In the first part of this series on ‘Doing Science 4.0’ I looked at what Science 4.0 is. Science 4.0 rather than a simple concept is an aggregation of values and processes. Indeed Science 4.0 can be viewed as an evolving culture that is still developing a core identity. One of the influences on Science 4.0 is the use of Web 2.0 technology. Tim Berners-Lee who has been credited as the creator of the World Wide Web is critical of the term Web 2.0 as he originally envisaged the World Wide Web as a collaborative structure and so the collaborative features of Web 2.0 are hardly new. For Web 2.0 to be valid, it would have to mean something more. I think the concept of Web 2.0 as a culture should be central to this validation. The World Wide Web is essentially people connecting with networked computers using a hypertext protocol. As Berners-Lee and Cailliau write in their original proposal
‘HyperText is a way to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will‘
Ironically in writing this article I have used these original principles automatically. I have for instance embedded a hypertext link to the original proposal in the words ‘original proposal’. I have thus linked two nodes in the web – this web page and another page featuring the original hypertext link proposal. I have thus become accustomed to operating within this World Wide Web culture. The reader enters into this culture by reaching this content, by recognising the significance of the hypertext links within this post and by engaging actively with the content. Berners-Lee and Cailliau were working at CERN and were having difficulties in navigating different types of data organically. Instead they used a rigid hierarchical approach to retrieve data that was obviously (intuitively) related to other pieces of data. As well as higher level concepts, Berners-Lee and Cailliu readily identified technical software and hardware solutions to realise their vision. Berners-Lee and Cailliu were working in CERN and living in an intense world of data. They were accustomed to thinking about data types and needing to work efficiently with the data.
The world that they had created enabled people to interact in an entirely new way and like any world-changing technology it facilitated the development of new concepts and technologies. Tim O’Reilly was another important player in the story. In 2004 the IT sector was recovering from the dot.com crash – this is when the bubble of technology companies burst in a quite dramatic fashion. O’Reilly through his company O’Reilly Media established the Web 2.0 summit where in 2004 the participants debated the characteristics of the new World Wide Web that was emerging Phoenix-like from the ashes. They identified 7 key features of Web 2.0 technologies
1. The Web as platform. The web is where things happen. Rather than a company producing a software package that the person takes away and uses, the vendor operates the software and provides a service. The person using the service can focus on their experience while the service is provided through the web.
2. Harnessing collective intelligence. The people using Web 2.0 technology are able to contribute and improve the quality of the technology. An obvious example is Wikipedia where articles are refined and the breadth of articles increases through the activity of the community.
3. Database driven. The data is crucial in Web 2.0 technologies. Having high quality data enables the provider to deliver a high quality service.
4. End of the software release cycle. The example of Google is given where the search engine software must crawl the web continuously updating content to provide end-users with the best experience.
5. Lightweight programming models. There is an emphasis on flexible reusable programming models.
6. Software above the level of a single device. The technology operates across different types of hardware.
7. Rich user experiences. The software is enhanced through the characteristics of Web 2.0 technology discussed above and the end-user will have an improved experience with more features.
This discussion is fairly technical and highlights a difficulty that is faced when discussing Science 4.0 and associated constructs. To discuss Web 2.0 or Science 4.0, a person must traverse multiple areas from technical hardware and software discussions through to sociological phenomenon as well as the core features of the field e.g science. This is technically quite tricky but rewarding if done well. In practice, the entire area is so vast that a single person is capable of understanding only a small part and even of misinterpreting certain areas. However the potential benefits of a good understanding as well as development of this field are profound.
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