Sun, Nov 12, 2006 - Page 19 News List

The Web is deemed worthy of new academic discipline

Academics now believe it is important to study exactly what the dynamics of our relationship with the Internet are

By Steve Lohr  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

The MIT-Southampton partnership, the researchers emphasized, is intended as a catalyst for Web science research at universities worldwide.

Privacy, for example, will be one area of research in Web science. The traditional approach to protecting privacy has been to restrict access to databases containing personal information. But so much personal information is already available on the Web, often given voluntarily on sites like MySpace and Facebook, that the old approach will not work, said Daniel J. Weitzner, technology and society director at the Web consortium.

On the Web, Weitzner said, a better way to try to guard privacy may be to develop rules, backed by accountability and sanctions, for how personal information is used by businesses, government agencies and individuals.

Ben Shneiderman, a professor at the University of Maryland, said Web science was a promising idea. "Computer science is at a turning point, and it has to go beyond algorithms and understand the social dynamics of issues like trust, responsibility, empathy and privacy in this vast networked space," Shneiderman said. "The technologists and companies that understand those issues will be far more likely to succeed in expanding their markets and enlarging their audiences."

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