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Webology or Information Science?

Sayan writes:

I came across this article on BBC where TBL says “When you look at university courses, web science isn’t there – it seems to fall through the cracks ”

The latter half of the article is entirely devoted to this idea. I think this is a good opportunity for SILS to pursue. Just my $0.02 Love to hear your take on the issue and what SILS is planning to do about this.

I reply:

The announcement from Southhampton and MIT gives a little more background.

I see this announcement as Computer Science trying to pick up all the threads they lost when they ignored anything besides technology. Web 2.0 and News 2.0 and Business 2.0 use technologies but the secret sauce that makes GooTube, Flickr, Blogger, even NetFlix and Amazon work and be worth millions isn’t the technologies — I keep saying.

Kathy Sierra has a nice and timely bit on her “Creating Passionate Users” blog called “Why does Science/math/engineering education education in the US suck?”. Kathy is on to what’s left out and why Information Science done right won’t turn out mere engineers.

In UNC SILS, we like to think we are already there using sociology, psychology, history, story telling, systems thinking, etc starting from a human interaction perspective.


  1. When I saw that announcement about the MIT/Southhampton “Web Science” program I have to admit I was a little discouraged. The article made me feel as if, in the real world, information science just doesn’t exist, this SILS program doesn’t exist.

    While we’re not supposed to be producing engineers, every interview I’ve done as of late, in many cases with leading web, search and software companies, the company wants me to be an engineer. They simply don’t recognize the value of someone with a higher level of problem-solving and envisioning skills. If I tell them I’m not an engineer strictly speaking I kill any chance of getting the job. In fact it’s only through the engineering skills that I can open any door for employment. (They’re all very high on DB/Oracle/Linux/Java/shell scripting.)

    When Google’s Craig Silverstein was asked what sort of education he would want, he essentially answered that he would want more computer science people. Not information scientists, not librarians, etc. But isn’t Google really a company where computer scientists are building information science tools? What if information scientists build information science tools instead? I suppose that niche is the Google of the future, except it won’t be called Google. Web 2.Oh yeah. Anyway, information science is again overlooked, even though Silverstein stated that the most important skill was critical problem-solving skills. What of “critical problem-solving skills” in the web search and organization domain is engineering, computer science? What of it is information science, designing user-first solutions (of which software is but a part)?

    A big gap that I feel remains is to define in positive terms exactly what the contribution of an information scientist is. I’m sure there are good examples but maybe it needs to be done in a more influential and prominent way. While grinding away at my thesis I’ve imagined a project of getting together information science domain experts to put together a sort of collective statement saying what information science is, what an information scientist is. Put it in positive terms. What can we information scientists invent, innovate, modify, improve?

    I anticipate that the positive definition here is quite similar to what Berners-Lee is calling “Web Science.”

  2. Yes, I agree SILS has an excellent multi-disciplinary program. On the other hand I agree with Patrick that the industry is yet to realize the full potential of SILS grads. Frankly speaking my opinion is that SILS is great at making academic connections but needs some improvement to network with the industry.

    On a slightly unrelated topic, I came across this:
    The MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Drive
    The nonprofit institution has launched a five-year initiative to study online culture and media literacy, and its impact on modern youth

    Maybe SILS/SoJ/ibiblio can make a joint grant proposal 🙂

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