Towards a Science of the Web


November 11, 2009


Nigel Shadbolt


U of Southampton


The World Wide Web has changed almost every aspect of modern life and touches us all. We use it to shop, date, entertain, communicate and research. It’s billions of pages, links and other resources comprise the largest information fabric in the history of humanity. It is fundamentally a socio-technical system connecting hundreds of millions of people in networks that are constantly changing and evolving.

How much of this do we understand? From a series of straightforward engineering protocols we see the emergence of large-scale structure. What evolutionary patterns have driven the Web’s growth, and will they persist? How are tipping points reached, and can they be predicted or altered? What trends might fragment the Web? What properties create social effects, and how do social norms influence the viral update of Web capabilities?

Answers to any of these questions would enhance our ability to maintain the Web as an accessible information technology to help humankind prosper. This talk will argue the case for a Science of the Web. This new interdisciplinary enterprise will require insights and methods from many disciplines. It demands that we understand the Web as an engineered construct that demands scientific analysis. It requires that we see the Web as a social construct that embodies all our human hopes and fears, interests and appetites.

The talk will review progress to date as we seek to establish Web Science, discuss the major research insights that are emerging and look forward to the challenges ahead.


Nigel Shadbolt

Professor Nigel Shadbolt is Professor of Artificial Intelligence in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. He is the Director of the EPSRC Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration in Advanced Knowledge Technologies (AKT), which is a multi-million pound, six-year research programme. AKT is developing a variety of tools, techniques and methods to realise the vision of the Semantic Web – a Web in which content can be seamlessly integrated enabling web services to provide an intelligent information infrastructure. Professor Shadbolt has published some 250 articles on various facets of AI, and has written and co-edited four books. Since 1985, Professor Shadbolt has singly or jointly secured and directed 26 research grants worth over £15,500,000. Professor Shadbolt is a Fellow and Deputy President of the British Computer Society and chairs the Society’s Knowledge Services Board. From 2001 to 2004 he was Editor in Chief of IEEE Intelligent Systems and in 2005 he was appointed Emeritus Editor in Chief and sits on the IEEE Computer Society’s Publications Board. Professor Shadbolt has been an invited speaker at numerous national and international conferences and technical chairman of a number of conferences and workshops. He is a member of various national committees including the Human Sciences and Technology Sub-Committee of the UK Defence Scientific Advisory Committee (DSAC). He is a member of the EPSRC’s Strategic Advisory Team.