Written by Robert Thorburn
Packed to the brim with more academic discourse, networking and interesting research than one can shake a stick at, the 2018 Web Science conference also delivered more than its fair share of special moments. Run over four days starting on Sunday the 27th of May, the conference was hosted by the ever impressive Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and presented attendees with papers, panels and posters covering a wide range of topics. As an inherently interdisciplinary field, any Web Science conference was sure to deliver in this respect but what set this conference apart was not only the quality of the work presented but also the profile of those presenting it. As such, conference goers could attend Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Turing Award Lecture, find out about the variation in online grieving between Weibo and Twitter users, or hear directly from law enforcement on their efforts to police the Darknet, all at the same event.
The conference kicked off with an Events Day on the Sunday followed by the three main conference days. While the Events Day did not have a keynote session, it instead presented attendees with 6 half or full day tracks on a single theme to choose from. Ranging from Ethics and Privacy for Social Machines to The Evolution of the Darknet, the tracks had a mix of papers, panels and presentations from both academics and practitioners. There was also ample time for networking both at lunch and the post-session receptions.
Following from the high bar set by the Events Day, the main conference program started on Monday the 28th with a keynote session devoted to papers under consideration for the “Best of Web Science 2018” award. The rest of the day was split into paper and poster sessions, with lunch, served in between. Though the conference followed this formula on each day it is the keynotes that set the days apart in the most prominent manner. The second keynote was delivered by Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee in the form of his Turing Award Lecture, while the third keynote session, entitled ‘The Future of Semantics on the Web’, was taken up by Professor John Domingue.
As was to be expected, the Turning Award Lecture drew great interest with the VU Amsterdam’s Aula Hall filled to capacity. Tim Berners-Lee definitely did not disappoint and delivered a truly memorable address, which was recorded in full and will eventually be made available here. Until such time as the video is made available, one can read a write up of the lecture’s key points here, while the reasoning behind the Turing Award is explained by the ACM here.
Web Science 2018 wasn’t just about the work though, it was also about the building of relationships and networking with like-minded academics and practitioners from across the world. In addition to the daily lunch and drinks receptions there was also a PhD student social and a conference banquet. Both these events were definite highlights and offered conference-goers great settings to network. The PhD social was a relaxed gathering on the VU campus, while the banquet was more formal and hosted the conference awards ceremony.
Although four days might seem ample time for a conference, WebSci18 flew by due to both the quality and volume of papers and discussions. This not only speaks to the proficiency of the event organisers but also clearly showcases the vibrant and growing Web Science community. All of which bodes well for the future, including WebSci19, where ever it may be hosted it is sure to be another hit.