Winter Issue 2001
     The Newsleter of the Association of Library & Information Science Students (ALISS)

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Book Review: Huberman, Bernardo A. (2001). The Laws of the Web: Patterns in the Ecology of Information. MIT Press; ISBN: 0262083035
By Robert Malesko
January 19, 2002

Bernardo A. Huberman, in the 2001 MIT Press release The Laws of The Web: Patterns in the Ecology of Information tries to explain fundamental patterns that have so far been noticed in web research. Much of this work deals with complex mathematical formulas and notation, for example the following equation:

1 / n where ß = 1

To translate this, and other logical ideas from area-specific language into plain English he uses simple examples, like the statistical samples that show that on the web there are many small pages, and proportionally fewer large sites. (This relationship, and a few others, is the concept expressed by the above equation.)

Further studies that show Internet congestion comes and goes in patterns of waves similar to those found proportions of sites. In practical terms his work may save for an individual precious seconds downloading time if one reloads a slow moving page approximately as frequently as one notes a delay-the congestion will soon pass!

He keeps the tone and style light, but a brief mention of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is about as entertaining as it gets. The discussion goes only as deep as that of one formula can for such a disparate group of study foci; these laws of the internet cannot yet accurately predict what one individual-or even a small world-will accomplish contextually through time. While the studies Huberman draws on make available general patterns of use, these are trends that show over time, and with a great number of instances. It does not serve to predict what an individual's next click will be, or how long it will take.

It will, on the other hand, give a reader a sense of what kind of mileage one can expect; let you know that what statistics are average, and for comparison, what is outside the norm. The simplicity of this analytical tool may easily draw premature dismissal. Though Huberman discusses only three main cases, one could as easily discuss as many more.
The versatility of this model cannot be entirely attributed to Huberman; he did, after all, use a similar approach as has already been tried (and found useful) in statistical mechanics. In exchange, though, he saves the reader the trouble of familiarizing themselves with that particular field if they already aren't.

This book serves well enough as a brief and readable introduction to the concepts encountered in studying web behavior.

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