O'Hara, Kieron and Hall, Wendy
Dutton, William (eds.)
The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies.
Oxford University Press.
(Oxford handbooks in Business and Management).
This chapter examines some of the ideas behind the emerging discipline of Web Science, whose ambition is to shape the future development of the World Wide Web and the research agenda that that requires. There are formidable obstacles to this ambition, not least the large scale of the Web, the most complex piece of technology ever devised, and the co-constitution of the Web with its communities of users. Web Science must therefore straddle and integrate computing, mathematics, complexity and network studies on the one hand, together with studies of the social context, using the methods of sociology, law and economics on the other. The chapter defines the Web and differentiates it from the Internet, upon whose infrastructure it depends. Web Science is shown to be a type of reflective practice, made problematic by its scale and by the complexity of its interrelation with embedding societies; in particular it is difficult to integrate the micro-scale of the protocols which define it, with the macro-scale of the social effects that follow from widespread use of particular systems. The example of the development of the Web of Linked Data is used to illustrate difficulties and potential solutions.
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