BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Thelwall, Michael. Introduction to webometrics: quantitative web research for the social sciences. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool, 2009. 115 p. (Synthesis lectures of information concepts, retrieval, and services #4). ISBN 978-1-59829-993-9. $ 20.00
Webometrics is the youngest offspring of good old bibliographic statistics or bibliometrics. The term webometrics was first was proposed in 1997 by Almind and Ingwersen (see p. 5 of the book). But Michael Thelwall is its prophet; best known, most cited and, as this book proves, gifted in teaching as well.
Webometrics deals with the statistical measurement of different features of the Web for a variety of purposes. The author presents a lecture book or rather to say a teaching aid to those who are interested in webometric methods and would like to undertake research by using them.
As the book shows, webometrics may be used in the investigation of a variety of social science problems through the Web: establishing the impact of various social institutions and actors, use of the Web for political advocacy, visibility of companies or spread and impact of ideas, composition of social networks, use of the Web by individuals and groups, and so on. The problems for exploration can be limited only by the imagination of researchers. Webometrics is a purely quantitative approach to the Web but can be enhanced by qualitative methods, which allows researchers to expand the scope of study problems even further.
The first two chapters provide a more theoretical understanding of Web impact assessment and link analysis, though they give enough practical guidance to understand when and how they can be applied. Chapters four to six concentrate on instrumental recommendations for how to collect and analyse data from blog search engines. This part is followed by a discussion of the specific features of search engines and the issue of the result reliability. Later, the author introduces the methods for the exploration of the users' actions on the Web and the instruments available for this purpose. The author targets a wider audience of social science researchers who may not be trained much in bibliometrics or infometrics. Therefore, the text is written in a simple and clear style, taking the reader step by step through the application of different methods to specific problems. Webometric tools are introduced in the same manner and should cause no great trouble in applying them. Only the final, ninth chapter deals briefly with more advanced techniques and refers the reader to other more exhaustive sources.
I have followed several chapters step by step investigating the visibility and impact of a large European Union project on the Web and can witness to the applicability of the proposed methods as well as to the remarkable ease of following the recommended actions. This is a sign of a very successful pedagogical approach and usability rather than of the simplicity of the underlying ideas or tools. Not everything that I wanted to do related straightforwardly to the text, but as long as I knew what I was after, I could find a suitable way to achieve it described in the book.
There is a webpage dedicated to the book on the site of Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group presenting additional resources: relevant Web sites and pages, software and download and installation instructions, additional examples of the SocSciBot networks as well as links to the reviews of the book (so far only to one in Arabic). The author also has inserted here an apology to information scientists on the matter of missing webometric research because of the introductory nature of the book specifically addressing social scientists.
All in all I would recommend this book for the research methods course in most social science areas as well as humanities. As an introductory text it may also be used in the bachelor's level programmes in information science.