Emerging Field of “Web Science” – How does geospatial fit in?


Puneet Kishor, Ph.D. candidate in the Nelson Institue for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, had the privilege of attending the Summer Doctoral Program (SDP) at Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute this past summer. Following is a brief report from his experience.

Puneet wrote: The theme of the two week long workshop was “Web Science,” a term coined to describe the emerging “science of the web.” The logic is that “in order to: understand what the web is; engineer its future; ensure its social benefit, we need a new interdisciplinary field that (we) call Web Science.” [http://webscience.org].

Among the several program tutors, the notable personalities (for me) were Hal Abelson (co-founder of Creative Commons), Gerry Sussman (co-founder of Free Software Foundation) and Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the web).

The presentations could be broadly aggregated under the themes of social networking and Second Life; semantic web; and privacy and security. There was an all too brief digression into matters of public policy, and I was the only participant from the geospatial arena. Most of the presentations can be accessed from [http://students.oii.ox.ac.uk/sdp:sdp2008:readings].

My very over-arching, broad take-away impression is that from the social science side there will be continuing and intensifying focus on social networks as a proxy for studying human interaction at all scales, from inter-personal to society levels; from the computer science side, there is a great push to advance the state of the semantic web — getting computers to understand other computers with minimal human interaction. Semantic web is really where Tim B-L sees the future headed, or, dare I say, wants the future to head. From the public policy side, there are issues of privacy and security that get quite a bit of high-profiling, but the issues that continue to be left behind are those of access to information and digital inclusion (briefly addressed by a visiting Member of Parliament one morning), as well as making preservation and archiving mainstream.

From the geospatial perspective, the bottom-line is that while “geospatial science” may be under-represented, geospatial technology is definitely a hot item. Location is now the center piece of much development, particularly in the area of both social networking and semantic web. Fortunately, from my point of view, Hal Abelson too believes that geospatial *information* is important enough to be the next big focus for the activities of Science Commons (SC is the sister-agency of Creative Commons, its focus being on open access to scientific data).

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further queries or interest in any of the above.

Puneet Kishor http://www.punkish.org/
Ph.D. Program, Nelson Institute, UW-Madison http://www.nelson.wisc.edu/
Charter Member, Open Source Geospatial Foundation http://www.osgeo.org/


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