Royal Society Web Science

I’ve just spent the last couple of days at the Royal Society Web Science discussion meeting which I felt was a very special event for the following reasons.  Web Science (the internet/www as an object of scientific study) is emerging as a new interdisciplinary field of activity with collaborators from both science and the humanities.  This cross over of ideas from many different disciplines (physics, mathematics, computer science, politics, philosophy, sociology) could prove fruitful, and indeed there were speakers at the event from all these disciplines. All of the speakers were very good indeed, some excellent, and all with high calibre backgrounds and good credentials; people who have obviously paid their dues with years of hard work and good research.

Some common themes, ideas mentioned by more than one speaker were as follows. More than one person mentioned Frigyes Karinthy and the 6 degrees of separation concept. Another theme was the value to researchers of having at their disposal unprecedentedly vast amounts of rich data, the “digital traces” (Kleinberg) of all of our interactions on the web. With this kind of data sociologists and other students of humanity have the ability to examine human behaviour, and may be able to prove and disprove theories by empirical studies at a scale not possible before.  Another common theme was the value of the internet and the web. The value of maintaining the structure of the internet and ensuring its security and scalability and the value of keeping the web democratic and open.

The presentations should be available to view from http://royalsociety.org/Web-science-a-new-frontier/.

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