The Internet has hit a milestone in its evolution by being endowed with its own field of study, reports the New York Times.
It's dubbed "web science" by Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Web's basic protocols and is a senior researcher at M.I.T., a professor at the University of Southampton, and the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, an Internet standards-setting organization.
Web science goes beyond traditional computer science and into social networks and the social sciences, and researchers say, "shifts the center of gravity in engineering research from how a single computer works to how huge decentralized Web systems work."
"The Web isn't about what you can do with computers," Mr. Berners-Lee said. "It's people and, yes, they are connected by computers. But computer science, as the study of what happens in a computer, doesn't tell you about what happens on the Web."
The Web science program at MIT is an academic endeavor, but it clearly will be influenced by Web-based businesses. Berners-Lee and others want to build more "intelligence" into the Web — moving toward what is known as the Semantic Web — as an area of study that could yield a big payoff.
Web science represents "a pretty big next step in the evolution of information," said Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, who is also a computer scientist. This kind of research, Mr. Schmidt added, is "likely to have a lot of influence on the next generation of researchers, scientists and, most importantly, the next generation of entrepreneurs who will build new companies from this."