Category Archives: WebSci Conferences

posts concerning ACM Web Science Conferences

Web Science Conference 2018 at a Glance

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.



WebSci18 Main Conference Day 3

Last night was the WebSci 18 conference dinner, where we went on a boat trip through the canals of Amsterdam. There was a huge rainstorm, with thunder and lightning which relieved the tension in the air and allowed us all to arrive fresh to the conference this morning, for the last day.

Today there is a series of paper session divided into themes. I went to a few in different sessions, rather than sitting in on one entirely. The first talk that really fascinated me was titled ‘Tweets, Death and Rock ’n’ Roll: Social Media Mourning on Twitter and Sina Weibo’ by Xinyuan Xu, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller, and Bernardo Pereira Nunes.  Xinyuan or Cynthia as she is known is based at the Australian National University. Cynthia’s talk was really interesting, discussing how we mourn celebrity deaths online. There was a real difference in how people were affected emotionally depending on the online platform that they used. Twitter users were more impacted compared to the Weibo users. Cynthia spoke about how they collected the data, in an 11 day period due to data restriction. There was a real spike in interest about the celebrity on the day of their death, and a few days following when they were discussed and their death analysed online. these conversations were all ascribed hashtags by users, to collectively mourn together. This is not something I had thought about in much detail before, so was really interested in the results and the potential for where this research could go in the future.

Another paper that really grabbed me was titled ‘Everybody thinks online participation is great – for somebody else’ by Gefion Thuermer, Silke Roth, Kieron O’Hara and Steffen Staab from the University of Southampton. Gefion spoke about the digital divide, which already exists and how the Green Party want to involve everyone online, but may be left out. There is a real connection to feminism in the roots of the Green Party, so they are also trying to engage women who are currently not active in online participation. There was an interesting divide in the results where different age groups expect the older or younger generation to inevitably be involved online, but aren’t as much themselves. Really interesting work and I would love to see how this research impacts the ways that the Green Party use online participation.

Later in the day, I attended another keynote session: ‘The Future of Semantics on the Web’, by John Domingue, who is a Professor at and Director of the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University in Milton Keynes. John spoke about the history of the intelligent machines following on from Alan Turing’s work, asking ‘what does it mean to have an intelligent machine’? John discussed other inspirations and collaborations which thought about the structure of knowledge systems and linking them to the web. John talked about the different data on the Web in specific forms and the microdata of which is on them. John believes that there is over-centralisation of the Web, with a few organisations owning and managing the data, with the users not knowing how their data will be used. John spoke about the FAIR principles for data, going forward to have a clearer future for Web data. Semantics provides a mediating layer, it will keep adapting to where the content is.

All in all the WebSci18 conference has been really amazing. It was an opportunity to hear from people all over the world about their research, to meet other people, and to be involved in discussions about the Web, and the study of Web Science. Amsterdam is a beautiful and welcoming city, and I think everyone had a lovely stay here. Thank you to all of the organisers and to VU Amsterdam for hosting us. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot to think about!

WebSci18 Main Conference Day 2 – ACM Turing Award Lecture by Tim Berners-Lee

This morning I entered the VU Amsterdam building to find a huge crowd of people waiting to see Tim Berners-Lee deliver his Turing Award Lecture as part of the Web Science conference. The crowd surged forward into the stunning Aula room and settled down to wait for Tim’s arrival. Hans Akkermans from VU introduced Tim before his lecture, and then Tim took the stage.

Tim introduced the idea of the Web as a cyber-utopia and said that he thinks we are in a difficult place with the Web at the moment. Tim reminisced about the early days of the Web when he wrote a memo originally about the Web, and what he wanted it to be, around the same time that the Berlin Wall was pulled down, and other political moments shook the world. Tim said that his timing was slightly off, not wanted to start talking about the Web when these momentous historical moments were occurring. For Tim, it started as something he wanted to develop and created a drawing of what he thought it would look like. On a good day, Tim says that the Web is simply a layer of documents, an interesting thought.

Of course, Tim moved on to create the first browser, which subsequently created a battle between the browser giants Microsoft and Netscape, we all know how that one played out. Tim has some amazing visuals, showing his first NeXTcube machine, which he ran the Web on at CERN. With stickers all over it asking not to turn it off. He showed a graph that indicated the exponential growth of the Web in the first few years from a few hundred to well over 100,000 hits. Tim says quite humbly that he is always impressed that humanity managed to create something like Wikipedia.

Tim mentioned that for all the time you spend online, some of that must be dedicated to defending your use of it. Defending the ideas behind the Web, what it should stand for, how it should be governed, and that it should remain a free and open space. Of course, people like Tim are now having to defend the Web in governments all over the world that was to introduce net neutrality as a standard.

In 2014, Tim states that many people like him took a step back to look at the Web, and how it was being used, asking how humanity is serving the Web. Tim suggests that we re-decentralize the Web, as a good place to start.

There were hundreds of tweets during the lecture, and it is worth checking some of them out for a live experience of the contents. It was also live-streamed and filmed so no doubt a copy will be made available online. What a thoroughly enjoyable and amazing talk. Tim was funny, and engaging and really made me think about how I see the Web, how I use it and when I defend it.

WebSci18 Main Conference Day 1

Today was the official opening of the Web Sci conference. The day started with a keynote session titled ‘Best of Web Science 2018’. The papers in this session were all nominated for the best paper award. All of the papers were good and presented some excellent work. Reuben Binns from Oxford University presented a paper titled ‘Third party tracking in the mobile ecosystem’. Interestingly Reuben showed us pictures of his cat called Ava, who likes to watch birds on Reuben’s phone and falls asleep on the tablet. Reuben made some interesting points about the safety of apps which collect your data, this has implications for apps aimed at children, and are being profiled for marketing purposes. Olga Zagovora from the University of Koblenz-Landau presented a paper titled ‘Collective Attention towards Scientists and Research Topics’. Olga’s research asked what came first: the scientist or the research topic? When does the scientist gain interest from the public? Presenting data from Wikipedia that gauges the level of interest from the public in particular scientists before and after they have received an award.

The afternoon divided into two paper sessions with different themes. I went to the one titled ‘Digging into Social Networks’. There were some fascinating talks and it was hard to choose which to write about. Srishti Gupta from Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology presented a paper called ‘Under the Shadow of Sunshine: Characterizing Spam Campaigns Abusing Phone Numbers Across Online Social Networks’. This was an engaging talk about how scammers identify people on social networks, where the attacks come from, and what platforms blacklist the spammers. Srishti recorded the spam calls and analyzed the language through google Speech, reviewing the content to identify the country of origin of the spammer, a lot of which came from Indonesia. 

What an amazing day! There is a poster event shortly to look at some more innovative research and later there is a social event for PhD students of WSTNet to meet and discuss what they would like from the network and to discuss how they can get involved. Look out for the blog about this!

Darknet Policing at the Web Science Conference 2018

Written by Robert Thorburn

The 2018 Web Science conference, hosted by the Vrije Universitieit Amsterdam, not only featured the broad range of subjects one would expect from an inherently interdisciplinary field but also had a couple of surprises. In addition to the much anticipated Turing lecture by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, there were two further keynote sessions covering ‘The Best of WesbSci18 Papers’ and ‘The Future of Semantics on The Web’.

The first day of the conference, held on Sunday the 27th of May, followed a different path to the three primary days by having no keynote session and instead presenting 6 full or half day tracks on a set topic. The format of the tracks was varied, including some papers, panel discussions and presentations, but crucially also including industry practitioners. Prominently, the full day track on ‘The Evolution of The Darknet’ had participants from the Dutch police’s Dark Wet Team, the Dutch tax authority’s Financial Advanced Cyber Team and the UK National Crime Agency’s Dark Web Intelligence Unit. Bringing a diverse set of skills and experiences to the discussion, the participation of these practitioners massively enriched the discussion and provided the largely academic audience with unique insights into the practical realities of policing on the Darknet.

The subject matter presented during this track also ran the entire gambit from the Dutch police’s ‘Knock and Talk’ approach to minor offences, often dispensing justice in the form of embracement and a potential fine, through to the UK National Crime Agency’s operations against some of the most horrific online offenders. Interestingly though, a couple of common threads wove through the entire day’s discussions. Most prevalent was the need for an integrated approach between law enforcement agencies, the need for data sharing and use of software tools to significantly lessen the workload. On the latter count, the UK National Crime Agency’s in-house developed tools were particularly impressive.

One further standout point for the day was the high-level discussion around crypto currencies.  Well informed and generally positive on the use of and growth of crypto currencies, the Dutch tax authority’s Financial Advanced Cyber Team pointed out a couple of clear indicators of when fraudulent activity is indeed taking place. These generally included unnecessary transactions, transactions conducted at a significant premium and transactions that serve no purpose other than obfuscation. A prime example of the latter being the use of mixer services which are regarded by the Dutch authority as inherently suspicious.

Practitioners and academics engaging in such a nuanced discussion on a highly technical issue is one of the core advantages of a fundamentally interdisciplinary field such as Web Science. The 2018 conference set a high bar in this regard, but there is as always the opportunity to take things further. Hopefully, the 2019 conference will build on this basis and include practitioners from more fields. Either way, it is sure to be another resounding success.