Tracking Explosive Growth

Growth of the internet – Mark Schueler Southampton University 2012
This diagram from Mark Schueler at Southampton University illustrates the usage phases of the Web as it has developed since 1991. This diagram illustrates how in a very short time new web mediated services and applications have globally become an essential tool in the lives of millions of people and a major commercial enterprise.
It is sobering to note that major player like Google and Facebook, now capitalised at $Billions have only been around for a very short time and that previous star players like Myspace, Altavista or Friends Reunited have all but disappeared in comparison. The world of the web is very fickle and the only thing we can be certain of is that we cannot be certain that anything will be the same in five or ten years time.We know how economists and meteorologists benefit from having measurements going back many years. This enables new models to be tested against comprehensive records of historical data. In order to greatly enhance the future of Web Science, we need to begin systematically collecting data about the web before ‘bit rot’ means that the useful information is lost forever as sites change or retire.

Much of the examination of the development of the web has taken an engineering centric view. (This standard/technology/application was developed which in turn led to this innovation etc.) This understanding is indeed necessary, but there is also an urgent need for a multidisciplinary approach such as that enabled by Web Science. We need;

  • Historians to document what historical events happened which led to the web and the subsequent consequences.
  • Sociologists to understand how the web has changed peoples behaviour on a global scale.
  • Anthropologist to embed in web enabled communities to understand what makes them function.
  • Economists to understand the nature of peer production
  • Lawyers to understand what what this has meant for intellectual property.

The list goes on. All of these researchers need a platform through which they can collect, analyse and share data about the Web Providing such a platform is a key responsibility of the Web Observatory.