What is Web Science ? (english version)
… An interview of Tim Berners-Lee, Leslie Carr, Nigel Shadbolt and Wendy Hall, members of the Web Science Research Initiative.
A few comments :
1. Defining « Web science for dummies »
According to Tim Berners-Lee, Web science is about studying the web, almost as an external object – as one would study the brain for example. The web is seen as a complex object, which hasn’t been carefully studied yet. We want to understand more the properties and dynamics of the web. Web science must also be normative, propose and engineer solutions to make the web work better and serve better humanity.
Nigel Shadbolt proposes a quite similar definition ; he mentions large scale properties (structure, dynamics…), and, briefly, the impact of the web on society: “the web is a highly transformational information system”.
Wendy Hall and Leslie Carr emphasize more the reciprocal action of the web and society. This is a step further than simply understanding web technology: it is about understanding the interaction between human behaviour and technology, which is the micro-scale process that, at a bigger scale, drives the coevolution between the web and society.
2. What’s at the core of web science?
All had some difficulties to answer this question, except Tim Berners-Lee. Again, he defends his vision of a “philosophical engineering” of the web. It reminds us of the semantic web/linked data project. This very philosophical (and Kantian!) project aims, after all, at designing categories that would describe the whole web.
Nigel Shadbolt accurately points out that the visualization proposed is misleading. In some way, our question itself was misleading. Obviously web science has to be built upon projects or at least concepts such as those quoted by Leslie Carr, Wendy Hall and Nigel Shadbolt : the notions of copy – from protocol to legal issues -, of trust, privacy, and collective intelligence. These concepts stem from a complex entanglement of technological, psychological and societal issues that need to be dealt with in an interdisciplinary manner.
There is no arguing that we need a web science to understand these concepts. The core hasn’t cristallized yet because the discipline has just been formed, but it will be built and structured along with emerging projects, specific topics, methods, etc.
3. Which jobs for web scientists?
All interviewees pronounce the word “understand”. This word carries the idea of a global, large-scale and interdisciplinary insight (as compared to “explain”, for example). Explaining refers to decomposition and analysis. Understanding is about linking things together, synthesizing, having intuitions and insights into how such a complex system behaves.
All interviewees agree that web scientists will bring this understanding to industry, business and government. Web scientists will analyze the current web, lead web projects while integrating the insights of various fields. We especially like the final words of Nigel Shadbolt. More and more aspects of our life will heavily rely on the web and digital world – economy, media, education, health, social life, science… No doubt that professionnals understanding the web will be highly demanded in the years to come.