What is Web Science?

“Entrance to the Web”/© J M Tosses/CC BY-NC 2.0

I have recently enrolled on the 4 year Web Science integrated doctoral programme at the University of Southampton. “What is Web Science?” you may well be thinking. As part of the application process I had to answer that question. This is what I said:

The interlinking of documents and data via the Internet facilitated by the World Wide Web has ushered in a new age of global communications. The reach of the Web, its sophistication and rate of adoption is unprecedented. It has enabled new ways of sharing ideas and working, and is rapidly transforming society in many, often unexpected, ways. Some of these changes are generally desirable (e.g. improved methods of academic collaboration), while others offer challenges (e.g. new opportunities for criminal activity) which may threaten the beneficial evolution of the Web.

The success of the Web so far has been brought about by the interaction between Web technologies and policies, and the people who have adopted, used and developed them. However, while designing and building applications for the Web is relatively straightforward, our understanding of how people interact with applications, content and the rules that govern their use is poorly understood. In order to ensure that initiatives aimed at enhancing the desirable effects of the Web enjoy some success, it is vital to better understand human behaviour in this environment. It is this understanding, and with it the improved ability to predict the outcomes of Web-centred initiatives, that the study of Web Science aims to achieve.

This exploration of the web as a co-created entity means that Web Science takes on more than a traditional Computer Science or Information Science approach and expands its reach across the academic disciplines.The need to improve trustworthiness, security and privacy; to enable commerce to continue to thrive, to encourage continued innovation and provide social structures that allow users to work creatively, collaborate, and to participate in solutions, requires the input of researchers from a broad range of subject areas.

As the Web grows and becomes increasingly interlinked with society, our understanding of how the Web works and our ability to provide agile solutions is crucial to the development of a Web for the benefit of all.

The programme starts with a one year MSc course which starts in a few weeks time. My plan is to write a little something about my experiences of the programme once a week over the next 4 years.