Google, MIT, and IBM to invest in Social Web Research

“The Web fails to capture the nature of social relationships. We want the Web to be more responsive to the existing relationships people actually have,” So says Daniel Wentzner, principal research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), in announcing a new initiative to study the Web, called Web Science Research Initiative […]

“The Web fails to capture the nature of social relationships. We want the Web to be more responsive to the existing relationships people actually have,”

So says Daniel Wentzner, principal research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), in announcing a new initiative to study the Web, called Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI). Part of the initiative is to “to establish a research center that will sponsor Ph.D. students and ultimately create undergraduate curricula in Web science.”.

This is very interesting news, and readers of Bokardo will recognize that this new initiative is directly related to this site and what we talk about here. People are formally studying the social web. Obviously, this initiative has huge implications for social design. First, we need to understand how people use the Web. Then, we can improve our designs accordingly.

Inventor-of-the-Web Tim Berners-Lee, who is also part of CSAIL, pointed out:

“The Web is basically a web of people. It’s a way that social people interact,” Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the basic software of the Web and is director of the World Wide Web Consortium standards group, said. “Because it’s something we created, we have a duty to make it better.”

Other interesting tidbits of the announcement:

“The universities intend to combine several disciplines, including social sciences, psychology and life sciences, with technology development.”

“The social aspect of the Web–and the Web’s huge impact on society–demands that a field separate from computer science be explored, organizers said. For example, eBay is interesting because it relies on the involvement of millions of people. Similarly, Google used a mathematical algorithm that examines how millions of individuals link to other pages to improve search results.”

“Berners-Lee gave the example of e-mail, which worked well until it was adopted on a mass scale. That tipping point enticed spammers to start abusing the system.

To prevent problems such as these, Web scientists can study the incentives for individuals to do harm as well as the technology that can be misused, such as viruses, Berners-Lee said. Similarly, researchers can analyze the human psychology as it relates to Web-based interactions and the legal implications.”

“We want to see the Web as an object of scientific study from the perspective of various different disciplines,” said Weitzner. “What we are looking for is to direct scholarly attention and research attention to this particular new subject.”

Richard’s got a nice writeup at ReadWriteWeb.

More coverage:

Published: November 2nd, 2006

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