Spring Newsletter

In this issue …

Latest news about the 2021 Web Science Conference
Announcing our new partnership with Brave Conversations
Noshir Contractor nominated to ICA
Untangling the Web Podcast goes from strength to strength
LAB FEATURE: NUS (Singapore)
PhD FEATURE: Jessica Van Brummelen (MIT)
Recent Publications
Say Hello / Wave Goodbye
Recent & Upcoming Events

WebSci’21 Conference News


Once again the ACM Web Science Conference will run as an online conference this year. The theme is Globalisation, Inclusion and the Web in the Context of COVID.

Web Science is an interdisciplinary field dedicated to understanding the complex and multiple impacts of the Web on society and vice versa. The Web has enabled a globally connected network of individuals and communities, but divides still exist and new ones emerge. Fostering an inclusive and equitable online environment is a persistent challenge. In recent years, this challenge has been amplified by the increasing prevalence of artificial intelligence and the automation of Web-based tasks, as well as ongoing inequalities in Web access, use, and skills.

The conference will call attention to these challenges and how they might be addressed, particularly in light of the ongoing global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing, for example, just how important global collaboration within and between scientific communities has been to swift vaccine development, and the essential role of the Web in timely and effective public health communications.

Presenters and participants will have multiple opportunities to engage over a full week of talks, Spotlight Panels, workshops, social events and “Meet the Author” informal discussions. New events are being added to the programme all the time, and we already have a growing list of Keynote Speakers:

  • Daniel Weitzner, director of the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative
  • Baroness Martha Lane Fox CBE, co-founder of LastMinute.com
  • Jennifer Zhu Scott, Executive Chairman of The Commons Project
  • Matthew Weber, Associate Professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University

The core programme will take place in European time, and there will also be satellite workshops/events in SE Asia and the USA. All sessions will be recorded, so you don’t need to cover every time zone in one day! More details of the presenters and other conference activities will be shared in the lead up to the event. Keep an eye on our tweets via the #WebSci21 hashtag, and check out our website (below) for further updates and registration information.

We look forward to welcoming you to the second wholly online Web Science conference in June.

Registration will be just 50 pounds to attend the full 5 days of the conference.

Visit the Conference Website


WST Trustee elected President of ICA

Noshir Contractor’s upcoming post as International Communication Association (ICA) president will tap into his vast expertise in creating and nurturing diverse global networks as well his insight into Web Science.

The ICA is the preeminent professional organization for communication scholars and researchers from around the globe. It was founded over 50 years ago and comprises about 4,500 members in 80 countries. Building on its past accomplishments, Noshir wants to reimagine opportunities for growth, and as President-Elect-Select, he’s set a threefold agenda to expand representation, access, and unity within the ICA.

“It is our goal to raise awareness of communication as a credible disciplinary landing ground for scholars,” he said. “I see my role as doing what I study, and that is building networks and nurturing those networks.”

Read the whole article

The team at Brave Conversations, led by Anni Rowland-Campbell, has been working on Web Science questions where “the rubber meets the road” since even before hosting their first event under the Web Science umbrella in 2017. They have travelled the world speaking with governments and businesses whilst dragging in unsuspecting “real people” to talk about social + technological issues and the sensitive topics that they raise for all of us.

Brave Conversations continues to be extremely popular and we want to recognise the incredible impact that the team has had in a way that complements and extends what our academic partners are trying to do through research.

With this in mind we are announcing that Brave Conversations (a product of Intersticia.org) becomes the latest distinguished WST Gold Partner.

Visit Brave Conversations

Untangling the Web Podcast

This new series is hosted by Web Science expert, Northwestern University professor and President-Elect-Select of the International Communication Association (ICA), Noshir Contractor. Noshir interviews thought leaders in the technology and research space to help all of us (including non-experts) navigate some of the most burning issues in Web Science: the study of how the Web is shaping and influencing our society just as we are shaping and influencing the Web.

In each episode (there will soon be 10 in the series) Noshir invites guests with unique perspectives and policy/research experiences to talk about various facets of Web Science. You can subscribe to UTW on Apple, Spotify and other Podcast platforms.

Through this, listeners can hear about the challenges — and excitement — that comes with understanding how networks of people and machines interact on a global scale. And how we can avoid the Internet fragmenting into distinct “splinternets.”

Visit the Podcast Homepage


with thanks to NUS for this article.

NExT++ Centre conducts leading-edge research into deriving useful insights from heterogeneous data analytics that are sometimes known as Big Data.

The Centre has been working on rich media content analysis and search, live social media analytics for several years. As a result, the Centre develops large-scale systems working with live social media data, wellness data, and question-answering. Besides producing more than hundred publications in leading conferences, the Centre has also incubated two successful technology startup companies — ViSenze, focusing on mobile visual search and analytics, and 6Estates, focusing on unstructured data analytics for finance and marketing.

NExT have been working with three key trends in R&D in IT and applications:

  • The availability of large-scale multi-channel heterogeneous data along with domain knowledge. Computational models have had to be able to take advantage of these data types and channels for effective computation
  • The emergence and dominance of deep learning AI systems for a wide range of applications. Many such applications in vertical domains with large amounts of data are being solved effectively. However, although deep learning methods are found to be effective, they are often criticized for being opaque, unexplainable, and occasionally make big mistakes that humans would not usually make
  • The development of AI systems that are trustworthy and accountable. With AI systems being used in applications that affect users’ daily lives, many governments, corporations, and increasingly end users are demanding these systems to be ethical, accountable, and robust. As explainability is the easiest to tackle, many current research efforts focus on explainable AI.
  • Visit the Lab Page


WSTNet Vice-Chair Tat-Seng Chua

Our Centre Director at NUS (and Vice-Chairman of WSTNet) is Professor Tat-Seng Chua. He has co-authored/edited over 600 publications in support of his teaching and research projects. He has been the co-Director of NExT++ Center, a joint research centre between NUS and Tsinghua University on Extreme Search, since 2010. He also founded the Lab for Media Search (LMS), which conducts regular seminars on Multimedia Information Retrieval and Social Media Analytics. He has regularly hosted summer schools bringing together students from multiple WSTnet universities internationally.

His main research interests include unstructured data analytics, multimedia information retrieval, recommendation and conversation systems and emerging applications in e-commerce and fintech.

When we spoke to Tat-Seng we asked about Web Science and his ground-breaking work on Observatories of social media content. He said:

“These observatories enable us to mine weak signals and to perform causal reasoning to infer users insights from the data streams, with applications in FinTech, food security, and infectious disease detection.”

Learn more about Tat-Seng

FOCUS ON Students: Jessica (MIT)

Jessica Van Brummelen is a Mechanical Engineering student, orginally from Canada, whose focus lay in the area of autonomous vehicles/systems. Like many researchers who end up drawn to the Web Science perspective (networks of people and technology at large scale), the engineering question: “How do we decide what the car should do?” started to morph into other more socially-oriented questions such as:

What are the social implications of the decisions made by the vehicle’s AI?

At the time of her undergraduate engineering research, Jessica was volunteering teaching the Scratch programming language to students across a range of ages when she applied to Hal Abelson’s MIT App Inventor PhD programme.

Several of these earlier threads were drawn together into a research proposal centered around the interplay between mobile apps, teaching children and AI learning. Jessica is now studying for her PhD at MIT.

Her research activities fall into three areas:

  • Working with children/teachers using AI and programming and having them consider the implications of the instructions they give to machines
  • Having the children “teach” an AI and consider the implications of mistakes that the AI can make if it learns incorrectly and who has the power/responsibility to address those mistakes
  • Programming AI’s through a conversational interface.

When we spoke to Jessica it was striking how her work fell squarely into the Web Science domain considering not only the “mechanics” of the technology but also the AI as an agent in the human/machine interaction and the importance of the ethics and perceived responsibilities in that interaction.

We wish Jessica every success in her research and look forward to hearing more about it in the future.

Jessica’s recent publications include:

(preprint; conditionally accepted to be presented at EAAI at AAAI Feb. 2-9, 2021)

(preprint; conditionally accepted to be presented at CHI May 8-13 2021)

(2020 IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC))

(EAAI at AAAI 2020)

If you would like to nominate a student or have your own PhD research featured in a future newsletter please send a name, an email address and a brief summary of the PhD topic to info@webscience.org.

Say Hello – Wave Goodbye

Steffen Staab steps down as Chair of the WSTNet labs and joins as a new WST Trustee Board member – congratulations Steffen. Emilio Ferrara takes over as our new Chair of the WSTNet labs and is joined by Tat-Seng Chua who joins as Vice-Chair – congratulations and welcome!

We are very sad to say goodbye to Joanna Lewis who, whilst remaining a friend of WST and an enthusiastic supporter of Web Science, is stepping down as a Director and Trustee. Sincere thanks for all your hard work over many years.

Recent Publications 

Unsurprisingly, in this COVID year, when so many things went online, there were plenty of important books about the Web and the Internet, some from within Web Science, as well as journalistic or business-oriented texts that chronicle how technology affects us, and is delivered.

Here is a selection of some of the publications that caught our eye:

  • Anu Bradford, The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World (Oxford University Press), describes the EU’s use of law to extend its global reach on issues like privacy and consumer safety.
  • Laura DeNardis, Derrick L. Cogburn, Nanette S. Levinson & Francesca Musiani (eds.), Researching Internet Governance: Methods, Frameworks, Futures (M.I.T. Press), an impressive collection of methodological chapters from leading figures.
  • Mark Elliott, Elaine Mackey & Kieron O’Hara, The Anonymisation Decision-Making Framework: European Practitioners’ Guide (UKAN), an upgrade of Elliott et al’s ADF data anonymisation methodology to address new issues brought in by GDPR, available for free download
  • Sarah Frier, No Filter: The Inside Story of How Instagram Transformed Business, Celebrity and Our Culture (Simon & Schuster) narrates the rise, and painful absorption into Facebook, of the photo sharing platform.
  • Reed Hastings & Erin Meyer, No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention (Virgin), the boss of Netflix sets out his management philosophy.
  • Mireille Hildebrandt & Kieron O’Hara (eds.), Life and the Law in the Era of Data-Driven Agency (Edward Elgar), an international multidisciplinary collection of chapters reacting to legal, political, philosophical and technical issues raised by Hildebrandt’s 2015 book Smart Technologies and the End(s) of Law.
  • Jill Lepore, If Then: How One Data Company Invented the Future (John Murray), a celebrated historian becomes an archaeologist of the data world, recounting the men and women who created Simulmatics, a pioneering analytics company of the 1960s.
  • Kevin Macnish & Jai Galliott (eds.), Big Data and Democracy (Edinburgh University Press), is an international collection of papers largely from the perspective of philosophy and politics.
  • Charlton McIlwain, Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice, From the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter (Oxford University Press), chronicling the neglected figures who worked to make black politics central to the Internet’s birth and paved the way for 21st century activism for racial justice.
  • Johan Norberg, Open: The Story of Human Progress (Atlantic Books), arguing that the principles of openness that drove the development of the Internet have been key to human progress throughout history.
  • Carissa Véliz, Privacy is Power: Why and How You Should Take Back Control of Your Data (Bantam Press), continues the debate kicked off by Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, by arguing from a philosophical perspective that the trade in personal data should be banned.

Recent/Upcoming Events

  • WebSci’21 21-25 June 2021, Southampton, UK and many other locations
  • Brave Conversations is coming to WebSci’21 and later in Riyadh date tbc. 


Thank you as always for subscribing to the WST Newsletter. We look forward to seeing you in the next edition. If you have any events, courses and news that you would like to share across the WST network please do get in touch via email using: info@webscience.org.

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Best wishes,
Web Science Trust Team

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