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What is the Web Observatory?

Watch Professor Dame Wendy Hall introduce the concept of the Web Observatory and why observation will be of value to marketers.
PROFESSOR DAME WENDY HALL: So Web Observatory is about sharing data, about what’s happening on the web. At the moment, people are gathering all sorts of data about the web, about what’s happening on the web. A lot of it’s held in companies, held in research labs like universities. PhD Students do projects, and when they finish it all disappears. And there’s no way of linking that data across different projects, of sharing the analytical tools that have been built to analyse the data, in the same way that the physicists share data about the pictures they take of stars in the heavens and the climate scientists share data about what’s happening to the world’s temperatures and sea levels.
We’ve got to find a way of doing this for the web so we understand more about the digital planet that we’re building and how we could build for a better future. Well, the web impacts everything about business these days. Even if your business isn’t actually operating on the web, you have to use the web for marketing. You really aren’t a company or an organisation if you don’t have a presence on the web. It’s how you interact with your customers. It’s how you interact with other businesses. So it’s vital to any business in today’s world.
And of course, most businesses have a global reach, even the SMEs that have to have a presence on the web and have to understand what’s happening to companies like them, or what the competition’s doing, what the trends are, how they adapt to that.
In this video, Professor Dame Wendy Hall introduces the concept of the Web Observatory and why observation will be of value to marketers.
For further background information, you may be interested in this interview with Wendy.

What is the Web Observatory?

In this short article, Ian Brown compares web observatories to astronomical observatories, and outlines what the next steps are for this exciting project.
You may also like to look at Ian’s animation: ‘A 3 minute briefing on the Web Observatory’ which is available on YouTube.
The Web Observatory can be likened to the idea of a scientific instrument, rather like a telescope or microscope for studying Web data.
Professor Dame Wendy Hall coined the term ‘Web Observatory’ in response to the need for a core tool/approach for researchers to wrangle with complex datasets (including data ON the Web and data ABOUT the Web).
The idea is taken from virtual astronomical observatories which already exist and share both data and tools in standard formats allowing researchers around the world to collaborate.

Combining observatories to add value

For each Web Observatory that gathers and maintains valuable data on particular topics there is an individual opportunity to access a valuable resource, but for an interconnected Web of observatories there is a vastly enhanced opportunity to combine data and tools, to create synthetic data and generate new insights from multiple data sources around the Web on a wide range of topics.
More data from more organisations can give us a better idea of ‘what works’ on social media, and therefore can help to produce more relevant analytic tools.
These tools can then be shared and reused every time another organisation shares their data.
More data sources mean that they can be combined to provide more sophisticated analytics that offer richer outputs.
For services such as Twitter where the data format will regularly be the same, and similar phenomena can be analysed, this often simply involves changing a search term for which tweets are collected.
In the next step, you will see an example ‘analytics dashboard’ that is in development, which allows new analytics to essentially be ‘plugged in’ to offer further insights, and which could be reused by any organisation.

Next steps for Web Observatories

Future plans for the Web Observatory project are based around enabling and encouraging interoperability and connecting pre-observatory systems and standalone repositories together.
There is no attempt to push any particular technologies or brands for this purpose, but we are moving towards standards for data exchange and that will allow observatories to discover each other (via, to link data and from then on to collaborate/co-operate in solving problems and gaining new insights.
It is still very early days but the inter-operation of many single observatories will lead us to a powerful web – a world wide web observatory (W3O.)
Moving to the W3O will require tools for collaboration, negotiation, licensing, security and many other features which support interactions between groups.
Your views on good practice in all these areas are actively welcomed!
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