Watching the Web: An Ontological and Epistemological Critique of Web-Traffic Measurement

Watching the Web: An Ontological and Epistemological Critique of Web-Traffic Measurement

Sam Ladner (McMaster University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-974-8.ch004
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This chapter aims to improve the rigor and legitimacy of Web-traffic measurement as a social research method. I compare two dominant forms of Web-traffic measurement and discuss the implicit and largely unexamined ontological and epistemological claims of both methods. Like all research methods, Webtraffic measurement has implicit ontological and epistemological assumptions embedded within it. An ontology determines what a researcher is able to discover, irrespective of method, because it provides a frame within which phenomena can be rendered intelligible. I argue that Web-traffic measurement employs an ostensibly quantitative, positivistic ontology and epistemology in hopes of cementing the “scientific” legitimacy they engender. But these claims to “scientific” method are unsubstantiated, thereby limiting the efficacy and adoption rates of log-file analysis in general. I offer recommendations for improving these measurement tools, including more reflexivity and an explicit rejection of truth claims based on positivistic science.
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The Origination Of Web-Traffic Measurement

Web-traffic measurement was not designed or intended to be a tool for social researchers. It emerged out of the technical need to monitor Web server performance. The World Wide Web, which was born in 1990 and popularized by the mid-1990s, was created when client computers, connected to the Internet, requested to see files from server computers (World Wide Web Consortium, 2007). These server computers were increasingly asked to “serve up” more and more files, making their response time and performance an issue.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Interpretivism: A tradition in social and humanities research that assumes findings are to be interpreted by the researcher. This contrasts with positivism, which assumes the researcher “finds” or simply “observes” findings.

Electronic Commerce Research: All forms of investigation of online selling of goods or services.

Research Methodology: General knowledge approaches to conducting and designing research.

Positivist Epistemology: Also referred to as “positivism,” refers to the school of research thought that sees observable evidence as the only form of defensible scientific findings. Positivist epistemology, therefore, assumes that only “facts” derived from the scientific method can make legitimate knowledge claims. It also assumes the researcher is separate from and not affecting the outcomes of research.

Clickstream Tracking: The passive collection of data that computer users generated when they click the mouse on a Web site. A computer user’s “clickstream” is the list of events they have initiated by clicking their mouse.

User Experience: Refers to the immersive character of technology use and is typically evoked by designers of technology. The “user experience” is assumed to be architected by interaction designers.

Sociology of Computing: A stream in sociology that researches the interactions between humans and computers as well as the social effects of using computers.

Web Analyst: A job title used by private-sector practitioners, which typically involves analyzing Web-traffic data.

IS Research Methodologies: Refers to the common research methods used by information scientists.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Table of Contents
Bernard J. Jansen, Amanda Spink, Isak Taksa
Chapter 1
Bernard J. Jansen, Isak Taksa, Amanda Spink
This chapter outlines and discusses theoretical and methodological foundations for transaction log analysis. We first address the fundamentals of... Sample PDF
Research and Methodological Foundations of Transaction Log Analysis
Chapter 2
W. David Penniman
This historical review of the birth and evolution of transaction log analysis applied to information retrieval systems provides two perspectives.... Sample PDF
Historic Perspective of Log Analysis
Chapter 3
Lee Rainie, Bernard J. Jansen
Every research methodology for data collection has both strengths and limitations, and this is certainly true for transaction log analysis.... Sample PDF
Surveys as a Complementary Method for Web Log Analysis
Chapter 4
Sam Ladner
This chapter aims to improve the rigor and legitimacy of Web-traffic measurement as a social research method. I compare two dominant forms of... Sample PDF
Watching the Web: An Ontological and Epistemological Critique of Web-Traffic Measurement
Chapter 5
Kirstie Hawkey
This chapter examines two aspects of privacy concerns that must be considered when conducting studies that include the collection of Web logging... Sample PDF
Privacy Concerns for Web Logging Data
Chapter 6
Bernard J. Jansen
Exploiting the data stored in search logs of Web search engines, Intranets, and Websites can provide important insights into understanding the... Sample PDF
The Methodology of Search Log Analysis
Chapter 7
Anthony Ferrini, Jakki J. Mohr
As the Web’s popularity continues to grow and as new uses of the Web are developed, the importance of measuring the performance of a given Website... Sample PDF
Uses, Limitations, and Trends in Web Analytics
Chapter 8
Danielle Booth
This chapter is an overview of the process of Web analytics for Websites. It outlines how visitor information such as number of visitors and visit... Sample PDF
A Review of Methodologies for Analyzing Websites
Chapter 9
Gi Woong Yun
This chapter discusses validity of units of analysis of Web log data. First, Web log units are compared to the unit of analysis of television to... Sample PDF
The Unit of Analysis and the Validity of Web Log Data
Chapter 10
Kirstie Hawkey, Melanie Kellar
This chapter presents recommendations for reporting context in studies of Web usage including Web browsing behavior. These recommendations consist... Sample PDF
Recommendations for Reporting Web Usage Studies
Chapter 11
Seda Ozmutlu, Huseyin C. Ozmutlu, Amanda Spink
This chapter summarizes the progress of search engine user behavior analysis from search engine transaction log analysis to estimation of user... Sample PDF
From Analysis to Estimation of User Behavior
Chapter 12
Gheorghe Muresan
In this chapter, we describe and discuss a methodological framework that integrates analysis of interaction logs with the conceptual design of the... Sample PDF
An Integrated Approach to Interaction Design and Log Analysis
Chapter 13
Brian Detlor, Maureen Hupfer, Umar Ruhi
This chapter provides various tips for practitioners and researchers who wish to track end-user Web information seeking behavior. These tips are... Sample PDF
Tips for Tracking Web Information Seeking Behavior
Chapter 14
Sandro José Rigo
Adaptive Hypermedia is an effective approach to automatic personalization that overcomes the difficulties and deficiencies of traditional Web... Sample PDF
Identifying Users Stereotypes for Dynamic Web Pages Customization
Chapter 15
Brian K. Smith, Priya Sharma, Kyu Yon Lim, Goknur Kaplan Akilli, KyoungNa Kim, Toru Fujimoto
Computers and networking technologies have led to increases in the development and sustenance of online communities, and much research has focused... Sample PDF
Finding Meaning in Online, Very-Large Scale Conversations
Chapter 16
Isak Taksa, Sarah Zelikovitz, Amanda Spink
Search query classification is a necessary step for a number of information retrieval tasks. This chapter presents an approach to non-hierarchical... Sample PDF
Machine Learning Approach to Search Query Classification
Chapter 17
Seda Ozmutlu, Huseyin C. Ozmutlu, Amanda Spink
This chapter emphasizes topic analysis and identification of search engine user queries. Topic analysis and identification of queries is an... Sample PDF
Topic Analysis and Identification of Queries
Chapter 18
Elmer V. Bernstam, Jorge R. Herskovic, William R. Hersh
Clinicians, researchers and members of the general public are increasingly using information technology to cope with the explosion in biomedical... Sample PDF
Query Log Analysis in Biomedicine
Chapter 19
Michael Chau, Yan Lu, Xiao Fang, Christopher C. Yang
More non-English contents are now available on the World Wide Web and the number of non-English users on the Web is increasing. While it is... Sample PDF
Processing and Analysis of Search Query Logs in Chinese
Chapter 20
Udo Kruschwitz, Nick Webb, Richard Sutcliffe
The theme of this chapter is the improvement of Information Retrieval and Question Answering systems by the analysis of query logs. Two case studies... Sample PDF
Query Log Analysis for Adaptive Dialogue-Driven Search
Chapter 21
Mimi Zhang
In this chapter, we present the action-object pair approach as a conceptual framework for conducting transaction log analysis. We argue that there... Sample PDF
Using Action-Object Pairs as a Conceptual Framework for Transaction Log Analysis
Chapter 22
Paul DiPerna
This chapter proposes a new theoretical construct for evaluating Websites that facilitate online social networks. The suggested model considers... Sample PDF
Analysis and Evaluation of the Connector Website
Chapter 23
Marie-Francine Moens
This chapter introduces information extraction from blog texts. It argues that the classical techniques for information extraction that are commonly... Sample PDF
Information Extraction from Blogs
Chapter 24
Adriana Andrade Braga
This chapter explores the possibilities and limitations of nethnography, an ethnographic approach applied to the study of online interactions... Sample PDF
Nethnography: A Naturalistic Approach Towards Online Interaction
Chapter 25
Isak Taksa, Amanda Spink, Bernard J. Jansen
Web log analysis is an innovative and unique field constantly formed and changed by the convergence of various emerging Web technologies. Due to its... Sample PDF
Web Log Analysis: Diversity of Research Methodologies
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