College students have taken Facebook seriously since the social network was founded more than three years ago, and now a growing number of professors are doing the same. As The Wall Street Journal reports, several colleges are offering advanced courses and degree programs in the nascent field of social computing.
As its name suggests, social computing often calls upon sociology, psychology, and communication theory more than traditional computer science. Instead of toying with code, students might explore how MySpace users choose whom to designate as friends, or why Wikipedia contributors volunteer to edit certain articles.
For many students, the field's turn away from hardcore programming is one of its most appealing traits: While computer-science course enrollments are dwindling, programs that accentuate computing's social relevance are doing just fine.
Some colleges, meanwhile, see social computing as a way to bolster their entrepreneurial bona fides. Several companies have invested in collegiate social-computing projects, including Microsoft, which poured $60,000 into "Getting Connected: Social Science in the Age of Networks," a research endeavor at Cornell University.
"There's a strong interest coming from computer scientists and from industry, based on the recognition that, increasingly, computing is indeed social," said Michael Macy, a sociology professor at Cornell, to the Journal. Mr. Macy is directing Cornell's social-networking project — which will examine, among other things, whether blogs have played a role in polarizing people's political opinions. –Brock Read