Wednesday, November 08, 2006

At last web science taken serious

While I was raving on a course on content in the past days, I noticed last Thursday an article in the New York Times, indicating that MIT in Boston, Mass., and the UK University of Southampton are setting up a joint research program in Web science. Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Web's basic software, is leading the international research initiative.

It is interesting to see that finally after 10 years internet is no longer seen as something belonging to computer science and/or ICT. The research in this new field will be driven by social sciences and engineering. Networking and social networking will be studied closely by interdisciplinary teams. Finally Tim Berners-Lee is going to go deeper into adding intelligence to the Web through the semantic web. It is clear that web science is becoming a prerequisite to design and build complex, human-oriented systems. Technology is no longer leading, but social sciences and engineering. Of course algorithms are important, but understanding the social dynamics of issues like trust, responsibility, empathy and privacy in this vast networked space will be more important. Privacy is pointed to as an example of web science. A lot of provate information is given away when access is asked for to social networks such as MySpace and Facebook; besides so much private information is already known about a person, so why have it repeated again.

Web science will receive initial financial support from MIT and the University of Southampton. Support from large companies is also being sought as well as from government agencies. Eventually the program should take shape in an undergraduate and graduate course. For the time being workshops on Web science will be held, while research fellowships will be sponsored. The courses and workshops will not be the exclusive domain of MIT and the University of Southampton; the intention is to start up web science in more academic environments. Daniel Weitzner will be the technology and society director at the Web consortium between MIT and the University of Southampton.

This is an interesting development. Being from the humaniora, I have always wondered about the supremacy of computer scientists talking about internet, the web and social networks. To me the separation of web science out of computer sciences is a very healthy development. This will bring in sociology and network theories (Castell etc) more than bits and bytes. Of course history will be part of it. And having studied philosophy and theology, I wonder when the theological side of web science will become a study area. As I say in my e-mail signature: Theology is the best training for online.


Blog Posting Number: 563

No comments: