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Berners-Lee and Friends Promote Web Science Study

  • Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008
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  • Author: pradhana
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  • Filed under: Miscellaneous

Producing the Googlers of the future…

By Tim Ferguson

The study of web science is being promoted by a group of top academics to lay the foundations for the future development of the world wide web.

The Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) is being led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee - widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of the web - along with colleagues from MIT and Southampton University in the UK.

Speaking to, WSRI co-director, professor Nigel Shadbolt, said: "We announced the WSRI at MIT in November 2006 and this created a huge amount of interest. Eric Schmidt from Google was saying the kind of people that we trained in this discipline would be the kind of people Google would want to employ - and IBM said similar things."

He added: "The recognition was that the web is the biggest construct that we've built. It's now so big… that we need methods to understand it and as you understand it you might think of ways of improving it."

Shadbolt explained how web science looks at the economic, social and political aspects of the web in order to understand how it has developed and why people participate. He added this is similar to what happened with computer science several decades ago when academics from the electronics and maths worlds came together.

He said: "[Students] need to be taught something about techniques for looking at structures, tracking data through complex networks, how to understand the basic economics and social psychology of interaction so they've got some appreciation of how the web phenomena work on the whole.

"It's in some respects an old idea in a new context. Really our initiative is about co-ordination." An example of what the WSRI is promoting is an understanding of how certain web phenomena - such as the blogosphere or Wikipedia - can gather so much momentum.

The future of concepts such as the linked data or semantic web - in which data in documents is becoming increasingly connected - will also form part of the work. The WSRI is now looking for more corporate involvement.

Shadbolt said: "We've been patiently spending the last 18 months evangelising the idea. We hadn't deliberately sought to set up corporate involvement until we had got a solid proposition."

As part of the increasing corporate involvement, BT was recently announced as one of the founding sponsors of the WSRI.

Shadbolt explained BT is keen to boost knowledge within its own workforce especially with the company likely to deliver more and more content via the web in the near future. []

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