Matthew S. Weber and Katherine Ognyanova of Rutgers University, and Allie Kosterich of Pace University, studied the patterns of hyperlinking to explain how online newspapers adapt to new technologies.
The article looks at the years from 1996 to 2000 as a critical period of adaptation for newspapers on the Web. Mainstream news sites of 28 newspapers with the highest print circulation in the United States were studied, with a total of over 3 million hyperlinks to and from the sites.
In general, out-linking and in-linking activity grew over time. The upward trend during that time reflects an increasing diversity of news content, the growing traffic of users, more sophisticated navigation, and the maturing technological competencies within the industry, the researchers write.
Similarities in linking behaviour suggest imprinting and imitation in news organizations. At the same time, online newspapers became increasingly interconnected. Even though density of the network increased, reciprocity remained low: “Although newspapers occasionally linked to one another early on, hyperlinks between websites were seldom reciprocated”, the authors note.
Examining the links, they found two distinct strategies. Some publications focused on keeping users on their site by having more content and fewer links to outside domains. Others saw themselves as hubs directing people to various sources of information.
The authors conclude by linking their work to the current day: “As legacy newspapers enter mobile and social media, they face opportunities and challenges not unlike those encountered in the initial transition to the Web”.
The article “Imitation in the Quest to Survive” was published in the International Journal of Communication and is freely available online (open access).
Picture: untitled by NASA, license CC0 1.0