Towards a Science of The Web

In a recent issue of Science, Berners-Lee et al. outline a call to action with the Web itself as the research focal point. The rationale for this call is, to simplify matters, to understand the Web as it exists today, and to ensure that it evolves to meet emerging/future needs (like trustworthiness, privacy and so on). In elaborating on this call, the authors describe the current Web as a hybrid between what one might expect from the natural (physical or biological) sciences and computer science:

The Web is an engineered space created through formally specified languages and protocols. However, because humans are the creators of Web pages and links between them, their interactions form emergent patterns in the Web at a macroscopic scale. These human interactions are, in turn, governed by social conventions and laws. Web science, therefore, must be inherently interdisciplinary; its goal is to both understand the growth of the Web and to create approaches that allow new powerful and more beneficial patterns to occur.

Thus the call to action is one for a coherent Web science research agenda that is highly interdisciplinary. At a recent meeting of the British Computer Society involving the authors, participants engaged in dialogue on:

  • New media types, data sources, and knowledge bases becoming “Webized”
  • Web access becoming increasingly mobile and ubiquitous
  • Privacy guarantees and control of information on the Web

Berners-Lee et al. conclude:

Web science is about more than modeling the current Web. It is about engineering new infrastructure protocols and understanding the society that uses them, and it is about the creation of beneficial new systems. It has its own ethos: decentralization to avoid social and technical bottlenecks, openness to the reuse of information in unexpected ways, and fairness. It uses powerful scientific and mathematical techniques from many disciplines to consider at once microscopic Web properties, macroscopic Web phenomena, and the relationships between them. Web science is about making powerful new tools for humanity, and doing it with our eyes open.

The online version of this article provides a number of enhancements that are worth reviewing. In addition to a number of links to additional information, there is a useful schematic that places the past and emerging Web into context.

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