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Network thinking and Web Science

Watch Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt discuss the relevance of the study of networks to Web science.
NIGEL SHADBOLT: Networks are at the fundamental heart of the Web. Indeed, we’re fundamentally about trying to understand the structure and shape of those networks. It’s a large part of the efforts of Web Science is to understand the structure of the Web. Understanding the network allows us to understand what makes for strong, robust, resilient Web.
WENDY HALL: In computer Science, network is all about technology. The internet is a network of computers, but in Web Science, networks are about many different things, but particularly including the people networks, the information people put on the Web, and then the networks of communities that get built around that through the social media. It’s so many different things coming together.
NIGEL SHADBOLT: I think data mining is potentially one of the most powerful forms of analysis we can do, and of course we might worry that it’s revealing too much about ourselves as individuals. So we as a society always have to be asking the question, challenging, is this a proportionate amount of analysis? Are we have happy with the sorts of conclusions and insights that are being derived? And in some cases, we may well take a view that there have to be limits on just what sort of analysis occurs, and how, and when.
WENDY HALL: People cite health as an example, which is a threat because of our medical records becoming potentially available to people we wouldn’t want them to be available. But I think the key thing is for governments and organisations to be transparent about what they’re doing with our data, but actually I think the opportunities are greater than the threats.
The most important social network for me is Twitter. I can use Twitter to tell people what I’m doing, and what I’m thinking, what I’m saying, and I just find Twitter for me at the moment is the one that I can get the most benefit from. I mean, I realise that I get my news from Twitter, because the people I follow are the people who have got the things to say that I want to know.
NIGEL SHADBOLT: I’ve taken a deliberate decision not to involve myself in some social networks. I choose to keep a part of my life somewhat private, and guarded, and separate. So I have a Facebook account, but I don’t maintain it. I don’t have a LinkedIn account. I do use Twitter. I use it in a very focused fashion for my work networks, occasional tweet about sailing. And the thing I use most and routinely– of course it is based in the internet– it’s email. But we notice that as people go through their careers, as we’re seeing an evolution of networking forms of communication, but for me, I suspect my life is almost ruled by email. And a close second would be my tweets.

In this short video, you meet leading Web scientists Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt who discuss the relevance of the study of networks to Web Science.

Web Science studies networks of computers, people, and information. The analysis of these combined elements has the potential to reveal information about individuals with a high level of detail.

Nigel argues that ‘data mining is one of the most powerful forms of analysis we can do’ (min. 1:03), and identifies how this could be a threat to our privacy. On the other hand, Wendy (min. 1.41) gives us an example on how data mining through network analysis could be beneficial for us as a society.

Both Nigel and Wendy discuss the threats and opportunities of extracting information from the networks existing in the Web, and they both mention a limit that should be drawn at some point.

Where would you draw that line? Can you think of examples where analysing social media data might not be appropriate?
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