What is Web Science?


The decision which area to choose for studying the Master wasn’t easy to make because of the many alternatives that were available. I gathered some information to find out more about Web Science and what the curriculum could look like. In this post I want to share my current understanding of the term Web Science.


Let us first have a look at some definitions of Web Science:

“Web science is the socio-technical science that investigates how the World Wide Web evolves given the regulations, technology and content imposed, engineered and contributed, respectively, as an effect of human behavior and how the Web vice versa affects human behavior.” – Wikipedia

“Web Science is the study of the technologies and policies that support the co-construction of a linked online environment by a networked society” – Leslie Carr (Slide 2)

“Web Science is an interdisciplinary attempt to understand the Web, and contribute (in a non-purely-technical way) to engineering its future.” – Reuben Binns

All three definitions point out that Web Science is not just about the technological aspect of the Web. The terms “socio-technical” and “interdisciplinary” emphasize that computer science does not cover all areas that need to be taken into account when studying the Web. The following diagram by Nigel Shadbolt shows the diversity of research areas that are part of Web Science.

Web Science cluster diagram
Web Science cluster diagram by Nigel Shadbolt


I like the statement by Sir Tim Berners-Lee that analyzing this huge system of Web pages should be like analyzing neurons in the human brain since the Web is such a big and complex system. It’s an information medium that is made, consumed, and modified by its users all at the same time and that’s why mathematical models alone can’t sufficiently describe the processes that form the Web. Instead, psychological and sociological factors need to be taken into account.

To put it short: Web Science wants to answer the following questions by invoking all kinds of research areas:

  • “How does the Web work?”
  • “How can we improve the Web?”
  • “How can we make sure that its evolution won’t harm the Web?”

Why studying Web Science?

By now, we take the Web for granted and it’s pretty much everywhere. In his video Prof. Nigel Shadbolt introduces Web Science and also talks about the risks and threats that could endanger the future of the Web. For example, if someone could take down a few of the most important Web pages, it could seriously injure the Web. That’s why we need to understand the Web in order to improve and protect it, which I think is a very interesting and challenging task.
The information page for the M. Sc. Web Science program at the University of Koblenz and Landau describes the curriculum. As expected it is interdisciplinary and flexible but have a look yourself. I’m really looking forward studying Web Science and no, I don’t get payed to say that… :-)

How would you define Web Science and do you think this new research area is necessary or just some sort of marketing gag?

Image sources
Thumbnail: Bogie Garry
Web Science cluster diagram: Professor Nigel Shadbolt

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