May 27, 2007

Web science: a provocative invitation to computer science

From the latest Communications of the ACM (v50i6), Ben Shneiderman has an interesting and important Viewpoint column: Web science: a provocative invitation to computer science:

I urge a richly interdisciplinary path for Web science that also addresses the emerging applications for scientific collaboration, e-commerce, entertainment, social creativity, and social networking [6]. Explanatory theories are needed to understand why, say, eBay remains a huge success with few serious competitors. Predictive models are needed to understand why the video-sharing site YouTube and the photo-sharing site Flickr are so successful and why social networking sites like MySpace, FaceBook, and Friendster have hundreds of millions of users. Multiple scientific studies of Wikipedia would provide valuable understanding and guidance needed by implementers of public health information Web sites, community-response grids for emergency preparedness [8], and policy-oriented discussion groups. Most computer scientists are likely to dismiss these concerns as outside their territory, but Web scientists would eagerly take on these research challenges.


The Web science framework is a provocative research agenda that deserves serious review but that already needs expansion to adequately address such important issues as social computing, universal usability, and interdisciplinary strategies. Visionaries say it is time for a change, but will the traditional computer science community accept the invitation? I hope it will.*

It's a stimulating manifesto, a call to action for the CS community to embrace the social and collaborative possibilities of the web. After all, the web is science and science is the web; computational, distributed and collaborative models are everywhere and a discipline that lets those new paradigms pass it by is in trouble. In fact, Shneiderman does indeed bring the specter of declining enrollments as an impetus to embrace new ways. It's well worth reading in it's entirety.

Shneiderman also heavily relies upon the web science manifesto by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and colleagues, A framework for Web science. The abstract:
This text sets out a series of approaches to the analysis and synthesis of the World Wide Web, and other web-like information structures. A comprehensive set of research questions is outlined, together with a sub-disciplinary breakdown, emphasising the multi-faceted nature of the Web, and the multi-disciplinary nature of its study and development. These questions and approaches together set out an agenda for Web Science, the science of decentralised information systems. Web Science is required both as a way to understand the Web, and as a way to focus its development on key communicational and representational requirements. The text surveys central engineering issues, such as the development of the Semantic Web, Web services and P2P. Analytic approaches to discover the Web’s topology, or its graph-like structures, are examined. Finally, the Web as a technology is essentially socially embedded; therefore various issues and requirements for Web use and governance are also reviewed.

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