Student profile: Dominic Hobson
What was your academic path before coming to the Web Science DTC 4 year MSc/PhD programme?
I have spent my entire life in education so far. Before coming to Southampton, I achieved a 1st class honours degree in Computing Science from the University of Wales, Bangor – starting immediately after college. Over my final year at Bangor, I applied and got accepted for an MPhil in Advanced Computing Science at Cambridge as well as a place on the Web Science iPhd course. My desires to further study the web specifically lead me to Southampton.
Why did you choose Web Science?
Having studied computing science, specifically internet browsing habits for my undergraduate dissertation, I came to realise computing science does not provide the research base or techniques necessary to explain emergent properties that are appearing as a result of the way people are using the web. Web Science openly accepts the shortcoming of other disciplines and aims to provide the interdisciplinary knowledge and tools required to adequately research the modern incarnation of the web.
What does the Web mean to you?
To me, the web means information. For the majority of my memorable life, the web has never ceased to inspire and amaze me with the vast quantities of knowledge it provides access to. Through this sharing of information, I believe it brings together all sorts of invaluable information, people and cultures which we would otherwise, as a collective, are unaware of. I see the web almost as a representation of the human race, and for that reason, it mean’s whatever the people that use it make it.
Best experience of the course so far?
I’ve been enjoying the guest lectures from other disciplines. They give us a good insight into how other subjects utilize and analyze the web. This gives us an idea of where and how Web Science can step in to covers research areas inaccessible to other disciplines.
I also like the community of Web Science at Southampton. Our cohort is extremely close and there is a real feel of camaraderie amongst students and staff. The Web Science department has the perfect balance of light-hearted friendly banter as well as intellectually stimulating discussion.
What Research Areas are you interested in for your MSc/PhD?
As part of Web Science, we are constantly exposed to different research ideas, each more inspiring and interesting than the next. One issue with Web Science is that it’s such a new, yet huge and fascinating subject, choosing and committing to one research area is a real challenge because there’s so many intriguing topics presented to us.
A few area’s I’m particularly interested are in identities and counter cultures on the web, and the effects, how’s, why and what’s behind their behaviour on the web. At the moment, my interest is in distributed currencies being developed by counter cultures in response to centralized corporate payment systems. I’d like to further investigate instances where counter cultures on the web have influenced the “real world.” For example, how do (if at all) unregulated and untaxed online currencies effect “real world” economics. The current iteration of distributed currencies, Bitcoin, has the feature of transactions being anonymous. A by-product of this anonymity, it has been suggested, is that a large amount of crime related transactions are taking place.
This leads onto another research interest: the “dark side” of the web, including cybercrime. I’d like to further understand and investigate links between “real world” crime and cybercrime. Does the web create more criminals, or does it just act as another medium for existing criminals to operate? What are the implications of tools and filtering in place to catch and prevent cybercrime on everyday users of the web? How, if at all, are “real world” criminals using the internet, for example, Mexican Cartels have recently been in the news for the murder of several bloggers who posted information about the Cartels online.
However, the other aspect of this to consider is that there are reasons for such censorship and invasion of privacy. Similar to the debates surrounding the use of CCTV, filtering and censorship on the web is there to prevent crime and protect the individual. But who should have control over the level of protection and surveillance that happens on the web, and why? Although privacy is extremely important and people should have the right to full control over their information and information related to them, surveillance in both the offline and online context could potentially save lives. It’s a tricky balancing act between protection and privacy which I personally believe needs further research and refinement.
What are your Career ambitions?
I thoroughly enjoy learning, so at the moment, I intend to stay within academia. I would like to become a researcher and/or lecturer, although this is all subject to change depending on the opportunities that arise over the course.