Mapping the Australian Networked Public Sphere

Authors: 
Tim Highfield, Lars Kirchoff, Thomas Nicolai
Publication date: 
1 August 2011

Abstract

This article reports on a research program that has developed new methodologies for mapping the Australian blogosphere and tracking how information is disseminated across it. The authors improve on conventional web crawling methodologies in a number of significant ways: First, the authors track blogging activity as it occurs, by scraping new blog posts when such posts are announced through Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. Second, the authors use custom-made tools that distinguish between the different types of content and thus allow us to analyze only the salient discursive content provided by bloggers. Finally, the authors are able to examine these better quality data using both link network mapping and textual analysis tools, to produce both cumulative longer term maps of interlinkages and themes, and specific shorter term snapshots of current activity that indicate current clusters of heavy interlinkage and highlight their key themes. In this article, the authors discuss findings from a yearlong observation of the Australian political blogosphere, suggesting that Australian political bloggers consistently address current affairs, but interpret them differently from mainstream news outlets. The article also discusses the next stage of the project, which extends this approach to an examination of other social networks used by Australians, including Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. This adaptation of our methodology moves away from narrow models of political communication, and toward an investigation of everyday and popular communication, providing a more inclusive and detailed picture of the Australian networked public sphere.