In the latest Nodalities podcast, Paul Miller talks to Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton and a founding Director of the Web Science Research Initiative.

The Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) is a joint venture between MIT and the University of Southampton to teach the literal academic ‘science’ of the web.

Founded in 2006 alongside Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Professor Nigel Shadbolt and Daniel J. Weitznerby, Dame Wendy talks with Paul about some of the thinking she and Sir Tim shared that eventually resulted in the conception of the project.

They recognised there are many determining factors outside of pure technology that shape the evolution of the Web. That as a human construct, there is a need for new ways of thinking about the Web, that we need to understand as much about how and what effects humans have on its evolution as much as how the Web effects our society.

The Web is one of the most (if not the most) transformative applications in the history of computing and communications. It’s changed how we teach, publish, govern and do business, studied in anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics – needless to say a lengthy list – and the Web Science is to consider the Web in all these fields (and more) not only as a computer science.

It’s also to intended to anticipate future developments, forsee the good and bad consequences of its change.

They’ve been working with the Web for a long time – since the earliest days of hypertext and hypermedia and with such experience have recognised the cyclical nature of Web trends, that every five years or so sees great advances in the Web’s evolution. Think Web 2.0 for the latest phase – the next (apparently) being Web 3.0 (or the ‘Data Web’ or the ‘Web of Linked Data’) or the Semantic Web – whatever buzzword you want to ply it with. The WSRI, in part, stands to find out what’s likely to come, to inform us and our decisions.

Of course, it was also in part founded to evangelise the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web was and is still Berners-Lee’s original vision for the Web that he had back as early as WWW94 (though ‘unnamed’). These small phases add up to the larger realisation of this original dream – and with that, Dame Wendy discusses her thoughts on how this will continue in its future. She talks about the WSRI’s efforts to create a wide network of key Web Science labs across the globe and their work with curriculum developers and government agencies, also of their training of university teachers and educators to inject Web science into higher education as recognised academia.

Paul Miller also shares some thoughts on his ZDNet blog - at first he was sceptical, suggesting that we really don’t need yet another academic subject just to ‘permit’ us to study the Web, that we’re perfectly well served by enough areas of study (those listed above) that already seek to understand both the Web and its impact upon all of us. But he too, can’t deny that Web Science as a ‘label’ can be beneficial to the Semantic cause in both the evangelistic sense but also by providing ‘institutional credibility’ to their area of research.

I collected a number of Web Science and the WSRI related bookmarks during my thesis research, for further reading:

Chrome wheeled, fuel injected.