Earlier this week the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced a research collaboration, aiming to scientifically study the World Wide Web, hoping to guide the future design to a better network. Under the name of WSRI – Web Science Research Initiative, the project will study scientific, technical, and also social challenges facing the rapidly grows of the web.
“Of particular interest is the volume of information on the web that documents more and more aspects of human activity and knowledge. WSRI research projects will weigh such questions as: How do we access information and assess its reliability?”
The contrast with traditional computer science research is rather interesting. While CS will approach the web, asking “how do we connect people?”, the new Web Science will look at the same problem and wonder “what do people do once connected?”. I find the distinction to be crucial, as today’s web is very different from what it was originally designed and redesigned to be.
The growth of users and available information seems to be exponential. The whole Web 2.0 movement has been getting social websites to pop up like mushrooms. Cellphones and BlackBerries keep people connected, constantly. The Web is becoming a very social place.
Though what kind of impact does this have on the society? I would think that there’s a problem when people are much more socially active on the web (via sites like Facebook and Instant Messaging) than in person. It is worse yet if the entire social medium is transfered into a video game. China seems to recognize the problem, and is concidering laws to fight internet addiction.
“Governments should adopt new measures to organize research into new technology which could help prevent people younger than 18 from getting addicted to online games, according to a new prescription added to a fresh draft of the law.”
Rather interesting, although I have often refered to the Internet as an addictive recreational drug. There is just something about my need for up-to-date information. Though that is arguably a better cause, than the same drive for a need to score a new set of shiny armour plates in a computer game of choice.
The Web is a complex, technical organims. To preserve and improve its functionality, it is vital to understand its role for, and interaction with the users.
“The joint MIT-Southampton initiative will provide a global forum for scientists and scholars to collaborate on the first multidisciplinary scientific research effort specifically designed to study the Web at all scales of size and complexity, and to develop a new discipline of web science for future generations of researchers.”
It would be interesting to see what kind of studies will come out of this. And perhaps we have been getting overly technical in other fields as well. Sometimes it is good to take a step back from the problem, and view it from another perspective.