Professor Robert Ackland

PhD in Economics (Australian National University), MA in Economics (Yale University), B Commerce (Economics) - 1st class honours (University of Melbourne)
Professor, School of Sociology
College of Arts and Social Sciences

Research interests

  • Network science
  • Web science
  • Social network analysis
  • Index number theory
  • International comparisons of income and poverty


Robert works at the intersection of empirical social science and computer science, developing new approaches (involving information retrieval, data visualisation and social network analysis) for studying networks on the World Wide Web. He has been a chief investigator on five Australian Research Council grants and under a 2005 ARC Special Research Initiative (e-Research Support) grant, he established the Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks project. Robert has co-organised symposia focusing on e-Social Science (2004) and the social impact of nanotechnology (2006) and in 2007, he spent six months at the Oxford Internet Institute under a UK National Centre for e-Social Science Visiting Fellowship and a University of Oxford James Martin Visiting Fellowship.

Robert has degrees in economics from the University of Melbourne, Yale University (where he was a Fulbright Scholar) and the ANU, where he completed his PhD in economics (on index number theory and international comparisons of income) in 2001. Prior to commencing his PhD, Robert gained extensive experience in applied economic and statistical analysis in the government and non-government sectors. From 1991-1993, he worked as a senior researcher in the Bureau of Immigration Research (Commonwealth Department of Immigration). He worked as a World Bank consultant (based in Washington DC, 1995-1997) in the area of poverty analysis and has also consulted on AusAID and Asian Development Bank projects in this area. Robert teaches courses on the social science of the Internet and online research method in the Master of Social Research and his book Web Social Science: Concepts, Data and Tools for Social Scientists in the Digital Age was published by SAGE in 2013.

Researcher's projects

  • I lead the Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks project (, which is known internationally for the VOSON software for hyperlink network analysis and other related research
  • My book with SAGE Publications titled Web Social Science: Concepts, Data and Tools for Social Scientists in the Digital Age ( was published in June 2013
  • I conduct research at the intersection of network science and web science.  My research into online social and organisational networks has been published in journals such as Social Networks, Journal of Social Structure, Computational Economics and Social Science Computer Review.
  • I conduct research into index numbers in the context of cross-country comparisons of income and poverty.  This research has been published in the Review of Economics and Statistics.

Available student projects

I am interested in supervising PhD students working on social science research topics at the intersection of network science and web science. Please note that PhD studetns for whom I am panel chair or primary supervisor will typically have postgraduate training in social science (e.g. sociology, political science, communication, economics). Possible areas include:

  • identifying social influence/social selection in social media networks
  • index number theory applied to networks (in particular, hyperlink networks)
  • analysing hyperlink networks using statistical social network analysis
  • event stream dynamics in social media networks
  • analysis of large-scale web crawls

Current student projects

  • Noahlyn Maranan (PhD candidate, Political Science, Australian Defence Force Academy - UNSW Canberra) - Social media and politics in the Philippines (I am a supervisor)
  • Yuanyuan Shang (PhD candidate, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, ANU) - User behaviours and social networks on new media about scientific topics (I am an advisor)

Past student projects

PhD students:

  • Mahin Raissi (PhD, Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute, ANU, 2016) - Online social networks and subjective well-being of older Australians (I was panel chair)
  • Pilar Rioseco (PhD, Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute, ANU, 2015) - The role of social connectedness in the process of retirement in Australia (I was a supervisor)
  • Ian Wood (PhD, Research School of Computer Science, ANU, 2016) - Watching the unobservable - On measuring social dynamics of online social media (I was a supervisor)
  • Minkyoung Kim (PhD, Research School of Computer Science, ANU, 2014) - Dynamics of information diffusion (I was a supervisor)
  • Harsh Taneja (PhD, School of Communication, Northwestern University, 2014) - Explaining global audience flow on the World Wide Web (I was a committee member)

Masters students:

  • Kyosuke Tanaka (Master of Social Research (Advanced), Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute, ANU, 2015) - Self-disclosure and homophily in online social networks (I was thesis supervisor)
  • Cecilie Einarson Pérez (Master of Social Research (Advanced), ANU, 2014) - Tweeting the frame: frames and fields in the age of the networked individual (I was thesis supervisor)



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Updated:  04 December 2021 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers