Posted by: clare on: July 19, 2012
Although almost a month has passed since WebSci’12 — and although I had to leave the conference early — I’d like to share my reflections on the day-and-a-half I spent there after the WebSci-Teach workshop.
Friday 22 June: NetSci as WebSci, social networking, posters and more
I was intrigued to find that Kleinberg’s WebSci opening keynote was in fact also the NetSci closing keynote — pitching a keynote talk to both of those audiences is a tough ask. Kleinberg covered some great stuff about status and power in interactions online, but it was heavily grounded in Network Science, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say it was somewhat inaccessible to many in the WebSci crowd.
Next was a great session entitled ‘social networking and friendships’: topics ranged from how G+ social circles can be shared, to personality and patterns of Facebook usage, to Danielle Quercia’s excellent talk on factors linked with losing friends on Facebook. (On a personal note, I was pleased to hear about this tool a PhD student of Quercia’s had developed to work with Facebook data.) Needless to say, the factors discussed in these talks are socially and culturally situated — we need to heed that more carefully.
A little later came the poster session, where (alongside co-author Nico Marie — alas, third author Evan Kalampokis could not be with us) I presented our work on representation and diversity of disciplines within Web Science — a piece of empirical work that used papers from the past 3 WebSci conference. (More here.) I was very pleased with this session, our poster got tonnes of attention — huzzah!
I didn’t see any other work, as the moment I was done staffing our own poster, I had the pleasure of an all-too-short, long overdue catch up with Mark Bernstein. Would that Boston and England were a little closer together!
Saturday 23 June: methodology, validity and variety
Saturday opened with a third keynote: Sonia Livingstone on social networks in and around the classroom. Great stuff on how we learn and the role of technology and connectivity — plus how schools, teachers, parents and kids respond to technology. I was up after the keynote! The session was called Methods & Applications, and I was opened it, discussing work I did with Alan Dix comparing the HCI and WebSci communities (more here). I only got one question, about whether it’s really necessary to dwell on the divisions between disciplines (short answer: yes!) — glad to get the stuff out there, but I want more dialogue.
The next talk concerned the power and validity of big web data — asking questions about methodology, practical constraints, validation — some good questions. Terhi Nurmikko, one of the Soton DTC students, followed with citizen science for cuneiform studies — I never thought I’d learn about assyriology and cuneiform at a work event! A great talk.
After a great keynote by Aral on measuring influence in social networks (we must worry about leakage and contamination, and it’s possible to measure where influence is greater or lesser) there was a session on social networking and organisation. Another Soton student opened, Chris Phethean, talking about social media marketing in the charitable domain. He rightly expounded upon the flaws of poor metrics (such as numbers of ‘likes’ and followers), and the usefulness of considering awareness, engagement, results. He’s monitored (on twitter) two very different charities (a UK dogs charity, and an international food program), watching for replies/conversation and RTs, time of day/week, and soforth. Lovely early results.
The rest of the conference
And then, more is the pity, I had to leave! I’m really sad to have missed the rest of the conference, most particularly:
(That last one shall be unsurprising to those of you who know me. I want to pursue conversations with academia-friendly industry bods about WebSci research, from the ethics of big data to Balkanization online.)
If you’d like insights into the whole conference, Chris Phethean and Ramine Tinati have provided their reflections. (Both Southampton WebSci DTC students — what is it about us (ex)ECS people? We just can’t keep quiet!)
Is Web Science a young adult?
Last year I wrote an article for ACM MemberNet Europe in which I remarked that the WebSci community is growing up, that WebSci’11 (the first ACM WebSci conference) felt much more mature. WebSci’11 felt rather balanced, and had a little gravitas that had perhaps been absent in earlier conferences. WebSci’12 seems to have really continued this theme: as with last year, there was a certain stability to proceedings. I guess the Web Science conference series is no longer a confused toddler or stroppy teenager!
It’s still young, though, so young. Having missed half the event, I find it hard to comment on the diversity and relevance of what was showcased at WebSci’12, and what I did see was encouraging. Nonetheless, we need to keep working at this, at making sure WebSci contributions are WebSci (not NetSci or CompSci in disguise!), and are — particularly given the tricksiness of interdisciplinary research — methodologically sound.
WebSci may not be a stoppy teenager, but it’s still youthful. I’d say WebSci is 18 years old: it’s just left home for university, it’s finding its way around and learning a lot about itself — who it really is, what its core values are, its aspirations and preferred methods. It’s important we don’t assume the WebSci community is sailing along and everything is perfect — it’s still young enough to need a guiding hand on the rudder.