Web science: a new frontier

Editors: Nigel Shadbolt, William H. Dutton, Wendy Hall and James A. Hendler

During the past 20 years, humans have built the largest information fabric in history. The World Wide Web has been transformational. People shop, date, trade and communicate with one another using it. Although most people are not formally trained in its use, yet it has assumed a central role in their lives. Scientists and researchers cannot imagine their work without it. Governments interface to their citizens using it. Media are seeing the nature of their industry change because of it. Travel, leisure, health, banking, any sector one can think of are changed by what we have created.

The Web is now ubiquitous, and like all things that become commonplace, we take it for granted. This is true for the great majority of users. Until recently, it was true for researchers too. Over the past few years, there has been a growing recognition that the ecosystem that is the Web needs to be treated as an important and coherent area of study—this is Web science.

It is ‘science’ in the original and broad sense of the term—science as the quest to build an organized body of knowledge. As such, it will need to embrace engineering—the Web is an engineered construct, a set of protocols and formalisms. It will need to embrace the human and social sciences—the Web is a social phenomenon whose vast scale has produced emergent properties and transformative behaviours. The Web is a space built and used by people for people. We will not understand it if we simply reduce it to its technological parts.



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