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What is new and coming next in Social Machines?

New book explores the theory and practice of social machines now and in the future

Stock image of online network

A new book "The Theory and Practice of Social Machines" has been published by Springer.  This is an exciting new output from the SOCIAM project in which the Department of Engineering Science's Oxford e-Research Centre was a partner. 

David De Roure, Professor of e-Research, is one of the authors. He commented: "The notion of Social Machines is a powerful way of looking at the socio-technical systems enabled by the Web, like Wikipedia and Twitter. We've learned so much about the theory and practice of social machines in the last 6 years and it's great to share these interdisciplinary insights though the book".

The term "Social Machines" was introduced by Tim Berners-Lee in 1999. Today we see them as networks of people and devices at scale, their behaviour co-created by human participants and technological components. They harness the power of the crowd, with everyone able to contribute - to document situations, cooperate on tasks, exchange information, or simply to play. Existing social processes may be scaled up, and new social processes enabled, to solve problems, augment reality, create new sources of value, and disrupt existing practice. 

The new book is the fullest and most complete discussion of social machines yet written.

"At the Oxford e-Research Centre we’ve applied social machines in many contexts, including citizen science, libraries, music, Internet of Things and cybersecurity, and they've featured in our annual Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School programme since 2015. Importantly Social Machines also provide a model for Web Science - the study of the Web.

We've enjoyed working closely with the Web Science Institute at University of Southampton, with our colleagues here in Oxford in Computer Science and other departments, and with University of Edinburgh – it has been a truly interdisciplinary endeavour, and necessarily so."


The new book is the fullest and most complete discussion of social machines yet written. It is authored by Nigel Shadbolt (Computer Science, Oxford), Kieron O'Hara and Wendy Hall (University of Southampton) and David De Roure, and is in the Lecture Notes in Social Networks series. It considers what talents one would need to understand or build a social machine, describes the state of the art, and speculates on the future. The aim is to develop a set of tools and techniques for investigating, constructing and facilitating social machines. 

The SOCIAM project, which was directed by Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt in the Department of Computer Science, ran from 2012-18 and was funded by EPSRC. The academic partners were the University of Oxford, University of Southampton, and University of Edinburgh.


Image shows Professor David De Roure