Live from CAiSE’09: The Science of the Web

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The opening keynote for CAiSE’09 was Nigel Shadbolt from the Web Science Research Institute. This organization was started in 2006 to try to understand the science of the web and anticipate future developments and threats. It most certainly was a real pleasure to hear Nigel speak. More than proposing answers, he proposed the types of interesting questions they think about with regards to the science of the web.

One fun question he spoke to with regards to the science of the web is to think about how you handle the dynamic characterization of it? Perhaps it is changing faster than our ability to observe it, so literally how do you measure the web?

As an interesting demonstration of the power of the internet, he mentioned an article in Nature that looked at using Google search trends to track flu outbreaks. Apparently, when a flu outbreak happens, physicians report data to the CDC and it takes about two weeks to turnaround a plot these outbreaks. Google used its search trends around flu related phrases and was able to build a model that tracked the actual instances of outbreaks. When they retrofitted this data to actual historical data from the CDC and saw it highly correlated. Instead of two weeks per outbreak, it took them a day to do this analysis.

While I don’t think this talk was terribly relevant to requirements (though much of their work is), it was still an enjoyable discussion. You can listen to a similar talk by Nigel here.

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