Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Manifesto for Web Science

Halford, S., Pope, C. and Carr, L. (2010) A Manifesto for Web Science. In: WebSci10: Extending the Frontiers of Society On-Line, April 26-27th, 2010, Raleigh, NC: US

A clarion call for a new research agenda has been sounded, notably by Berners-Lee et al (2006a 2006b) and Hendler et al (2008) for a ‘science of decentralised information systems’ to ‘discover’ generative mechanisms, and synthesise knowledge and technology to push both forwards. Computer Science alone - focussing as it does on the engineering/technology of the web - could not deliver the ambitions of this new agenda. Equally, other disciplines implicated in Web Science might use the web to support their research, or be interested in virtual life, but they lacked a coherent or unifying mandate for engaging with the web.

By calling for Web Science these pioneers opened up a new space. But this is uncharted terrain. As a technology the web is still new. While it has grown rapidly and unexpectedly we are only just beginning to think about the web as a phenomena to be studied. The proponents of Web Science had the vision to see that this new approach had to include disciplines beyond their own; it had to be greater than the sum of the parts of individual disciplines. This is a radical call to leave disciplinary silos and work collaboratively to produce something bigger and better. Moreover, it takes in the founding principles of the web and a desire for a web that is pro-human: this is a call for a science that is capable of insight and intervention to create a better world.

Our paper aims to take up this challenge and suggests how we might map the Web Science terrain. We come at this from a slightly different direction to the web science pioneers and want to demonstrate how social science can, and indeed must, contribute to developing Web Science.

This paper will explore the contribution of social theory and sociological concepts that shape how we engage with the web. We focus on four key aspects which seem to be central to this understanding. Firstly co-constitution, the fact that the web both shapes and is shaped by humans/society. Secondly the importance of heterogeneous networks of multiple and diverse actors (including technologies themselves) that make the web as we know it. Thirdly the significance of performativity, that the web is an unfolding, enacted practice, as people interact with http to build ‘the web’ moment by moment. Finally, drawing these ideas together we see the web we have now as an immutable mobile or temporarily stabilised network.

We use these ideas to map what web science could be and to suggest how we might use sociology to understand the web. Our aim is to provoke and stimulate debate and to move beyond superficial popular psychology and sociology (which envisages engineering human behaviour) and to challenge some of the ways in which social science has engaged with technology and technical actors. To facilitate this, and taking our lead from Donna Harroway, the paper sets out a radical manifesto for web science.

Could the Web be a Temporary Glitch?

Carr, L., Pope, C. and Halford, S. (2010) Could the Web be a Temporary Glitch? In: WebSci10: Extending the Frontiers of Society On-Line, April 26-27th, 2010, Raleigh, NC: US

In this paper we begin with the assertion that Web Science is the study of the technologies and policies that support the co-construction of a linked online environment by a networked society, and we end by questioning whether the Web that we currently enjoy is a permanent and fundamental phenomenon, or merely a fashionable popular enthusiasm for a particular kind of information sharing.

Enabling Scientific Discovery with Microsoft SharePoint

Takeda, K., Scott, M., Coles, S., Carr, L., Frey, J. and Cox, S. (2010) Enabling Scientific Discovery with Microsoft SharePoint. In: Microsoft eScience Workshop, October 11-13th, 2010, Berkeley, California. 

Scientists and engineers facing increasing amounts of data must create, execute and navigate complex workflows, collaborate within and outside their organisations, and need to share their work with others. In this paper we demonstrate how the Microsoft SharePoint platform provides an integrated feature set that can be leveraged in order to significantly improve the productivity of scientists and engineers. We investigate how SharePoint 2010 can be used, and extended, to manage data and workflow in a seamless way, and enable users to publish their data with full access control. We describe, in detail, how we have used SharePoint 2010 as the IT infrastructure for large, multi-user facilities including the UK National Crystallography Service, ยต-Vis CT scanning facility, and the Southampton Nano-Fabrication facility. We also demonstrate how SharePoint 2010 can be integrated into the everyday lives of scientists and engineers for managing and publishing their data in our Materials Data Centre , which provides an easy-to-use data management system from lab bench to journal publication via EPrints.

How to Reuse a Faceted Classification and Put it on the Semantic Web

Rodriguez-Castro, B., Glaser, H. and Carr, L. (2010) How to Reuse a Faceted Classification and Put it on the Semantic Web. In: The 9th International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC), November 2010, Shanghai, China.

There are ontology domain concepts that can be represented according to multiple alternative classification criteria. Current ontology modeling guidelines do not explicitly consider this aspect in the representation of such concepts. To assist with this issue, we examined a domain-specific simplified model for facet analysis used in Library Science. This model produces a Faceted Classification Scheme (FCS) which accounts for the multiple alternative classification criteria of the domain concept under scrutiny. A comparative analysis between a FCS and the Normalisation Ontology Design Pattern (ODP) indicates the existence of key similarities between the elements in the generic structure of both knowledge representation models. As a result, a mapping is identified that allows to transform a FCS into an OWL DL ontology applying the Normalisation ODP. Our contribution is illustrated with an existing FCS example in the domain of "Dishwashing Detergent" that benefits from the outcome of this study.

Bootstrapping a Culture of Sharing to Facilitate Open Educational Resources

Davis, H., Carr, L., Hey, J., Howard, Y., Millard, D., Morris, D. and White, S. (2010) Bootstrapping a Culture of Sharing to Facilitate Open Educational Resources. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, 3 (2). pp. 96-109.

It seems self evident that life for teachers would be simplified if there existed a large corpus of relevant resources that was available for them to re-use, and for inquisitive students to download. The learning object community has worked for the past decade and more to provide the necessary infrastructure, standards and specifications to facilitate such beneficial activity, but the take-up has been disappointingly small, particularly in University and Higher Education, which is the subject of this research. The problem has been that practitioners have not deposited their teaching resources, or have not made them openly available, in the quantity that would achieve critical mass for uptake. EdShare and the Language Box are two initiatives that have concentrated on the issue of facilitating and improving the practice of sharing, the former in an institutional setting and the latter in a subject community of practice. This paper describes and analyses the motivations for these projects, the design decisions they took in implementing their repositories, the approaches they took to change agency and practice within their communities, and the changes in practice that have so far been observed. The contribution of this paper is an improved understanding of how to encourage educational communities to share.

Connecting preservation planning and Plato with digital repository interfaces

Tarrant, D., Hitchcock, S., Carr, L., Kulovits, H. and Rauber, A. (2010) Connecting preservation planning and Plato with digital repository interfaces. In: 7th International Conference on Preservation of Digital Objects (iPRES2010), 19 - 24 September 2010 , Vienna, Austria

An accepted digital preservation workflow is emerging in which file formats are identified and those believed to be at risk are migrated to what are perceived to be less risky formats. This raises important questions about what to convert and when, if at all. In other words, how to connect file identification and migration. This area has become known as preservation planning, and seeks to take account of a wide variety of factors that might impact preservation decisions. Broadly there are two approaches to preservation planning. One provided in some digital preservation systems is to simplify and reduce both the number of file formats stored and therefore limit the number of preservation tools needed based on accepted recommendations. A more thorough, flexible and possibly complex approach, supported by the Plato preservation planning tool developed by the Planets project, allows decisions on preservation actions to combine analysis of the characteristics of different file formats with specific local requirements, such as costs and resources. This paper shows how Plato can be integrated with digital repository software, in this case EPrints, to enable this powerful approach to be used effectively to manage content in repositories of different sizes and with varying degrees of preservation expertise and support. These tools are accessed via a common repository interface to enable repository managers, and others who do not specialise in preservation, to moderate decisions on preservation planning and to control preservation actions.

(re) configuring the web user in the digital economy

Tinati, R., Pope, C., Halford, S. and Carr, L. (2010) (re) configuring the web user in the digital economy. In: Digital Futures 2010: Digital Economy All Hands Meeting, 11-12 October 2010, Nottingham, UK.

The role of ‘the user’ is critical to the development of Web Science, a discipline that seeks to promote a multi-disciplinary understanding of the Web with regards to its evolution and its future. In this paper, we address the formulation of ‘the user’ has in computer science and social science. Our aim is to explore how we might bring these different perspectives closer together to enhance our understanding of users, and hence to improve our ability to innovate new kinds of Web environment and, ultimately, a Web-enhanced society. At one level we can see the Web as simply a computer system ‘writ large’ such that an improved understanding of the user would be beneficial to technologists and sociologists alike. However, we suggest that the scale, scope and impact of the Web mean that we need to consider a new approach to understanding its users and usage.

Offloading Cognition onto the Web

Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2011) Offloading Cognition onto the WebIEEE Intelligent Systems, 26 (1).

In modeling human cognitive capacity there is a question of what needs to be built in and what can be left out, because we can offload it onto cognitive technology, such as a google web search. Word meanings can be represented in two different ways: sensorimotor and verbal. Verbals definitions and descriptions can be offloaded, sensorimotor representations cannot. Dictionaries have a "grounding kernel" of words from which all other words can be reached through recombinatory definition alone. The words are learned at an earlier age and are more concrete. We tested conjunctive and disjunctive google search for target terms that had their own wikipedia entries, using either the target terms themselves, or the three words that had the highest co-occurrence frequency (latent semantic analysis) with the target words in Wordnet. The highly co-occurring words were surprisingly ineffective in retrieving the target word, even in joint conjunctive and disjunctive searches and there was no significant correlation with age of acquisition or concreteness. This raises some questions about the similarity between human associative memory and google-based associative search.