Last night was the WebSci 18 conference dinner, where we went on a boat trip through the canals of Amsterdam. There was a huge rainstorm, with thunder and lightning which relieved the tension in the air and allowed us all to arrive fresh to the conference this morning, for the last day.
Today there is a series of paper session divided into themes. I went to a few in different sessions, rather than sitting in on one entirely. The first talk that really fascinated me was titled ‘Tweets, Death and Rock ’n’ Roll: Social Media Mourning on Twitter and Sina Weibo’ by Xinyuan Xu, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller, and Bernardo Pereira Nunes. Xinyuan or Cynthia as she is known is based at the Australian National University. Cynthia’s talk was really interesting, discussing how we mourn celebrity deaths online. There was a real difference in how people were affected emotionally depending on the online platform that they used. Twitter users were more impacted compared to the Weibo users. Cynthia spoke about how they collected the data, in an 11 day period due to data restriction. There was a real spike in interest about the celebrity on the day of their death, and a few days following when they were discussed and their death analysed online. these conversations were all ascribed hashtags by users, to collectively mourn together. This is not something I had thought about in much detail before, so was really interested in the results and the potential for where this research could go in the future.
Another paper that really grabbed me was titled ‘Everybody thinks online participation is great – for somebody else’ by Gefion Thuermer, Silke Roth, Kieron O’Hara and Steffen Staab from the University of Southampton. Gefion spoke about the digital divide, which already exists and how the Green Party want to involve everyone online, but may be left out. There is a real connection to feminism in the roots of the Green Party, so they are also trying to engage women who are currently not active in online participation. There was an interesting divide in the results where different age groups expect the older or younger generation to inevitably be involved online, but aren’t as much themselves. Really interesting work and I would love to see how this research impacts the ways that the Green Party use online participation.
Later in the day, I attended another keynote session: ‘The Future of Semantics on the Web’, by John Domingue, who is a Professor at and Director of the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University in Milton Keynes. John spoke about the history of the intelligent machines following on from Alan Turing’s work, asking ‘what does it mean to have an intelligent machine’? John discussed other inspirations and collaborations which thought about the structure of knowledge systems and linking them to the web. John talked about the different data on the Web in specific forms and the microdata of Schema.org which is on them. John believes that there is over-centralisation of the Web, with a few organisations owning and managing the data, with the users not knowing how their data will be used. John spoke about the FAIR principles for data, going forward to have a clearer future for Web data. Semantics provides a mediating layer, it will keep adapting to where the content is.
All in all the WebSci18 conference has been really amazing. It was an opportunity to hear from people all over the world about their research, to meet other people, and to be involved in discussions about the Web, and the study of Web Science. Amsterdam is a beautiful and welcoming city, and I think everyone had a lovely stay here. Thank you to all of the organisers and to VU Amsterdam for hosting us. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot to think about!