Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI)
World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee is one of the founding directors of a new joint research effort called the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) which will be a joint effort between the University of Southampton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As the announcement on Thursday, November 2, 2006 states:
The University of Southampton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology today announced the launch of a long-term research collaboration that aims to produce the fundamental scientific advances necessary to guide the future design and use of the World Wide Web.
The Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) will generate a research agenda for understanding the scientific, technical and social challenges underlying the growth 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? By what means may we assure its use complies with social and legal rules? How will we preserve the Web over time?
As Tim puts it, "As the Web celebrates its first decade of widespread use, we still know surprisingly little about how it evolved, and we have only scratched the surface of what could be realized with deeper scientific investigation into its design, operation and impact on society. The Web Science Research Initiative will allow researchers to take the Web seriously as an object of scientific inquiry, with the goal of helping to foster the Webs growth and fulfill its great potential as a powerful tool for humanity."
There is a brief two-page description of "Web science" entitled "Creating a Science of the Web" in the August 11, 2006 issue of SCIENCE magazine.
A much more elaborate description of the research issues can be found in the 130-page paper/treatise/book entitled "A Framework for Web Science" (available free online) authored by Tim Berners-Lee of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Wendy Hall of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, James A. Hendler of the Department of Computer Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Kieron O'Hara of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, Nigel Shadbolt of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, and Daniel J. Weitzner of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The abstract states the purpose concisely:
This text sets out a series of approaches to the analysis and synthesis of the World Wide Web, and other web-like information structures. A comprehensive set of research questions is outlined, together with a sub-disciplinary breakdown, emphasising the multi-faceted nature of the Web, and the multi-disciplinary nature of its study and development. These questions and approaches together set out an agenda for Web Science, the science of decentralised information systems. Web Science is required both as a way to understand the Web, and as a way to focus its development on key communicational and representational requirements. The text surveys central engineering issues, such as the development of the Semantic Web, Web services and P2P. Analytic approaches to discover the Webs topology, or its graph-like structures, are examined. Finally, the Web as a technology is essentially socially embedded; therefore various issues and requirements for Web use and governance are also reviewed.
That's the simplified description:
Web Science - the science of decentralised information systems
This is a brand new effort and it is far too soon to judge its odds of success or the nature of its results, but I wholeheartedly welcome it and wish it well.
For me personally, the big, big, big question is whether this new research initiative, as large and grand as it is, really will subsume and implement the goals that I put forth in my own "research manifesto" entitled "The Consumer-Centric Knowledge Web - A Vision of Consumer Applications of Software Agent Technology - Enabling Consumer-Centric Knowledge-Based Computing." I'm sure there will be plenty of overlap, but at this early date I am actually not so hopeful that even TBL's grand WSRI will fulfill my vision for a Consumer-Centric Knowledge Web.