Are you ready for the world to change your world?
This is what World Wide Web expert, Professor Dame Wendy Hall, dean of the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Physical and Applied Sciences, asks the Solent 250. The full power of the Internet-driven World Wide Web is yet to be seen she says
The Web is an evolving entity and its evolution will be largely influenced by the needs and desires of its 24/7 users – worldwide and within business and social worlds – Prof Hall told invited diners at the Solent 250 annual awards evening held recently at Lainston House Hotel, near Winchester.
A globally acknowledged Web practitioner and expert in her IT field and member of Downing Street’s Council for Science and Technology, Prof Hall pointed out that Tim Berners-Lee, with whom she works, always stated that he had invented the Web, but not created it.
“Tim didn’t have the time to put all those words on the Web. We (the world’s users) put the stuff on the Web. It is co-constituted. This is a new phenomenon of human beings and computerized machines working together to create new artifacts.“
Prof Hall pointed out that in 1999, Tim Berners-Lee and Mark Fischetti wrote: “Computers help if we can use them to create processes in which people do the creativity and the machine does the administration. The stage is set for an evolutionary growth of new social engines on the Web.“
Today, those words had come true through the likes of Facebook, Twitter and development of the mobile web. “We are still exploring the world of social media. Who would have thought that we would want to put our photos on the Web for everyone to look at? Is it changing society? Well, it is certainly changing the way we do things,“ Prof Hall commented.
Since its 1991 introduction the Web-enabled Internet had progressed from a read-only information resource, to a read-write interactive and commercial capability, and now a social lifestyle usage (“Web 2.0“).
With nearly a third of the earth’s population using the Web-enabled Internet and usage growing daily, Prof Hall predicted that the next evolutionary stage would be focused on the Semantic Web – a web of enhanced usage of world data.
“The world today is all about the data revolution. Now we are at Web 3.0, the Semantic Web.“
A Semantic Web is a smarter Web that links data documents on the Web to analytical machines, enabling users to share and act upon known data more easily, while machines perform the more tedious work involved in finding and collating relevant information, she explained.
“Machines can do amazing things with data and make connections that we can’t even dream of.“ They will be able to get answers to questions, rather than simply supply lists of possible links to answers.
Since 2009, the UK governments and US have operated an open government approach to data and now thousands of data sets are available online, with many other organizations and bodies also following an open data approach.
Prof Hall invited businesses to join in: “If you want to get ahead of the game, start thinking about putting data out about your business. It doesn’t have to be commercially confidential or sensitive data. Dip into this world, so you are not left out, because this is the future. This is how we will build new applications.“
Open source information and crowd sourcing was also becoming a feature of the Web. She exampled how Web sourcing had been used to create an emergency map after the Haiti disaster.
Earlier in her after-dinner presentation, Prof Hall had detailed her personal involvement and provided intriguing insights into the development of the Web. She recalled her earliest meetings with Berners-Lee and fellow Internet pioneers in the early 1990s, the Web’s journey of evolution, and its continuing opportunities for new entrepreneurial applications.
“These are often ethereal things that come out of nowhere. As companies they may not last all that long, but they will irrevocably change the way we think about our world.“
And she highlighted the emerging research discipline of Web Science and related courses currently running at the University of Southampton. “We are launching our first under-graduate degree in Web Science in October.
“They will end up as Web Scientists for you to employ, because you will need people that understand more than the technology if you are ever going to have a hope of applying it with innovation.
“We need to understand the Web better. We have built this amazingly complex communication system that is evolving of its own momentum. There are more nodes on the Web than there are neurons in the brain. We also have to understand human behaviour, because what people do with Web technology, changes the technology.
“We have created something (the Web) that we are now very dependent upon. It is part of our critical infrastructure and we argue that we need to look after it, like anything else we put on this planet.“
Images: Angus Thomas Photography