Cooling Down Web Science

Sarven Capadisli1
Document ID
CC BY 4.0


The content of this ‘paper’ plays a secondary role, whereas the medium in which it is consumed through comes first. The characteristics of the medium has the most social and technical implications for the Web science community, whether the audience is reading this on a screen or printed paper, listening to a screen reader, watching a movie, taking part in presentation, or even interacting with the document. Our quest is for the research community to re-examine the current practices for scholarly publishing and communication: which mediums and behaviours for consumption and publication of information will benefit its ecosystem?

General Terms

  • Human Factors
  • Theory


Categories and Subject Descriptors

  • H.1.2 [Information Systems]: Human information processing
  • H.4.m [Information Systems Applications]: Linked Data
  • H.5.3 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: Web-based interaction
  • I.7.4 [Document and Text Processing]: Electronic Publishing


Some context: In the 1967 book, The Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan wrote that at the high speeds of electric communication, purely visual means of apprehending the world are no longer possible; they are just too slow to be relevant or effective [1]. While McLuhan’s critique was on the overall position of the print media given the electric age, it stands especially valid today in the age of interactive new media. For instance, the World Wide Web is a cool media because its access, multi-linearity, and interactive possibilities offers multi-sensory and emotional states for individuals. This is in contrast to the print, where it is considered to be a hot media demanding primarily the full attention of our vision. As the printed word’s requirement for the other senses is minimal, it spoon-feeds the content to the reader in a l-i-n-e-a-r fashion. The literate or print culture is passive and is detached from immediate involvement because the medium has no such requirements. The cooler media on the other hand, requires a greater level of engagement from the audience at a faster rate. The speed up in media allows us to detect change better and consequently what we do best; pattern recognition. The Gestalt’s laws of grouping for instance, describes principle perceived stimulus based on certain rules.

The new media, like the Web, offers extensible interactions, creative participations, and social engagements. There is a natural human desire to connect and exchange memes with others, as well as to co-create. Given these opportunities, the fundamental question to ask here is, why should research communication in Web science be limited to, evaluated by, and rewarded on the archaic methods and artificial practices? The methods in question which are still used date back to the invention of the mechanical movable type printing press (circa 1450), even in the advent of the globally accessible medium and villages that are at our fingertips, vocals, and presence, at much faster turnaround time for publication to consumption than ever before. The artificial practices correspond to the publication workflows that are in place for majority of the Web conferences and journals. Naturally one wonders, what does it mean to have an academic achievement through a “publication”? If the Web can be purposed for greater possibilities than that of print alone, then we urgently need to address the question, what constitutes a scholarly article in Web science?

Today, it is evident that the typical publishing scenario for scholarly knowledge in Web science predominantly requires strict adherence to the printability aspects of the information e.g., page length, typographical guidelines. That is, all of the encompassing data for any given research and development, i.e., noteworthy items which the researcher knows, wants to communicate and demonstrate, must be channeled through the characteristics of the print media. In practice, this leads the research community to use tools that are tailored solely for printing or viewing (on screen). This (sticking to print) leads to unnecessary information loss or arbitrary filtering of the content, where it can be otherwise preserved via appropriate mediums, if and only if it can be demonstrated that such initiatives are of benefit to the academic community. Since print is one possible way to represent and communicate the information, it is worthwhile to investigate and employ alternative or complimentary representations that are more appropriate given the qualities of the Web. As document formats like PDF and Word - which are primarily designed and destined for printing and physical distribution - circulate in scientific circles and on the Web, we can make one observation: such formats, on the hot end of the media spectrum, are trying to exist and remain relevant inside a cool medium. An old form trying to remain relevant in the new form. The potentiality of their user experiences will indefinitely remain hampered as it is grounds itself on frozen text content.

This is Not a Paper [2] - an essay with a title as such, we wish we had written 20 years ago, which is still accessible with a single click! - raises a legitimate question whether any journals will exist in paper form within a decade or two. While we can safely answer that question today, our contention is that we are arguably in a better position to look ahead for the upcoming years. There are various emergent social and technical initiatives that are taking place under the umbrella term, Open Science.

At least within the context of scholastic Web science, it is not only compelling, but crucial for the research community to eat its own dogfood in order to unchain itself from antiquated traditions. A distinction to make here between print-first and Web-first is that it is the environment that influences social consequences, not the technology itself. To start in such endeavor, the primary requirement should be placed on the shoulders of the researchers themselves i.e., to use the mediums and processes that it has created towards technical and social progress. By retaining our focus on enabling researchers we postulate better access to knowledge. This is akin to why and how the Web came to be.

With this article, our intention is not to undermine the values of the print-centric culture, but rather embrace and use the new media forms where appropriate.

Effects and Implications

The effects of the mediums - in which the audience has chosen - for this ‘paper’ come first. The effects from these environments determine how the information will be experienced by our senses. For instance, if we are exposed to a screen device, which may be electronic or print, we will be using our vision nearly continuously. We may have the opportunity to interact with this medium by getting in contact with it and influencing its information output towards us. In cases where either the device or information is designed particularly for interaction, the effects of that medium differs to the individual which only uses their sight. A cool medium like the Web offers a higher form of awareness than what would be possible only through visual communication.

The implications of the content of this ‘paper’ on the other hand, come after the effects. The consequences of what the content offers is dependent on the characteristics of the medium. To take a trivial example, our bodily experience of a natural phenomenon like gravity, is completely different than studying its physical descriptions. Similarly, watching television for 6 hours a day has a stronger effect on us than whatever the content of the programs may be. Reading, listening, or seeing Martin Luther King, Jr. give his speech, I Have A Dream, effects us differently due to their resolution or definition for how we get to participate to receive the content. The ramifications of the speech simply comes later. In Understanding Media, McLuhan expresses that it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action [3].

Instinctively, we may ask: 1) which mediums are most appropriate to consume and produce knowledge output from scholarly work? and 2) how may the overall effects and implications be optimized? We will err on the side to not profess definite answers to these questions, but rather use them to probe on how to proceed.


To emphasize, the significance and the objective of our work is to enable researchers. The intention is to move from an individualistic research communication to one with higher degree of participation and cooperation. Only by collectively linking our knowledge we can witness and reap the benefits. This is an imperative undertaking with favourable use of publicly funded scholastic activities.

Issues and Strategy

With the premise that academic efforts in Web science focus first and foremost on print, there is a missed opportunity with what the Web can offer. The pressing issue for the research community to resolve is ways in which it can get back to its roots. That is by returning to the original objectives of the Web: a decentralized information system for scientists. In the same manner, the Semantic Web vision is an extension of the Web principles with more focus on data available from interdisciplinary fields. In A Framework for Web Science [4], Tim Berners-Lee et alii, stated that the Web perhaps more than any other recent human construct carries with it any number of issues including privacy and protection, access and diversity, control and freedom. Structures that we design, engineer and research, and findings that emerge through analysis, will often have strong societal implications. For these reasons, it is sensible for Web researchers to alter their course away from constrained and inadequate media, and embrace what the native Web technologies have to offer.


There are two areas in which the Web science research community can improve on: knowledge transfer and extraction.

Current methods for information and knowledge transfer are done predominantly via print distributions or through their electronic representations. The dimensions of these media formats force the reading path to be linear and non-interactive. This is due to the fact that the media and the mediums that are used to consume the information insists on sequential visual processing. This approach overloads one of our senses while making insignificant use of the other available senses.

Document formats like PDF and Word are typically used to hold and transfer research knowledge, meanwhile, they are widely considered to be data-silos in academic circles. This is primarily due to the fact that they are inadequate for knowledge acquisition as data-mining operations tend to be complex with relatively minimal gains. Consequently, they have a crippling effect - knowledge that goes in, is difficult to get back out. Even still, submissions of academic articles are requested to be in such formats. In the case of paper submissions in Web science, this naturally creates a backwards momentum i.e., becoming increasingly problematic and costly to retain and reuse the knowledge which was once created.

While PDF, Word, and EPUB, for instance, are welcome on the Web, they are not native to the Web technology stack. Moreover, in the neighborhood of Information or Web science, such formats are not machine-friendly documents, i.e., due to their packaging - where a binary file merging structural, presentational, and behavioural layers - and often disconnected from other knowledge, due to policy, cost, or technical reasons. Relations between the information on a granular level do not exist, thus increasingly making it difficult to acquire knowledge which would be otherwise better human and machine-accessible. To use a trivial example, we cannot precisely search or query for hypothesis across the articles, automate their linkages, compare or conduct similarity analysis among them. A semantic network of research articles do not exist.


Our strategy includes three areas: intentions, stakeholders, and results.

What do we aim to accomplish? To collect concrete evidence that Web-first approach in Web Science research is a worthwhile endeavor. This is by means of first and foremost enabling researchers to share their work in ways that are more human and machine-friendly than the ‘state of the art’. Better for humans in terms of using richer media that can help researchers to both communicate and educate their readers. When the underlying content is disseminated in a way that is machine-friendly, it can help us to detect patterns in research, interlink atomic components, and build smarter systems to expand the field at a faster rate.

Who is trying to do it and for the benefit of whom? A Web science research community, by the researchers, for the researchers.

How do we know whether we are making progress and when we have succeeded? Perhaps this can be addressed by posing a series of questions: Are we observing notable changes in the research community as far as how research knowledge is transfered and extracted? Are the discussions for improvement taking place in public? Are the researchers and their institutions ultimately in control of their scholarly communication? Is it published for free, publicly accessible and can be consumed for free? Can we identify missing gaps in research, or areas for future exploration? What can we tell about the ongoing body of research that we were not able to tell before?

One possible solution path is by ensuring that researchers, conference organizers, and academic institutions work together from their respective areas:

The researchers in Web science can contribute by taking full responsibility in the creation and publication of their results. It is also by making sure that they take all the necessary measures to best transfer their knowledge using the Web e.g., linking their arguments and citations to others' on a granular level, interactive story-telling or experimentation possibilities for their readers. Moreover, researchers should take special care to ensure URI persistence and archiving of their work.
Conferences and Journals
Both conferences and online journals should encourage and accept research publications which use native Web technologies. There should be a completely transparent peer-review process. Aggregation or proceedings of the events should be machine-friendly and archival measures should be taken in addition to that of researchers.
Given sufficient evidence of the Web science community’s acknowledgement of research and its contributions, academic institutions should officially acknowledge such work towards academic credit.

Irrespective of conferences, journals, and academic institutions being on board, researchers can take initiative by taking full control, ownership, and responsibility of their own knowledge, and have their contributions accessible to the society at maximum capacity. By starting with the Web-first approach, researchers and developers retain the opportunity to communicate their work through different mediums. On the other hand, if print-first approach is undertaken, it creates technical barriers to not only move the content into other media, but also blockade the use of enriched communication methods. For instance, the user experience of the printed word is fixed and does not allow the reader to explore further than what it visually made available by the authors. Only a single opportunity is given to comprehend the work. Today, in light of our accessibility to hypermedia, print-centric research communication remains to be an archaic way of consuming knowledge. We can do better.


We propose the acid test as mentioned in Enabling Accessible Knowledge [5] to improve the state of scholarly articles and communication. This acid test does not mandate a specific technology, therefore the challenge can be met by different solutions.

Linked Research [6] is an endeavour to pass this test, as well as to identify new areas in which academic publication and communication can be improved. The idea is for Web researchers to use the technologies in the native Web stack to access, share and discover knowledge. The Call for Linked Research [7] aims to encourage the “do it yourself” behaviour for sharing and reusing research knowledge using a workflow template. dokieli is an implementation of Linked Research and is publicly available [8] [9]. This ‘Paper’ is a Demo [10] demonstrates some interaction possibilities.

On the technical end, Linked Research approaches the implementation of semantic publication based on the most used and open international standard: HTML. For the most part, HTML is how people interact with the Web. It has a strong track record since 1989, and has yet to fail. It revolutionized in how we can leave the constraints of the print world, and widened the possibilities for communication. It provides all the hooks to work with the rest of the Web. That is, we are able to provide different views for the underlying content with CSS, enhanced interactions with JavaScript, and semantic annotation of the content itself through RDF representations, and microformats. It is a declarative approach to implementing the model–view–controller for scientific publications with progressive enhancement strategy in mind. Linked Research is intended to meet the authoring requirements of researchers, as well as to cross-link their knowledge with that of the others. In essence, contributing back to the Web at highest-fidelity. The return for the researchers in Web science is that, true access to community’s knowledge at a granular level. Consequently, it provides the framework to use mediums that are far more involving than the literate world alone. The intention here is to encourage compelling and effective research communication; going from static to dynamic information dissemination and use.


The question of which medium to use for research articles needs to be taken into consideration because it can remarkably impact how we receive the communicated message.

The physical or digital print based research places emphasis on the visual, meanwhile a comprehensive use of the Web enables a social and integrated experience. The cooler media enables us to cross-link intellectual relations.

We have been so overly concerned about restraining ourself to printable research, and the content within that frame, we have completely neglected on how that actually affected us. If we adapt to a holistic approach to using our senses, we can be more effective as knowledge seekers, instead of allowing the mimics of the past govern our development.

The next evolutionary step in scholastic Web science will be about communication, engagement and co-creation. The clash of the document formats will be a mere footnote. HTML is simply a gateway format.

Illustration of Alice by Lewis Carroll - Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the facsimile edition published by Macmillan in 1886 This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes - Morpheus, The Matrix (1999).


  1. McLuhan, M.: The Medium is the Massage, p. 63, Gingko Press (2001),
  2. Burbules, N.C., Bruce, B.C.: This is Not a Paper, Educational Researcher, University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign (1995),
  3. McLuhan, M.: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, p. 9, First MIT Press edition (1994),
  4. Berners-Lee, T., Hall, W., Hendler, J.A., O'Hara K., Shadbolt, N., Weitzner, D.J.: Foundations and Trends® in Web Science. Vol. 1: No. 1, pp 1-130., (2006),
  5. Capadisli, S., Riedl, R., Auer, S.: Enabling Accessible Knowledge, International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government (2015),
  6. Capadisli, S.: Linked Research, Proceedings of the 3rd Workshop on Semantic Publishing Vol 1994, ESWC (2013),
  7. Capadisli, S.: Call for Linked Research, Developers Workshop, ISWC (2014),
  8. Capadisli, S., Guy, A., Auer, S., Berners-Lee, T.:
  9. dokieli, GitHub,
  10. Capadisli, S., Auer, S., Riedl, R.: This ‘Paper’ is a Demo, ESWC Posters/Demos (2015),


11 interactions

Anonymous Reviewer replied on

this paper has some novelty and should provoke debate forcing us to address the question of what a web science publication/output should be in the context of the web(and semantic web). I am not sure I necessarily agree with the proposals - alone - I would also want to add communities of practice and other social forms of dissemination/debate and connectivity (but that is my social science disciplinary bias!), but this seems like a conversation we should have at web sci.

Anonymous Reviewer replied on

I am quite sympathetic to this paper's position that the medium in which new knowledge is shared is an important question. The absence of a study (or even preliminary results) makes me feel as though this work need further investigation before publishing.

Anonymous Reviewer replied on

Metareview. This paper doesn't itself make a sufficient Web Science contribution for inclusion, but we agree that this is an important topic for discussion within the Web Science community and we hope that there will be other ways to take this conversation forward.

Gregory Todd Williams’s photoGregory Todd Williams replied on

I'm also sympathetic to the proposal presented above, but quite honestly found it more difficult to read in this format than a well-typeset PDF. I found the changing background color, gimmicky gradient backgrounds on "World Wide Web" and "print", and the bizarre layout of "l-i-n-e-a-r fashion" which overlapped with the other content, all combined to do a significant disservice to the message being conveyed. Better tooling to produce high-quality printable output from the web-based source would certainly help.

Anonymous Reviewer replied on

Overall this is an interesting and worthwhile topic. Unfortunately the way the paper is written undermines its value. The paper is extremely difficult to understand. The English style is one of a non-native speaker and the reader is left wondering exactly what the writer is trying to say, on many occasions.

The abstract does not help at all. It is really a prologue not an overview of the paper and there is no overall sense of where the paper is going with the issues and generally how they should be addressed. At times it seems that the writer is providing an overview of a research project that he and a team is about to undertake -if that is so, then more on how that research will be undertaken is needed.

Anonymous Reviewer replied on

This paper tackles the problem of print-first publication, where papers are invited for submission that are only in PDF format. The author takes the view that this format is archaic and overly restrictive, and thus doesn't allow for an interactive or cooperative experience.

The paper sets out well the author's thesis and does a good job in communicating what the issues with solely PDF publishing are. The suggestion to move towards more 'Web-first' publishing models that will enhance the research experience, in light of a move towards open science, is a sensible, and timely proposal. Additionally, the author's aim to move from individualistic research communication to more participatory and cooperative approach to research is noble.

The paper states that we cannot directly compare papers' hypotheses due to such information being 'locked' inherently within a PDF/word document, and thus limited to extraction. In section 4.2 it is suggested that machine-friendly data is a way forward here, however I think that this would require a change in culture: how would you propose to bring this into effect?

In general, the proposal in section 5 makes sense: web-first publishing using a work flow model so that this can be replicated is suitable here. However I would like to have seen more on how you would go about changing the culture here - this for me is instrumental is affecting change.

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