The creator of the World Wide Web said on Thursday night that the Internet is in danger of being corrupted by fraudsters, liars and cheats. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Briton who founded the Web in the early 1990s, says that if the Internet is left to develop unchecked, "bad phenomena" will erode its usefulness.
Berners-Lee's creation has transformed the way millions of people work, do business and entertain themselves.
But he warns that "there is a great danger that it becomes a place where untruths start to spread more than truths, or it becomes a place which becomes increasingly unfair in some way."
He singles out the rise of blogging as one of the most difficult areas for the continuing development of the Web, because of the risks associated with inaccurate, defamatory and uncheckable information.
Berners-Lee believes devotees of blogging sites take too much information on trust.
"The blogging world works by people reading blogs and linking to them. You're taking suggestions of what you read from people you trust. That, if you like, is a very simple system, but in fact the technology must help us express much more complicated feelings about who we'll trust with what," he said.
The next generation of the Internet needs to be able to reassure users that they can establish the original source of the information they digest.
Berners-Lee was launching a new joint initiative between Southampton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create the first degree in Web science. The two schools hope to raise the standards of Web content.
"Our plan would be to run similar courses on either side of the Atlantic," said Wendy Hall, head of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science.
It is little more than a decade since the Web was just a glimmer in the eyes of a handful of scientists, but Internet-savvy students will get the chance to study online phenomena like Google.
The vision for Web science embraces traditional technology subjects such as computer science and engineering, but also brings in other areas of social studies and academic thinking. Students will be expected to explore questions such as Internet privacy and regulation, as well as investigating the social trends behind massively popular Web sites like MySpace.com and YouTube.com.
Prospective researchers will be encouraged by new figures that indicate that the Web is growing at an unprecedented rate, having doubled in size in less than two-and-a-half years, and with more than 1 billion people around the world now connected to the Internet.
The new discipline is expected to gain widespread support from huge Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo and Amazon, as well as more traditional computing giants such as Microsoft and IBM. The ultimate task for students of Web science will be to come up with the next generation of the Internet -- and bring about the "semantic Web," a more intelligent version of the systems we use today.
But Berners-Lee said that his only intention was to make sure the Internet of the future remained free and open for anybody to use.
"We're not going to be trying to make a Web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do," he said. "The really important thing about the Web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space."