A fortnight has passed since WebSci10 opened its doors to the eager, interdisciplinary crowd. It was a fascinating conference, and I’m still processing a lot of what went on there. What follows are a few thoughts and highlights…
Keynotes: We had a couple of nice keynotes. I was most especially struck by Melissa Gilbert (no, not that Melissa Gilbert) talking about the digital divide and different frameworks of ICT usage. Specifically, she discussed work with poor women in a particular city of the USA. The key point was that we cannot build a better web from our privileged technology use framework — we have to understand the end users! Of course, that itself isn’t the most subtle point in the world, but the talk went beyond that. The take-home was that social science can’t be an add-on after technology has been built: interdisciplinary is needed during that process.
Papers: Formal talks were neatly divided into five sessions (web and: society, community, data, intelligence, methodology), with my own talk in the final of those groups. The material really was interdisciplinary, with speakers including geographers, lawyers, sociologists, and of course computer scientists.
Content ranged from privacy to porn to politics (that was just the first session!), accessibility to linked data, microblogging to folksonomies, crowdsourcing to shopping. There was a lovely talk on credibility online, and how much people think they trust mainstream vs online sources compared to how much they actually do.
Web and Methodology: My favourite session was the one in which I spoke! Entitled Web and Methodology, it opened with the wonderfully charismatic Harry Halpin talking about philosophy and WebSci, followed by various Southampton people: Dave de Roure on data in WebSci, Les Carr, Susan Halford and Cathy Pope giving CS and sociological perspectives on the WebSci framework, followed by myself. It closed with material on systems to support behaviour change.
My talk seemed to be well-received: the paper and slides can be found here, but basically I was presenting TAPT and the initial results from that study back in December. I had a couple of good questions, decent feedback on how it went, and — encouragingly — a couple of possible contacts for maybe running a case study or two. It’s too early to know whether that’ll work out, but well worth pursuing.
Other sessions: aside from the above, the conference included a wonderfully animated poster session, varied lightning talks and an engaging plenary which included discussion of where WebSci is going and how to form a cohesive community.
Miscellany: it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, some from Southampton but others from further afield. I met plenty of new folk, and hope I manage to stay in touch with at least some of them!
Memorable moments include Caroline Wilson’s wonderful comment (which appeared to take over Twitter!): “Copyright law is like an onion: it has many layers, and it will make you cry.”; chatting with Tim Berners-Lee about linked data, the W3C and my research; and seeing (also playing with) my first iPad.
Summary: I very much enjoy the opportunity to interact in a like-minded community, hear what’s going on at the cutting edge, and get feedback on my work. This conference was especially relevant to my interests, and I think the organisers did a great job. I was particularly happy with the decision to run it as a single-stream event, which was an effective device for getting the different disciplines interacting. Watching the growth of this nascent community has made for a fascinating time of late, and I don’t think it’s about to get any less interesting…