There are not many high profile research institutions in the world that focus explicitly on the social aspects of the Internet. Arguably the most prominent but in any case the oldest one is constituted by our friends at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University with a strong focus on the legal aspects of the Internet.
At the risk of being immodest, in my opinion our very own Oxford Internet Institute is currently the only other institution with any claim to really focus explicitly on the social aspects of the Internet and does so with a strong academic track record. In short, there is certainly still a lot of space for institutions with a comparable focus and now just last week Google’s Eric Schmidt has announced that Google is founding and more importantly funding the “Institute for Internet & Society” in Berlin. Its still early stages and details are scarce but Google promises to take a substantial amount of money in their hands to create an independent research institute that focuses on
- innovation and online economy
- Internet governance and policy
- legal aspects of Internet and society
Rumours are that they have a number of strong academic partners lined up (including Berlin universities and research centres) so if this turns out to be a real and long-term effort it could be really exciting. In particular it could provide Germany with a high-profile research base where people who are interested in these issues can come together, such as the OII provides for the UK and beyond. While in Germany there is a lot of research on the social and legal implications of the Internet going on (see my list here), such a central gathering place for information and exchange as well as research is still very much lacking.
PS: Some more information is available in an article by Eric Schmidt for German newspaper “Berliner Morgenpost” (in German)
UPDATE: I have been criticised for being overly dismissive about other research centres on the Internet and Society and rightly so. There are of course a significant number of others institutions with a similar focus. A first overview (though a bit dated) offers a list by OII director Bill Dutton here. However, to provide some perspective to my statement, I was referring to i) independent departments or institutes (not a research group within one) who ii) focus exclusively on the Internet and Society (and not more generally into Information or Technology or else), have iii) a strong academic track record and iv) achieved some status of being known. I would still maintain that not many other institutions have a claim to all that but this was of course not to imply that no brilliant and even better research is being done elsewhere
Since October 2006 I am both a DPhil student as well as a research assistant at the Oxford Internet Institute and here I share with the accidental reader my musings on different aspects of the Internet and society. Feel free to comment or simply ignore :-)
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