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Steffen Staab holds a chair for Web and computer science
at the University of Southampton, U.K. and is a professor
at the Universität Koblenz-Landau, Germany, heading its
Institute for Web Science and Technologies (WeST).
Susan Halford is a professor of sociology at the
University of Bristol, U.K.
Dame Wendy Hall is Regius Professor of Computer
Science at the University of Southampton, U.K. and is the
Executive Director of the Web Science Institute.
Copyright held by authors/owners.
Publication rights licensed to ACM.
into understanding implications of
privacy issues may have been limited,
one might have acknowledged that the
public’s attitude toward privacy protection did not only stem from lack of
knowledge, but also from some nuanced degrees of willingness to share
personal information. Such an ambiguous situation calls out for a two-way,
participatory dialogue. Not content
with only researching ‘on’ users, Web
Science is committed to ensuring that
the full range of voices is heard as we
build our understanding of the Web
and shape its future. Web Science
seeks creative ways to build public understanding of the public about the
threats, but also take on board, appreciate, and remark upon the personal
values and attitudes of people. For
instance, moral machines are one example where this is done now.
3 We are
committed to developing participatory
methods that allow us to build insight
to diverse perspectives and to build dialogues between these. These methods
may include: citizen science—where
non-experts are included in a variety
of research projects, for example, to
study local communitiesj or to contribute subjective, possibly diverging,
point of views;
1 online methods for
deliberation; organizing face-to-face
citizens’ assemblies; and the use of AI
techniques (for example, for enhancing knowledge and understanding of
the Web and extending dialogue). It
is a priority for Web Science that we
observe these processes in action to
inform continuous improvement in
public engagement, for the benefit of
policy making and, more widely, the
engineering of the Web.
A final example concerns how we
observe the observers. Powerful corpo-
rate or governmental actors may deter-
mine the fate of Web users observing
what we do22 and suggesting what we
might do (or not), for instance, which
accommodation to select, which job to
apply to, or which person to befriend.
Therefore, understanding what these
actors do by tracking their activity and
evaluating their algorithms has be-
come an important activity. Research-
ers and NGOs like Algorithmwatchk
pursue these tasks asking for data do-
In the Web we still lack such regula-
tions, but the more that such actors be-
come gatekeepers to our life, the less
we can just rely on corporate slogans
like “Don’t be evil” (originally used in
Google's corporate code of conduct).
The Web has grown from an idea in
1989 to become the largest sociotechnical assemblage in human history in
a little under 30 years. It is implicated
in the lives, livelihoods, and life chances of over half the world’s population
already and connecting many more
every day. While Europe embraces the
Web and its opportunities for integration—perhaps more than other parts
of the world—it discusses its risks of
division. Rather than dystopian, and
most likely false, predictions, what it
needs is a scientific approach to understanding how the Web works and
how it affects society. Web Science has
been devised as a field to tackle these
questions and we have highlighted
a few aspects of where and how Web
Science should proceed. In particular,
computer science must look beyond
its pasture and embrace the methodological experience and diversity by a
broad set of fields—more than it has
done until now. Funding and academic institutions need to welcome and
reward such undertaking or it will not
Acknowledgment. This article benefited immensely from discussions
we had with all the other participants
at the Dagstuhl seminarl on “ 10 Years
of Web Science: Closing The Loop.” In
particular, we want to thank Bettina
Berendt, Fabian Gandon, Katharina
Kinder-Kurlanda, and Eirini Ntoutsi.
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