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About the Royal Society

Where to now for the Web?

29 September 2010

The World Wide Web has been transformational, changing how people shop, date, trade and communicate. Most people are not formally trained to use the Web, however it has assumed a central role in their lives. Scientists and researchers could not imagine carrying out their work without it; governments are working out how to interface with their citizens using it; and the Media is seeing the nature of their industry change in the face it. Travel, leisure, health, banking and any sector one can think of are changed because of it.

The event’s lead organiser, Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton, says that it is now ubiquitous and like all things that become commonplace we take it for granted. It is for this reason that he and his colleagues are arguing that the Web needs to be approached via a new interdisciplinary science.

Professor Nigel Shadbolt says:

“Emergence is one of the key features of the Web – whether it is the emergence of the “blogosphere” or the appearance of Wikipedia, the increasing linking of scientific data or Social Networks – complex structures emerge from apparently simple principles. Few are studying how such emergent properties blossom, how we might harness them, or what new phenomena may be along the way.

The tight feedback loops between engineering solutions and new behaviours are identified and charted only in retrospect. The relationship between the Web at the micro-scale of its defining protocols, and at the macro-scale of its effects, remains opaque. By bringing together researchers from various fields to think about Web Science we might begin to chart and understand what may be on the horizon for the Web. “

Researchers including Bob May, former President of the Royal Society and Albert-László Barabási, the physicist who first extended and developed the mathematics needed to model the Web, took part in the Royal Society’s discussion meeting Web Science: a new frontier.

Topics included new insights about how humans use the Web to exhibit “collective intelligence” and novel ways to navigate, browse and explore large information spaces. Speakers also discussed how and why people participate socially on the Web as well as the impact this will have on future law and governance.  New kinds of future Web were also presented.