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Fixing computer science with web science

In the June 2007 Communications of the ACM (Vol 50 #6), Ben Shneiderman has a "Viewpoint" article that hits close to home. "Web science: A provocative invitation to computer science," subtitled "Here's how it can awaken computer science to the interdisciplinary possibilities of the Web's socially embedded computing technology."

I have written about various pieces that Ben mentions (Web science and IA, universal usability, IBM's services science, as examples) but he has tied them together better. And added a wrinkle that I was not concerned with (until now): how to invigorate computer science programs by adopting the Web science framework.

I am not really in touch with the specific woes of computer science, but I can see how the social perspective would make CS research a lot more relevant. Studying social networks instead of computer networks. Researching e-government instead of compilers. Student projects on sharing animation instead of rendering algorithms. Focusing on users instead of computers.

Ben's other main point is that web science can help create a synergy for more interdisciplinary research. Emerging applications like Web 2.0, universal usability and ubiquitous computing are all natural fits under Web science (that traditional computer scientists would likely say are outside their scope).

Ben ends with: "Visionaries say it is time for a change, but will the traditional computer science community accept the invitation? I hope it will."

This CACM article is not online yet but will eventually be in the CACM section of the ACM Digital Library. Here are the references and other mentions from the article while you wait. (Some links lead to summary pages where you need membership to get the full article.)

  1. Japan Prize Commemorative Lecture
  2. Foundations and trends in web science
  3. Creating a science of the web
  4. A research manifesto for services science
  5. The social life of innovation
  6. Crisis and opportunity in computer science (PDF)
  7. Leonardo's Laptop
  9. Web Science Research Initiative

Other reform movements


I work for a company called iRise which sells a rapid prototyping and simulation tool for developing software applications and websites. I manage our iRise On Campus initiative where we provide free software for educational and research purposes to universities and professors.

I've tried to contact many of the schools listed in the I-School link and one of the key takeaways I've had is that it's not that easy to give away software (taken with the caveat that I spend less than 10% of my time with this project). It takes an enlightened professor who realizes that their old way of teaching needs to change and recognizes the importance of giving real-world experience to students. The lead time for introducing new ideas can be 9 to 12 months as the window is quite narrow during the academic year as you have to catch professors before their Fall classes begin and their plans are set for teaching their courses.

Please contact me if you are interested in finding out more about the iRise academic outreach program.

The June CACM is now online, so here is a link to Ben's article. You will need access to ACM's Digital Library to get the full text.

Greg Bluestein, AP, has an article on another attempt to increase interest in computer science - U.S. colleges retool programming classes - making learning about programming more interesting (more applied, less math focus).