The Google blog notes how huge the web is now, with Google indexing over a trillion unique URLs. As they note in the article the actual number of indexable URLs is, in one sense, infinite. For example calendar pages will automatically appear as you scroll through many applications, continuing through the years until..the singularity and beyond. Of course Google does not index many of these “empty” URLs or even a lot of junk or redundant content, so the true number of real, unique URLs is actually well above a Trillion.
I think a fun question is this: What will the information landscape look like in, say, 20 years when we should have the ability to pour *everything* from the past and the present online? Questions might take a different form if we had access to every reference on a topic that has ever been produced. Algorithms will be used to sort through the oceans of content much as Google does now, but with far more precision and better comprehension of the whole mess.
Tim Berners-Lee, the closest thing we have to an “inventor” of the web as we know it today, is calling for more integrated, broad studies of the internet rather than the mostly piecemeal academic work being done now. He’s right. The internet is arguablly the most profound change in human communication in history, and it’s just getting started. As social networking explodes into the dominant socializing mechanism for humans we are experiencing many new opportunities and many challenges, especially as the online environments create new relationships between people, generations, and cultures.
Universities would be well advised to heed this call from Berners-Lee and offer more “web centric” courses, but more importantly academics should be spending a lot more time studying the complex, changing structure of the web. The technical aspects of the internet are fairly well studied in commercial circles. The sociological side is poorly/rarely studied in academia and the commercial sector is still struggling to understand the implications of the massive shift of human activity online.