Posted on behalf of Sofia Kitromili
Web Science now more than ever
The first spotlight panel of the Web Science conference 2020 saw the chair Rennie Fritchie welcoming attendees and introducing an elite of panellists (Wendy Hall, James Hendler, Nigel Shadbolt, Daniel Weitzner, Noshir Contractor, Tim Berners-Lee) who were involved in the web science initiative that led to the web science that we know today. The panel members talked first about their memories of the web and the establishment of the discipline back when they first came together. Almost everyone mentioned the debate on whether web science should be called web science – Wendy had some thoughts on naming it psycho history – or something that several panellists favoured, philosophical engineering, but given the take-off of the discipline from labs around the world and the status and prestige it carries today it seems that web science as a term has been a good choice. They all talked through their own objectives on how the web has improved on a sociological level with Noshir noting how the technology is observed as both a positive and negative influence. He has also noted that the web has enabled something such as sociological research, that was looked at over a decade, to see a quick resolve when the web was brought up with page rank as an example that was addressed by Google. Wendy also mentioned that given the Covid-19 situation the web has shown its value since it made conferences and working from home or meeting from home possible through online calls. As a stepstone in taking away web science into the interdisciplinary field it is today Nigel referred to the Web Science CDT at the University of Southampton that has been training students to explore knowledge on the web and input their findings in the field. He also said about the web in general: “Social dynamics created by the web are essential for social understanding”. The panellists were then asked to talk about their engagement with the field today and concluded by taking questions from the audience. One critical question was: how non-academics can be involved in web science. To that among the answers it was mentioned that the web science trust is looking to be more industry and government based by starting a program of initiatives that broadens beyond academia and that sessions such as Brave conversations are organised in different parts of the world for people of different backgrounds to meet and discuss web related topics. As an end note it is not to be missed that web science whether that was the intended name or not has matured as a field with a lot of people climbing further up the academic ladder, going into government or industrial positions. Sir Tim Burners Lee called out to those who are looking to take their next step in industry to consider joining his new startup Inrupt and inform their new technology, Solid.