Web Science and the European Web 2.0: Centralization of Decentralization?

Harry Halpin <hhalpin -(a)- ibiblio.org>
University of Edinburgh, W3C Semantic Web Co-ordination Group


Invited Talk to Digital Ecosystems Conference, Brussels, November 2007

The Web is not Artificial Intelligence

The Web is not about replicating human intelligence. The Semantic Web is about augmentation and so "keeping humans in the loop."

Doug Engelbart

Man's population and gross product are increasing at a considerable rate, but the complexity of his problems grows still faster, and the urgency with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater in response to the increased rate of activity and the increasingly global nature of that activity....

by "augmenting human intellect" we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble.

Evolution of the Web

  • Macy Conferences, founding Cybernetics, including interdisciplinary researchers ranging from
  • ARPANet built, under guide of psychologists Licklider and Taylor
  • Douglas Engelbart releases oNline System
  • Due to TCP/IP, Internet created
  • World Wide Web Initiative launched
  • Search Engine Market effectively cornered by Google
  • Web 2.0 term coined, launching of social networking websites
  • The Web 2.0


    Increasingly all data is on the Web: a universal information space

    The "Web 2.0" is the use of the Web as a platform for applications that enables a more radically democratic and participatory Web

    What is the break point for the full realization of the Web?

    Web Science Initiative

    Prabhakar Raghavan, chief scientist of Yahoo! Research: Moving beyond the current notion of Web 2.0 demands research advances that straddle the boundaries between computational and social sciences WSRI Logo

    Web Science Research Initiative brings together computer scientists, sociologists, entrepreneurs, and government representatives to do multidisciplinary research body to examine the World Wide Web.

    WSRI studies diagram A joint effort between MIT and Southampton, should be getting interest by funding bodies, but...

    What is Web Science?

    The Web is an engineered space created through formally specified languages and protocols. However, because humans are the creators of Web pages and links between them, their interactions form emergent patterns in the Web at a macroscopic scale. These human interactions are, in turn, governed by social conventions and laws. Web science, therefore, must be inherently interdisciplinary; its goal is to both understand the growth of the Web and to create approaches that allow new powerful and more beneficial patterns to occur.
    Creating a Science of the Web Tim Berners-Lee, Wendy Hall, James Hendler, Nigel Shadbolt, Daniel J. Weitzner
    Science Vol. 313, Aug. 2006

    Why the Web took off

    In contrast to previous hypertext systems ranging from Nelson's Xanadu to Dexter, the Web succeeded because it let users link to other sites without a centralized link database, and had a low-barrier of entry via HTML and HTTP.

    Metcalfe's Law Metcalfe's Law (The Network Effect) show a critical mass of connectivity after which the benefits of a network grow larger than its costs. Lowering barrier of entry helps this, and so does letting everyone contribute.

    From Consumers to Producers

    Originally, difficult to create web-pages, but sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Myspace allow people to easily create homepages and links.


    Wikis and blogs allow users to easily create content, Flickr lets users easily add photos, and del.icio.us and other tagging systems lets users organize their own Web data

    The Web 2.0 is the historic moment when everyone can make content for the Web

    Google: Breakpoint for the Web?

    Without a centralized link database, one had to be created post-hoc by search engines.

    Google Google: Estimated half a million servers run the most hegemonic information management company in history. Wal-mart

    Google has co-operated with China as regards censoring, concerns over privacy via their persistent cookies.

    Google Maps, Google Spreadsheet, GoogleDocs...who do you trust with your data? Why can't we all control our own data in a decentralized manner?

    Walled Gardens 2.0


    Google's openSocial is dependent on Google hosted technology, whose ToS including adding Google ads, and using ties Google into your application - is this an open standard ?

    Why open-source behind closed servers?

    Why not open source and open data for all?

    Power Laws and the Long Tails

    But is centralization the only way? Power Law

    A power-law is produced by any complex system consisting of decentralized agents.

    More and more of the value of the Web is in the long tail. Between 40% and 25% of Amazon's ales come from the long tail Chris Anderson in The Long Tail

    The way to build long-term growth and productivity is to focus on increasing productive relationships between membership of the long-tail.

    The Terrorism-Industrial Complex

    Europe is already a long-tail based economy - 99% of the corporations in Europe are Small-and-Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and 50% of the economic value of Europe.

    Ninth Ward

    Certainly not nepotism toward already large corporations who do not need government financing to start with, in order to "fight terror" or build the "next Google"

    SME-based digital ecosystems will likely be applied with great success outside Europe as well - see work of Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. Addresses root causes of terrorism - i.e. poverty and inequality.

    The European Web 2.0

    Will the European Union simply repeat the American Model?

    Likely to fail - the venture capital phenomenon just does not exist in Europe.Paul Graham


    Europe must do something different that capitalizes on its large, diverse, SME-based business eco-system via government-sponsored research and development.

    The Digital Ecosystems wasn't included in WP2007-2008. Why?

    SMEs 2.0

    Digital Business Ecosystems can be like a decentralized Facebook or Myspace for businesses Conbuzz

    The needs of businesses are much more complex than teenagers...

    The Web 3.0: The Semantic Web and Beyond


    A host of new start-ups, including Metaweb's Freebase, Radar Network's Twine...

    These start-ups exploit semantics and structured data.

    Can Europe seize the lead of the next generation of the Web?

    Collective Intelligence

    If we are committed to the process of collective intelligence, we will gradually create the technologies, sign systems, forms of social organization and regulation that enable us to think as a group, concentrate our intellectual and spiritual forces, and negotiate practical real-time solutions to the complex problems we must inevitably confront. We will gradually learn ... to collectively invent ourselves as a species.

    Pierre Levy in Collective Intelligence pierre

    No Eco-system is an Island


    Man has still within him sufficient resources to alter the direction of modern civilization, for we then need no longer regard man as the passive victim of his own irreversible technological development.

    Lewis Mumford in The Next Transformation of Man

    Earth from Space, Apollo 17, 1972

    Including Digital Ecosystems


    Man has still within him sufficient resources to alter the direction of modern civilization, for we then need no longer regard man as the passive victim of his own irreversible technological development.

    Lewis Mumford in The Next Transformation of Man

    Visualization of World Wide Web, by G. Laugehead