Internet Research, Web Science and Internet Science – what’s the difference?

In October, I travelled to Berlin for this years’ Association of Internet Researchers conference, where I presented some of the key findings from my PhD research.

It was my third time at an AoIR conference, and my attendance tracks my PhD progress quite neatly. The same month that I started my PhD, I attended the conference in Salford in October 2012; in 2014, I travelled to Daegu and took part in the doctoral colloquium (which is a part of the conference every year and I would highly recommend); and this year, I presented a full paper.

Last year, I also attended the Web Science conference, which I had been watching with interest for several years and was fortunate in 2015 to have a short paper accepted. Like AoIR, I also found the Web Science to be a very enjoyable and stimulating conference, through the mix of topics and disciplines represented. I was surprised though that there were not more overlaps in attendance between the conferences. There did seem to be a greater overlap in this years’ AoIR conference though.

Which leads me to the main point of this post: what is the difference between Internet Research and Web Science? Although I have not attended one yet, the Internet Science conference is a more recent development but appears to be in the same spirit.

I recall that when I went to the OII ‘A decade in Internet time’ anniversary event in 2011, Dame Wendy Hall described the difference between Web Science and Internet Science with the latter being focused on “what’s below HTTP” (video here, ~13.30. While Internet Research and Web Science have contrasting disciplinary roots (Computer Science/Social Sciences), both appear united in their scope – examining the interplay of technology and society online. Based on the recent conferences, I am not sure whether the distinctions are clear cut anymore, as research in both communities seems to have increasingly moved into social media. Related to thinking about this, the following papers are also of interest, from the Web Science and Internet Science perspectives:

To explore this a bit, I had a quick go at mapping the papers and authors from the 2016 conferences. Clicking on the picture below will open an interactive version of the diagram in a new tab/window:


Below are Wordles based on the titles of papers presented at each conference:

AoIR 2016 conference paper titles

AoIR 2016 conference paper titles

Internet Science 2016 conference paper tiles

Internet Science 2016 conference paper tiles

Web Science 2016 conference paper titles

Web Science 2016 conference paper titles

Is the distinction valid anymore? Can we do more to facilitate links between the communities? Wordles are a quick-and-dirty way of exploring this, but I have also been collecting the abstracts too. Would anyone be interested in teaming up to analyse them properly and do a paper for next years AoIR conference perhaps? (paper submission deadline 1st March).


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