Group of University Researchers to Make Web Science a Field of Study
By STEVE LOHR
The Web has become such a force in commerce and culture that a group
of leading university researchers now deems it worthy of its own field
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of
Southampton in Britain plan to announce today that they are starting a
joint research program in Web science.
Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Webs basic software, is leading the
program. An Oxford-educated Englishman, Mr. Berners-Lee is a senior
researcher at M.I.T., a professor at the University of Southampton and
the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, an Internet
Web science, the researchers say, has social and engineering
dimensions. It extends well beyond traditional computer science, they
say, to include the emerging research in social networks and the
social sciences that is being used to study how people behave on the
Web. And Web science, they add, shifts the center of gravity in
engineering research from how a single computer works to how huge
decentralized Web systems work.
The Web isnt about what you can do with computers, Mr. Berners-Lee
said. Its people and, yes, they are connected by computers. But
computer science, as the study of what happens in a computer, doesnt
tell you about what happens on the Web.
The Web science program is an academic effort, but corporate
technology executives and computer scientists said the research could
greatly influence Web-based businesses. They pointed in particular to
research by Mr. Berners-Lee and others to build more intelligence into
the Web moving toward what is known as the Semantic Web as an area
of study that could yield a big payoff.
Web science represents a pretty big next step in the evolution of
information, said Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, who
is a computer scientist. This kind of research, Mr. Schmidt added, is
likely to have a lot of influence on the next generation of
researchers, scientists and, most importantly, the next generation of
entrepreneurs who will build new companies from this.
Web science is related to another emerging interdisciplinary field
called services science. This is the study of how to use computing,
collaborative networks and knowledge in disciplines ranging from
economics to anthropology to lift productivity and develop new
products in the services sector, which represents about three-fourths
of the United States economy. Services science research is being
supported by technology companies like I.B.M., Accenture and
Hewlett-Packard, and by the National Science Foundation.
Web science research, said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a technology
strategist at I.B.M. and visiting professor at M.I.T., is a
prerequisite to designing and building the kinds of complex,
human-oriented systems that we are after in services science.
Mr. Berners-Lee and his colleagues at the M.I.T. Computer Science and
Artificial Intelligence Lab and in Britain have had preliminary
discussions with government agencies in the United States and Europe
that finance scientific research, as well as with leading technology
companies. But Mr. Berners-Lee said his group had decided to publicly
circulate their ideas about Web science before trying to attract
government, foundation and corporate funding.
With initial support from M.I.T. and the University of Southampton,
the program will hold workshops on Web science and sponsor research
fellowships. But we also want to educate and train people who can
understand and analyze how these huge, complex systems on the Web
work, said Wendy Hall, a professor at the University of
Southampton. That means eventually having undergraduate and graduate
programs in Web science.
The M.I.T.-Southampton partnership, the researchers emphasized, is
intended as a catalyst for Web science research at universities
Privacy, for example, will be one area of research in Web science. The
traditional approach to protecting privacy has been to restrict access
to databases containing personal information. But so much personal
information is already available on the Web, often given voluntarily
on sites like MySpace and Facebook, that the old approach will not
work, said Daniel J. Weitzner, technology and society director at the
On the Web, Mr. Weitzner said, a better way to try to guard privacy
may be to develop rules, backed by accountability and sanctions, for
how personal information is used by businesses, government agencies
Ben Shneiderman, a professor at the University of Maryland, said Web
science was a promising idea. Computer science is at a turning point,
and it has to go beyond algorithms and understand the social dynamics
of issues like trust, responsibility, empathy and privacy in this vast
networked space, Professor Shneiderman said. The technologists and
companies that understand those issues will be far more likely to
succeed in expanding their markets and enlarging their audiences.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Jun 09 2009 - 05:00:13 EDT