Category Archives: WSTNet News

Brave Conversations Conference – Day One

Brave Conversations Conference Diary

Web Science PhD students Rob Blair, Faranak Hardcastle, Chira Tochia and Jack Webster share their experiences, highlights, observations and some of the Brave Conversations they had

Brave Convos Plenary
Brave Convos Plenary/Anni Rowland-Campbell ©2017

We travelled 10,631 miles from Southampton, UK to Canberra, Australia to have the Brave Conversations that needed to be had about the changing relationship between humans & technology. There was a plethora of speakers from academia, government and industry including University of Southampton’s Dame Wendy Hall, Professor Susan Halford, Dr Ramine Tinati and PhD researchers to represent Web Science.

This was a very interactive two-day conference with mini round table conversations, panels, debates and fishbowl discussions taking place. Not everyone necessarily stood up in front of the other attendees and shared a strong opinion though, some used this as an opportunity to observe the dynamics between different stakeholders whilst communicating their alternative perspectives about the Web, the Internet and future of technology.

Day 1

We started day one by a 5 mins exercise in which we looked up the name of the person next to us and then talked about what we found. Then we moved on to a workshop by Pia Waugh. She asked us to write on a piece of paper three things: uncomfortable, inspiring/interesting and incomprehensible. Then she presented some thoughts and asked us to list some of what we have heard into these categories. She ended by raising some questions: e.g. Who are and aren’t you building for? What does being human mean to you? What is the default in the society? What do we value in the society? The questions of rights and responsibilities, etc.

Despite the fact that Pia’s questions raised valid concerns about the direction of the evolution of the Web and the Internet, in general Pia’s provocation was that she represented a techno-utopian, without any need for state intervention. Whilst this is one of the common views held about the governance of the Web and the Internet, it is not the only view. Some advocate a multilateral, multi stakeholder, or unilateral model of governance for the web and the internet. In this respect, Pia’s presentation expressed views about one side of the spectrum.

Pia asked tables to discuss what had they found uncomfortable about what was said. When tables reported back on this, the answers varied: Some questioned the suggestion that “we” have shifted from an era of belief to rationalism, and found this assumption uncomfortable. Some found the notion of “We” problematic, and the underlying assumption of homogeneity that undermines multiple vested interests and the tension amongst them uncomfortable.

Then Pia asked the tables to discuss and report back on what they had found most inspiring that would have wanted to grow and develop in the future. Again answers from tables varied largely from sustainability and renewable energy to health care and well-being.

She then asked the tables to choose and discuss one of those inspiring things and report on how it could be designed for the future to induce a systematic change. Designing change was understood from different levels. Some came up with mechanisms to nudge individuals to change their behaviours. Some other suggested nudging corporations through rewards/punitive mechanisms and some thought of deliberative changes at the infrastructure level.

The second session of the day “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” was run by Nicholas Gruen, CEO of Lateral Economics’, explaining his thoughts on why change looks like Groundhog Day. Nick explained how the human world is a nested ecology of public and private goods economics using the metaphor of arteries and capillaries, through a very enjoyable and witty presentation.

Then we had a lunch break. But before that Martin Stewart-Weeks, Reporter for the conference, reflected with what he perceived to be the highlights of the morning. He suggested that this morning was about 4 things:

  • Self government
  • Identity
  • Equality
  • Risk

Some of these points can be problematised and leave more questions than answers. For example, what does “self-government” mean? Does it refer to the market and those in favour of self-regulation for addressing the issues surrounding it? Or is the expectation of the individuals to be “reflexive” about their actions and their consequences?

After this we were assigned to different tables with pre-assigned themes, questions, and facilitators. This session was interesting from multiple angles. The questions, discussions, and answers, the groups dynamics, and the relationship of the chosen questions in regards with the themes.

The session on day one ended with Martin summarising his own interpretations of the discussions, questions, and interactions in the day. He concluded that “we” need to talk about 4 things if we want to have brave conversations:

  • Power
  • Control
  • Accountability
  • Authority

Then he asked participants to write down one really big question that really bothering them this morning. Participants wrote their questions on sticky notes and put them on a board to be categorised into segments by Martin the following morning.

Day Two

“The Two Magics of Web Science” 10 Years On

Ten years ago this week delegates gathered in Banff, Canada, to hear Tim Berners-Lee present his keynote speech at the World Wide Web Conference. The theme of his talk was the ‘magical’ relationship between the Web’s technical protocols and social conventions – and what the interaction between them meant for newly minted field of Web Science.

The 2 magics of Web Science
Slide from ‘2 Magics’ WWW07 Keynote/ Tim Berners-Lee ©2007

Berners-Lee identified two ‘magics’ (stuff we don’t understand yet) at play in this relationship. The first is when the microscopic interaction between two people on the Web scales to produce a new macroscopic phenomenon. The second is the ‘creative magic’ required to identify new microscopic designs that could have positive macroscopic effects.

Incidentally, the keynote inspired Greg Cypes (then Tech. Lead on AOL’s Instant Messenger) to use a brand new Web app – ‘Twitter’ – to use the term ‘Web Science’ for the first time on the platform.

Greg Cypes on Twitter: Berners-Lee magic = stuff you don't understand Apparently there is a little bit of magic in Web Scien… 2017-04-26 11-02-49

No one liked or retweeted the message, but 10 years on, and several billion microscopic interactions later Web Science continues to improve our understanding of the Web’s impact on society. Members of the Web Science Trust Network carry out ground-breaking work in a wide range of areas, including: developing tools to identify robots on social media, exploring the potential of open data to transform society, and making interaction with computers easier for Web users.

These and many other topics will be discussed next month when experts and researchers gather for WebSci’17,  the 9th International Web Science Conference at the Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, New York.

Shenzhen Web Science Summer School 2017

Shenzhen Web Science Summer School 2017
The Shenzhen Web Science Summer School was held between 20 and 24 March at the Tsinghua-Southampton Web Science Laboratory, Shenzhen, China. PhD students from Tsinghua, and the Web Science Institute, University of Southampton, UK, worked together on two Data Challenges in a competitive datathon. The aim was to learn and put into practice new data analytic skills which students’ could apply to their own research. From this collaborative work, innovative visualisations and code were created and shared on the Web Observatory.

The students were split into two groups, and provided with 20 million text files from Chinese newspapers and 5 million text files from UK newspapers. Each group chose a Data Challenge to work on.  Group 1 tackled the Disaster Management Challenge and Group 2 worked on the Shared Bicycle Scheme Challenge.

As well as the data they were provided with, both groups needed to search for and explore any additional, relevant data that could help them give further context to their investigations. This proved difficult, as Web sources that are widely used by UK-based students were not available in China (no Google!!). This, along with some cross-cultural and language misunderstandings, added to the challenge. However, hurdles were overcome and the teams worked together to produce insightful analyses.

Group 1: Disaster Management

Group 1 - Tsinghua Summer School
Group 1

Tsinghua University: Wang Chen, Jinxin Han, Xin He, GengBiao Shen, Kan Wu, Jing Zhang
WSI: Jo Munson and Sami Kanza
Mentor: Eugene Siow
This Challenge explored patterns of flooding in the real world and how it is reported on social media. Aided by their mentors expertise in Statistical Modelling, Behavioural Mining and Sentiment Analysis, students were helped to evaluate the propagation of online discussion on flooding. By applying  a Natural Language Processing algorithm the team developed a prototype dual-language dashboard which mapped social responses to flooding.
Outputs: Main websitePresentation Slides

Group 2: Shared bicycle schemes in China

Ofo and Mobike bicycles at Dongdan/N509FZ ©2017/cc-by-sa-4.0
Ofo and Mobike bicycles at Dongdan/N509FZ ©2017/cc-by-sa-4.0

Tsinghua University: Wei, Haimei, Jiamei, Shuo
WSI: Bart Paszcza and Chira Tochia
Mentor: Xin Wang
In recent years bicycle sharing projects have sprung up around the globe – helping to solve the ‘last mile’ problem, and enabling people to quickly and easily travel to and from major transport hubs. In the US there are more than 120 shared bicycle projects covering millions of miles every month, while in China shared bicycle projects, Mobike, and Ofo  are also attracted a great deal of interest. For the datathon the team developed a number of data visualisations showing use of bike sharing schemes in Shenzhen.
Outputs: HeatmapClustermapBike journeysPresentation Slides

Group one's Flood visualisation
Group one’s Flood visualisation

And the winners were…group one! A very well deserved win for such beautiful and useful visualisations for mapping floods in both Chinese and English.

Call for WWSSS 2018

On the beach at WWSSS 2016/ Steffen Staab ©2016
On the beach at WWSSS16/ Steffen Staab ©2016

The Steering Committee of the WSTNet Web Science Summer School (WWSSS) invites interested parties from commercial, academic or public domain to submit bids to host WWSSS in 2018. The call consists of two stages: first an expression of interest and second a full proposal.

Important dates

  • 15 June 2017: Deadline for expressions of interest
  • 15 July 2017: Notification and call for full proposals
  • 30 September 2017: Deadline for full proposals
  • 31 October 2017: Notification of acceptance Support and further information

For more details see visit the WWSSS18 Call page.

World Wide Web Conference 2017

Dame Wendy Hall announcing The Web Conference 2018
Professor Dame Wendy Hall announces The Web Conference 2018/TheWebConf ©2016

The 26th IW3C2 World Wide Web Conference concluded in Perth, Australia today, after 5 full days of presentations, workshops, demos, and in-depth debate on the current and possible future of the Web. There were keynotes from radio astronomer Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, Yoelle Maarek, Vice President of Research at Yahoo, and pioneer of 3D on the web, Mark Pesce.

In addition to chairing the Web Observatory Workshop, our Managing Director, Professor Dame Wendy Hall, presented the 2017 Seoul Test of Time Award to the authors of the 2000 paper “Graph Structure in the Web”.  Closing the conference Dame Wendy  announced the re-branding of the conference as ‘The Web Conference’ – the first to be held in Lyon, France between 23 and 27 April, 2018. To take advantage of early-bird registration, visit: