Web Sci summer school, day 1

Ok, today was a blur but a few thoughts:

Honestly, I had a slight concern I might not get loads out of the summer school — I’ve had the privilege of being part of the WebSci community for some years now. It was not impossible that I’d show up to an event that was reminiscent of the WebSci conference series, a mere couple of weeks after WebSci’11, and not necessarily learn a lot.

I’m pleased to say I don’t think that’s the case. Some interesting talks today, and I’m refreshed by how few people I know here. Hooray!

Wendy's keynote at the summer school

Wendy's keynote at the summer school

Wendy opened her keynote with some audience interaction. The audience turned out to have a few who self-identify as web scientists (yes, including myself 😛 ), a few social scientists, lots of techies, and lots of people who didn’t stick their hands up! The majority are from UK/Irish organisations, some from the EU, a few from further afield.

We had some conversations about the balance of the WebSci community, in terms of its composition of engineering-types and humanities-types. Yes, it’s a recurring conversation; but it’s important. So, the first question to Stefan Decker from his opening talk was about HTML and RDF formats: it was a web technology question, and we very quickly got into a web technology conversation. This is no one’s ‘fault’, but demonstrates the difficulty of having a balanced conversation between social scientists and computer science, and an ongoing worry about CompSci dominating. Web Science is more than web technology or computer science.

On a related note, Abraham Bernstein gave a stellar talk about processing large graphs, but the first half of it was targeted at a CompSci audience. (This is no fault of his own: he was brought in on very short notice!) When Wendy raised the issue, asking him if he could talk about social aspects and bear in mind there are non-CompSci people in the audience, he rose to the occasion admirably, adjusting his style and vocabulary very smoothly.

Of interest, though, is the response from another member of the audience, who defended the speaker by saying “These are tools we need to understand and query the semantic web.” Yes they are, but I’d argue that not every web scientist needs those tools: they’re certainly a key part of the WebSci toolkit, but there is more to web science than querying linked data. (Of course, it’s possible the comment came from wanting to soften a perceived blow to our speaker.)

I very much enjoyed Wendy’s keynote, and shall blog it separately in a moment…


3 responses to this post.

  1. In a room with mostly social scientists, computer scientists would likewise *also* be lost in the technical details of those fields. While Web Science is more than web technology or computer science, understanding the core underpinnings of *several* fields will be important to understanding the Web.

    It’s certainly hard to find a balance between the fields represented, but softening the discipline knowledge for inclusiveness is not necessarily the best approach. Perhaps in the future, a web science school might have a few tracked talks as well as shared, core talks.

    One major problem with being in an interdisciplinary field that must integrate material from a number of fields in order to become a full-on discipline: how do you determine what’s ‘core’ and what’s not? What is relevant to everyone and what is gravy? Markus Strohmaier’s was a step in the right direction, but we need fuller agreement on methodologies for web science.


    • I absolutely agree that Web Scientists need to understand multiple fields. This is probably why the Southampton DTC students were so impressive at WebSci’11: every student has two supervisors from two different disciplines.

      I agree that we shouldn’t ‘soften’ discipline knowledge in WebSci: if someone wants to work with linked data then sure, they need to know the techniques at hand — but I don’t think that, for example, understanding how to process large graphs is necessary to /all/ Web Science.

      I disagree about parallel tracks, at least for now: the community is young and finding its identity. If we have parallel tracks, participants will just fall back to their ‘home’ disciplines of Computer Science, Socioloy, etc.

      The questions you ask in your final paragraph are important, and hard! You’re right that as a community we need to talk about methodology. The poster I’ll be presenting tomorrow concerns methodology in WebSci — maybe we can talk about this then!


  2. […] I’ve been slow in blogging about the Web Science Summer School being held in Galway this week. Check Clare Hooper’s blog for more reactions (starting from her day one post from two days ago). […]


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