Oh my goodness, I’ve already been back from WebSci’11 for almost a week. The delay in writing it up is at least in part because I was blown away by the range of material present, and the many threads to be drawn together. Time to have a go:
Dave de Roure has written up his own impressions of WebSci over on his blog: if the ‘Web Science’ concept is new to you, it provides a great introduction. Meanwhile, I’d like to reiterate a point he makes later on in his post: there really was genuinely interdisciplinary work present at WebSci’11, a thing which makes me very happy indeed. (In particular, kudos to the Southampton Doctoral Training Centre: I was very impressed by the students they’re turning out.)
Like Dave, I’ve had the privilege of attending all three Web Science conferences, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to see the community growing up — from the 2009 event in Athens where no one quite knew what to expect, through being collocated with the Web conference in Raleigh, to this year as an ACM- and ICA-affiliated event. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the conference this year felt more balanced and perhaps even had a little gravitas that the previous two did not.
As I say, I was really blown away by some of the materials — from work on online clandestine organisations to Bernstein’s poetically delivered network analysis and Dix’s paper that questions how we construct knowledge and truth. (You can find all the papers on the conference program.)
I’d like to talk about one other thing that especially struck me having travelled to WebSci from Hypertext’11 — the overlap between the two events. They share an obvious set of similarities: they’re ACM conferences concerning interdisciplinary work that is situated in the arena of links and web-related materials. For all that, they are very different in other ways. This year was Hypertext’s 22nd year: it’s a conference that goes way back, though around 2006-7 it began to take more of a focus upon social aspects of the Web. Hypertext welcomes technical bods but also narrative-oriented literati. Web Science is, of course, in its third year, and situates itself as an interdisciplinary forum for analysing not so much the web as a thing, but the web and people, society, politics and the economy.
So it’s no surprise that there’s an overlap. Indeed, I was particularly struck that two of the three Hypertext keynotes wouldn’t have been out of place at WebSci (admittedly they were given by stalwarts of the WebSci community!); conversely, the first WebSci keynote could certainly have been at Hypertext. The same goes for a bunch of the papers — for instance, this work (predicting political and religious beliefs, sexual orientation and ethnicity from social network contacts) was presented at Hypertext but could certainly have been at WebSci.
Suffice it to say, I’m intrigued to see where these communities go in relation to one another.
Summary: this is a really vibrant community (Jean-Remy Duboc’s write-up makes a similar observation!), and I came away feeling very inspired. WebSci will be in Chicago next year, and co-located with Network Science: I can’t wait to see how it pans out!