ACM/WebSci ’19 at Northeastern Brings Together Experts from Many Disciplines

June 27, 2019

On Sunday, June 30, the 11th International ACM Web Science Conference 2019 (WebSci ’19) begins. Held at Northeastern University for the first time, the conference recognizes that the World Wide Web is “the largest socio-technical network in human history” and fittingly presents a diverse program. Co-organizers at NU are Brooke Foucault Welles, Associate Professor of Communication Studies and core faculty of the Network Science Institute, and Christo Wilson, Associate Professor of Computer Sciences and Director of the BS in Cybersecurity program at Khoury College.

“The web as a platform is for everyone,” says Wilson, adding, “It permeates our whole life.” Because of that, says Welles, “WebSci is fairly unique in that it brings together experts from many social science disciplines – including anthropology, economics, sociology, and communication – with computer science and engineering.”

The four-day program, which concludes on Wednesday, July 3, has poster and paper sessions on such topics as “Web content and emotional well-being,” “User behavior on the Web,” “Fairness and equality on the Web,” and “Fake news, non-human actors and misbehavior on the Web.” Commenting on the inclusiveness of the conference program, Welles remarks, “At WebSci, we acknowledge different forms of academic outputs. There are different tracks, for new scholars, more advanced ones, and even undergraduate students.” She emphasizes that “everyone who attends has a hand in shaping the future of the field.”

Keynote speakers present on Monday and Tuesday mornings. Sandra González-Bailón, University of Pennsylvania, who is the author of Decoding the Social World (MIT Press, 2017), does research at the intersection of network science, data mining, computational tools, and political communication. Fabien Gandon, Inria, Université Côte d’Azur, is founder of Wimmics, a joint research team on bridging social and formal semantics on the Web with AI methods.

Both Welles and Wilson remark on Northeastern as an ideal venue for the leading annual conference for researchers in the field of Web Science.  Welles says, “Northeastern stands out as the place that honors and supports interdisciplinary sciences. The university has made real investments in breaking down silos.”  Wilson, who is attending WebSci for the first time, adds that the conference is unusual for ACM because “normally their conferences are attended by 99 per cent computer scientists.” They both view the conference as aspirational, and Wilson says, “Everyone who attends is challenged — CS people are forced to think as humanists, and social theorists confront the tech side.”

Registration is open until June 27, and some spots remain. On the value of the conference, Wilson remarks, “The web reaches directly into people’s lives, and we cannot just talk about the technical nuts and bolts. WebSci has been beyond that for a long time.”