debates interestingly place the already powerful institutions such as the UN and the World Bank at the center which makes them appear to be influential actors in the network of data sovereignty debates. Given their prominent positions in the network connecting otherwise separated organisations across countries or regions interested in data politics, it is interesting to gain insight into how organisations such as the UN and the World Bank impose their interest on data sovereignty agenda.

4.3 Preserving

We have already mentioned preserving of subdomains above (to prevent all subdomains being merged into a single node when pagregrouping is undertaken). Another example of preserving is when we want to preserve sub-directories. By default, vosonSML does not preserve sub-directories and so www.example.com/subdir1 and www.example.com/subdir2 would, by default, be merged to the node www.example.com. Preserving these sub-directories would involve working with the activity network object returned by vosonSML:

# A tibble: 6 × 2
  from                                     to                         
  <chr>                                    <chr>                      
1 https://womeninlocalization.com/partners http://goap-global.com     
2 https://womeninlocalization.com/partners http://www.reddit.com/subm…
3 https://womeninlocalization.com/partners https://csa-research.com   
4 https://womeninlocalization.com/partners https://euatc.org          
5 https://womeninlocalization.com/partners https://locworld.com       
6 https://womeninlocalization.com/partners https://slator.com         

It would be necessary to process the URLs in the from and to using similar techniques to those presented above e.g. converting URLs to the domain names, but preserving certain sub-directories. Then the vosonSML Create() function can be used to create the igraph graph object. We will not cover this in full here, but leave this for a future blog post.

Ackland, R. (2010). WWW hyperlink networks. In D. L. Hansen, B. Shneiderman & M. A. Smith (Eds.), Analyzing social media networks with NodeXL: Insights from a connected world. Morgan-Kaufmann.
Ackland, R. (2013). Web social science: Concepts, data and tools for social scientists in the digital age. SAGE Publications.
Ackland, R. & O’Neil, M. (2011). Online collective identity: The case of the environmental movement. Social Networks, 33, 177–190. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socnet.2011.03.001
Lusher, D. & Ackland, R. (2011). A relational hyperlink analysis of an online social movement. Journal of Social Structure, 12(5).



Text and figures are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 4.0. The figures that have been reused from other sources don't fall under this license and can be recognized by a note in their caption: "Figure from ...".


For attribution, please cite this work as

Ackland, et al. (2023, Feb. 22). VOSON Lab Code Blog: Hyperlink networks: data pre-processing techniques. Retrieved from https://vosonlab.github.io/posts/2023-01-20-hyperlink-networks-pre-processing/

BibTeX citation

  author = {Ackland, Robert and Madya, Sidiq and Borquez, Francisca},
  title = {VOSON Lab Code Blog: Hyperlink networks: data pre-processing techniques},
  url = {https://vosonlab.github.io/posts/2023-01-20-hyperlink-networks-pre-processing/},
  year = {2023}