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Mad, Computer, Web Scientist

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, father of the Web, said his creation has grown beyond the interest of only computer scientists. A new student of the online universe is needed: the Web Scientist.

In a news conference, Berners-Lee, along with a group of U.S. and U.K. academics, said they have formed the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI), a plan to provide a multidisciplinary focus for serious study of online issues.

Berners-Lee, who said he failed to predict Internet search giant Google or social networking site MySpace, said computer scientists, economists, biologists and others need to become involved.

The program, with headquarters at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence department and the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the U.K.'s University of Southampton, hopes to attract funding from private companies, such as Google and IBM.

Berners-Lee said despite the Web's more than decade-long existence, more needs to be learned.

"The Web has gotten so large we need to analyze it," Southampton professor Nigel Shadbolt said. He compared the growth of blogs with biology and a possible topic for the life sciences.

Another example: Google's linking practices could be traced to physics, he said.

Any research coming from the WSRI would be open-source, according to Berners-Lee.

The Web needs to be adjusted for society's social rules and laws, Daniel Weitzner, of the World Wide Consortium and MIT researcher.

"The Web raises a significant set of social policy questions," he said. Weitzner said it was critical the Web develop ways to develop policies regarding privacy and intellectual property.

Several examples were given of issues founders of the WSRI saw as important. MIT is investigating how to create rules governing collecting personal data that can be scaled to the Web.

In the U.K., researchers are questioning how government agencies share demographic data.

In the past, Berners-Lee has championed the cause for a Semantic Web, a concept viewing the Internet as a gigantic database.

The new organization, faithful to the Internet, has a Web site containing background on the WSRI.