At the end of this video from this year’s Davos (at 2:30), Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposes the need to create an academic discipline — cutting across technology, psychology, anthropology, and other fields — to study and understand the web:
Now Rensellaer Polytechnic announces that it is creating the first undergraduate degree in web science. (I found out about through an email to my son, who was accepted there and is now deciding among the University of Rochester, NYU, George Washington University, and Boston University, plus Case Western, Drexel, and Northwestern…. if any of you have any advice and experience, let me know). RPI says its students will “investigate issues on the Web related to security, trust, privacy, content value, and the development of the Web of the future.”
Sir Tim himself praised the RPI program in its press release. He has also helped start the Web Science Trust.
Of course, there are many good minds studying the web today, from danah boyd to Clay Shirky to Jay Rosen to Jonathan Zittrain. But I agree that it is time to pull together study and thinking and questions under a discipline that treats the web as the enormous social force it is. Says the Web Science site:
Nothing like the Web has ever happened in all of human history. The scale of its impact and the rate of its adoption are unparalleled. This is a great opportunity as well as an obligation. If we are to ensure the Web benefits the human race we must first do our best to understand it.
The Web is the largest human information construct in history. The Web is transforming society. In order to understand what the Web is, engineer its future and ensure its social benefit we need a new interdisciplinary field that we call Web Science.