Reflections on the WSI launch

Guest post by Natasha Webb
(Honorary Digichamp for the day – thanks Natasha!)

“This is not just about the technology, it’s about the people…this is about what people do with the Web.”

– Professor Dame Wendy Hall

Adopted by the Digichamps for a day, I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of the Web Science Institute (WSI) earlier this month at the Royal Society in London. A single blog post couldn’t do justice to the breadth and richness of ideas expressed between the exhibition, keynotes and panel discussion, but as someone without an academic background, what struck me was how acutely relevant the discussion was to absolutely anyone who uses the Web.

These are just a few of the ideas I took away:

• There is a pressing need for digital literacy to be taught in schools

Young people need to be taught that, what they put online, generally stays online; that ill-thought-out posts and unfortunate photos from years before may come back to bite them, even if they thought them long deleted. Kids need to be taught how to manage their online identities from the start, and keep their personal information secure.

• MOOCs are starting to change the way we learn

MOOCs offer a flexible, high-quality, and above all else, free learning opportunity for anyone with an Internet connection. They don’t discriminate on income, education or work background, and in many ways, despite their formative nature and perhaps the currently limited choice of subjects, they are a paragon of an open and accessible World Wide Web. Projects such as the MOOC Observatory at Southampton are vital to assessing their impact, future development and potential uses.

• The way the Web looks will alter

The Web seems ubiquitous to us, but in many developing countries access is prohibitively expensive and once gained, there is very little relevant local content for the user. As Web penetration in the developing world advances, the diversity of languages and content will grow; English may no longer be the dominant means of communication and the digital landscape will alter. This might not be to everyone’s liking.

• Open Data will make us better citizens

Open data helps empower the citizens to make more informed choices (have a look at this TED talk given by Sir Tim Berners-Lee on open linked data, and you’ll start to understand why). Open government data helps cut through political equivocation, while open data helps big businesses to serve us better as consumers. Blog-hosting platforms, video and photo-sharing sites created a new citizen journalist in the early noughties. Open data, aggregated and analysed through crowd-sourcing, builds on this, bringing about enormous social, and economic benefits.

• We need a new Magna Carta for the Web

According to Sir Tim Berners-Lee his proudest moment online is yet to come, and will arrive when “we have crowd-sourced a Magna Carta for the Web”. With issues surrounding security and privacy ever more salient since the Snowden revelations, we need to defend the Web as a neutral platform, fundamental to exercising our democratic right to free-speech.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *