One promising trend in social science research is a relational explanation of social phenomena. Rather than explaining outcomes through differences in individual attributes, a relational - or network - approach, seeks to understand outcomes through differences in concrete interpersonal interactions. The Internet provides researchers with a wealth of data through which such relational analysis can take place. For example, networks of web logs (or blogs) reveal patterns of information diffusion and clusters of affinity; online co-citation networks show both global and local properties of science production; e-mail inboxes reveal patterns in communication balance and network change over time; and analysis of newsgroups offers new understandings of reciprocity. This chapter aims to give a clear conception of what is meant by a social network online, differentiating from other equally interesting online networks and data structures, and to give the reader a realistic sense of the tools and skills required to harvest these networks intact. The chapter will walk readers through concrete examples of how online social networks where gathered and analyzed. The focus will be on the "behind the scenes" work of gathering and analyzing online social networks, to assist researchers in managing expectations about the requirements of online social research from a network perspective. It will also give readers a taste for the differing approaches (both qualitative and quantitative) which can meaningfully contribute to larger scholarly dialogs, both in Internet research and in social network analysis.
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