The Study of Behaviour on, and through, the Web: An Integrative Conference

The study of behaviour on the Web presents one major opportunity for collaboration between the social, information and computer sciences, as well as between academia and industry. (I thought this has been captured by Professor Shifra Baruchson-Arbib’s concept of ‘social information science’.) This was certainly my impression from attending a British-Israeli conference, entitled ‘The Future of Web Interactions’ from April 30 – May 2, 2007. My congratulations to the organizers for introducing the participants and seeing the potential for interactions among this group. See: http://www.is.biu.ac.il/conf2007/program.htm

The conference was organized jointly by Professor Shifra Baruchson-Arbib and Dr. Judit Bar-Ilan (Department of Information Science, Bar-Ilan University ) and Professor Mark Levene (School of Computer Science, Birkbeck, University of London). It was supported by Friends of Israel and the British Embassy and moved from Bar-Ilan University to the Tel-Aviv Hilton to the University of Haifa on the last day, which included Prof. Sheizaf Rafaeli, Director of the Center for the Study of the Information Society and several of his students at the University of Haifa. It provided an opportunity to see Israel, hear of developing research, and foster opportunities for more international collaboration.

The organizers focused on ‘both the computational and the social aspects of the technologies that support users’ interaction with the World Wide Web’, including talks on search engines, web navigation, personalisation, web data mining, e-learning, e-commerce, adaptive agents, information seeking, web metrics, the mobile web, human computer interaction, legal and ethical aspects, social implications and social networks. Presentations underlined the ways in which academics and industry researchers are pursing similar lines of research on analyzing networks on and through the Web.

However, given this focus on the Web and its study, I saw potential in progressing this discussion through more focused substantive issues, such as the dynamics of distributed problem solving, the role of the Internet in social relationships, or the ethical issues of Webmetric analyses. But my major impression reinforced my sense that ‘Webmetrics’, ‘Webometrics’ or cybermetrics provides a major new perspective on social research not simply in the study of the Internet and Web, but across a range of issues. There is a need to progress methods in these areas, but also to connect methodologically sophisticated researchers with research on key social issues.

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