Archive for the Web Science Blog Category

Web Science Director named the most influential woman in UK IT

Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Director of Web Science CDT and Dean of Physical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Southampton, has been named as the most influential woman in UK IT by a national computing website.

Computer Weekly recognised Dame Wendy as being number one in the top 25 women who have had a major impact on UK IT.

The winners were announced at a special event in London this afternoon and were selected by a judging panel of employers and IT leaders from across industry, as well as readers of the digital magazine that is the leading provider news, analysis, opinion, information and services for the UK IT community.

Dame Wendy joined 24 other women who Computer Weekly acknowledges represent role models that will be important to the future diversity and success of the UK’s high-tech economy.

“I’m delighted and flattered to have been named as the most influential woman in UK IT, alongside such distinguished names. I applaud Computer Weekly for their efforts to highlight the vital role of women in IT in the UK, which is far more significant than is often realised,” said Dame Wendy.

“Such publicity will encourage others to consider careers in an industry that is one of the most exciting and important to be in today,” she added.

Dame Wendy has held many leadership roles in addition to her academic research in computer science, in the development of the World Wide Web and, more recently, in establishing and developing the new discipline of Web Science.

With Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt, Dame Wendy co-founded the Web Science Research Initiative in 2006. She is currently a Director of the Web Science Trust, which has a global mission to support the development of research, education and thought leadership in Web Science. Dame Wendy is also a Director of the University’s recently launched Web Science Institute, which brings together world-leading multidisciplinary expertise to tackle the most pressing global challenges facing the World Wide Web and wider society today.

She was President of the British Computer Society; the first non-North American to lead the Association of Computing Machinery, the world’s largest organisation for computer professionals; a member of the Prime Ministers Council for Science and Technology; Senior Vice-President of the Royal Academy of Engineering; and a member of the Research Council of the European Research Council.

Dame Wendy became a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the 2009 UK New Year’s Honours list and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 2009.

Web Science Summer School 20th-26th of July

The University of Southampton is hosting the W3S Web Science summer school from the 20th to the 26th of July. The course is aimed at Masters and PhD students studying Web Science or a related discipline who wish to learn more about the tools and methods required to manage and process the increasingly large and complex data from the web.

Over the week there will be talks from several keynote speakers including:

  • Prof. James Hendler is the Director of the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications
  • Cory Efram Doctorow
  • Chris Welty
  • Prof. Guus Schreiber

For more information including details on how to apply can be found online here.

To see the full programme and keynote speakers, click here.


Web Science Institute Launch – 12th of June

On the 12th of June the Web Science Institute (WSI) will be launching at the University of Southampton. The institute will combine the resources and expertise of the University of Southampton’s Web Science doctoral training centre, the SoFWired collaboration with Fraunhofer Institute and the Web Science Trust.

There will be a private launch event at the Royal Society to promote the research and education efforts that the institute will be pursuing, more information will be available shortly.

You can read more about the Web Science Institute on the Web Science Trust’s website.

New Research Partnerships for Web Science Institute

The Web Science Research Week saw the launch of 9 new research partnerships with WSI members taking on challenging research questions posed by industry, government, business and charities. From investigating the online availability of legal highs and industrial cyber threats to measuring the social and cultural value of web resources, the WSI will provide answers to its partners’ key business questions.

The 9 research partnerships announced at the research week were:

1. Web Product Discovery: Haymarket Publishing – Chris Hughes

2. Personal Data Observatory: Ctrl-Shift – Reubin Binns

3. MOOC Observatory: University of Southampton – Manuel Urrita

4. Historic Analysis of Government Websites: The National Archive – Ian Brown

5. Using Linked Data to Record and Expose Linked Resources: Open Data Institute – Dave Tarrant

6. Motivating Unbiased Crowds for Crowdsourcing Projects: Ordnance Survey – Silke Roth

7. Calculating the Social and Cultural Capital of Web Resources: Switch Concepts – Jo Munson & Jess Ogden

8. Commissioning Cyberattacks against Business Websites: South East Regional Organised Crime Unit – Huw Fryer

9. Obtaining Legal Highs from the Web: National Crime Agency – Lisa Sugiura
More information and updates on the progress of these reports will be published over the coming months.



Web Science Research Week – 24th-28th February 2014

An opportunity to meet Web Science students and hear about their research at Web Science Research Week.

Stevan Harnad: OA isn’t rocket science – Tim O’Riordan

On the eve of his appearance to give evidence at the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on Open Access in November 2013, OA “Archivangelist”, Professor Stevan Harnad spoke about his concerns following the UK government’s’ apparent u-turn on Green Open Access. Acting on the Finch Report on Open Access to scholarly articles, the government (and Research Councils UK) had accepted what Harnad described as an “astonishing recommendation”, essentially proposing to pay publishers considerably more than necessary for Open Access.

Harnad kick-started the OA debate in 1994 with the publication of his ‘Subversive Proposal’, suggesting that scholarly articles should be made freely available for all via the Web. Physicists and computer scientists had been doing this for years, he argued, and it was about time the rest of the world did the same. The benefits were obvious: academics don’t publish for profit – they do so for impact and usage, to gain uptake and application of their ideas, and the evidence shows that OA articles are used and cited more than non-OA.

Subsequent to the ‘Proposal’, the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton used ePrints to create the world’s first OA repository, and mandated OA for all of its journal articles. In 2003 the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee supported this approach, the research councils also adopted watered down Green OA policies and universities and institutions around the world began to follow suit.

However despite the growth in Open Access in recent years, students and academics still need to access most access scholarly articles via their institutions’ subscriptions to peer-reviewed journals. These annual subscriptions can amount to many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and even the most well-endowed universities (e.g. Harvard) are unable to subscribe to as many journals as they would like. There are sometimes partial workarounds to deal with this – contacting published academics directly, for example  - but, Harnad asserts, it is more cost and research effective for institutions to adopt Green OA policies and make articles freely available, once they have completed the peer review process.

Although hailed as a “balanced package”, the adoption of the Finch Report’s recommendation that additional payments be made to publishers to cover the costs of ‘Gold’ OA (where publishers make articles open after an embargo period) is seen by many advocates of Green OA as a retrograde step. However the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s policy proposal which requires immediate-deposit (i.e. Green OA) as a condition for future Research Excellence Framework eligibility appears likely to be adopted. Should this happen as Harnad hopes, Finch’s shortcomings will be remedied.


Further reading:

Harnad, Stevan (2013) Follow-Up Comments for BIS Select Committee on Open Access. UK Parliament Publications and Records, Spring Issue
Harnad, Stevan (2013) Harnad Comments on HEFCE/REF Open Access Mandate Proposal. Open access and submissions to the REF post-2014
Harnad, Stevan (2013) Worldwide open access: UK leadership? UKSG Insights, 26, (1), Winter Issue, 14-21.
Harnad, Stevan (2013) Harnad Evidence to House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on Open Access. House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on Open Access, Winter Issue, 119-123.
Harnad, Stevan (2013) Harnad Evidence to BIS Select Committee Inquiry on Open Access. Written Evidence to BIS Select Committee Inquiry on Open Access, Winter Issue
Harnad, Stevan (2013) Harnad Comments on Canada’s NSERC/SSHRC/CIHR Draft Tri-Agency Open Access Policy. Canadian Tri-Agency Call for Comments, Autumn Issue
Blog by Tim O’Riordan, you can read more from Tim on his blog page here.

KOLOLA Sponsors Web Science CDT Impact

KOLOLA Ltd is to sponsor the Web Science DTC’s first student impact competition. Founded in 2013 by two PhD students KOLOLA Ltd provides cloud-based impact assessment software and solutions  to help organisations keep track of the success and impact of their activities.

Recording impact is often a complex and time consuming task.  Richard Gomer, Co-founder and Director of KOLOLA Ltd and Web Science graduate, says that:

Recording impact is difficult for any organisation, but for an organisation like the Web Science DTC where individuals are spread across the University and working on their own research it becomes a massive headache to keep track of who’s doing what

Working with the DTC has allowed KOLOLA to streamline their cloud-based impact assessment software to create a simple but powerful analytic tool that organisations can use to quickly gain an insight on their impact activities. In essence KOLOLA helps answer the question “What have we done?”

More information on KOLOLA Ltd’s impact assessment tools can be found on their website.

KOLOLA and the KOLOLA device are registered trademarks of KOLOLA LIMITED

Web filtering policies put our digital infrastructure in unaccountable hands – Reuben Binns

Following a government decision last year, the UK’s major internet service providers (ISPs) have recently installed systems to censor ‘adult’ websites by default. For those who opposed the policy, the fallout from its implementation has been bitter-sweet. Policy-makers and concerned parents were warned by experts that porn filters would not work – that they would let unsavoury content through whilst blocking child-friendly stuff, and censoring educational, political and artistic content in the process. And they were right. Child protection agencies, women’s charities, LGBT groups and even the British Library’s website became inaccessible due to the filters. As did the personal web page of Claire Perry MP who, in a delicate twist of irony, was a key advocate for the filtering scheme.

While it’s unlikely to be reversed any time soon, it’s important to recognise what’s wrong with this policy and also situate it in the broader context of the development of the web. The first thing to recognise is that this has very little to do with pornography. Speaking as a feminist, I happen to think society might be better off if there were less pornography, especially the misogynistic, violent, and exploitative kind. The easy availability of pornography to children is worrying, as is the commercialisation of sex and the sexualisation of commerce. But as we have seen, government-mandated ‘porn filters’ for ISPs are ineffective at preventing access to such material, and do little to solve any of these much more fundamental societal issues.

One might object that even if this measure is ineffective, it is also harmless, since it simply shifts the burden of action from those who currently have to install their own filter to those who would opt-out of filtering under the new system. Perhaps there’s nothing illiberal about that, because there has to be a default setting one way or the other, and whatever the setting is, people will need to opt in or out. But this thinking fails to recognise that individuals installing porn-filters on their own devices is fundamentally different to filtering by ISPs.

It gives ISPs a new role in managing the content they provide. Until now (with a few minor exceptions), ISPs have just been the providers of traffic, shipping packets of information down ‘dumb’ pipes. They are utility providers, not stewards of content. According to the ‘end-to-end’ principle, a well-regarded rule of computer networking design that gave rise to the internet as we know it, decisions about what software to run, what files to consume and send, and who to communicate with, should take place at the ‘ends’ of the network, i.e. by individual users. Neglecting this principle sets a dangerous precedent, changing key protocols and putting power over our networked communications into different hands.

In some debates it has been implied that the detractors of porn-blocking are primarily motivated by a libertarian, pro-business, anti-state perspective. Writing in the Guardian last July, Deborah Orr dismissed opposition to the filters as ‘a roar of libertarian outrage‘. Unlike us ‘libertarians’, she is happy for the state to step in and regulate the market in cases like this. But to characterise the debate as consumer-protecting state regulation versus free-market ideology is, I think, wrong in this case. It neglects the fact that ISPs porn-blocking solutions are provided by private security firms who have only their commercial interests at stake.

For precisely this reason, no one outside those firms will be allowed to inspect their lists of blocked websites or scrutinise the algorithms used to detect undesirable content. Popular internet-filter providers see their blacklists as commercial assets to be protected from rivals. Likewise, ISP’s are private enterprises who we have to trust to act responsibly with their filtering mandates. Do we really want key pieces of our information infrastructure to be operating beyond the reach of democratic scrutiny, hidden from the very citizens they are supposed to serve? Far from a case of ‘benevolent’ state versus ‘free-market’, this is a case of government handing key functions to commercial actors who operate according to their own logic.

Couching the debate about porn-filtering in terms of child protection or feminism is a smoke-screen. These are important issues, but they are not the issues we should be thinking about here. As we’ve seen from the Snowden revelations, placing key functions of the web in the hands of a few private companies is a recipe for disaster. Putting all our data in a handful of services based out of Silicon valley has given one government easy access to the lot, through the front door via official requests, and the back doors that were secretly hacked open. The porn filter policy is just another example of this worrying trend, this time facilitated by a political points-seeking government.

There is a role for the state to play in our information infrastructure; from crafting intelligent regulation, to fostering open innovation and funding digital public goods. More than that, the state should facilitate democratic scrutiny of the data collection, network filtering and algorithms that increasingly govern our lives. Handing responsibility to unaccountable private police is not the answer.

Author: Reuben Binns

If you would like to read more articles from Reuben you can find his blog here additionally Reuben is on twitter @RDBinns.

Web Science Graduate Working With Ordnance Survey

Congratulations to Prof Mary Orr (Modern Languages) who has gained funding from the Ordnance Survey for a one year postdoctoral project, beginning on 13 Jan 2014. The project is entitled: ‘Enriching Ordnance Survey Content: Provenance, IP and Licencing Impacts of Data Usage from Multiple Sources’.


Mary will be directing the post-doc, Laura German, in collaboration with Dr Jenny Harding and her team at the Ordnance Survey. This arises directly from  her lead supervision of Laura whilst a Web Science PhD student, and OS notice of Laura’s work.


This is an important research enterprise link with OS as among Southampton’s key local/national employers, and is the first OS knowledge partnership with Humanities which we hope will lead to more.

Web Science Institute Launched

The University of Southampton has launched the Web Science Institute to look into the global implications of online networks.