The internet owes its success to people as much as technology, Tim Berners-Lee, father of the world wide web said today.
"A huge amount of the design of the web is the social element," he told a conference at London's Royal Society of Arts. "When you design for the [internet] there are two pieces to the design. First the hypertext link and HTML. That is the technical side. But then you have the people."
People spend time researching and linking to other information on the internet to make their pages valuable, creating what Berners-Lee described as an economy of linking.
The same principles of making data available widely available can be applied to other areas of IT, he said. "Enterprise software is about getting the data out there [to users]. Just making the data available will allow other people to reuse it and derive additional value."
Academics have coined the term web science to describe the latest research into the collaborative nature of successful web technology.
The aim of the research is to look at what concepts are workable, said Berners-Lee, and what ideas are destined to fail, by scaling up to millions of users. He pointed to eBay as an example.
"When eBay was set up, the designers had to second guess that their star-rating system would work. "Today, this way of rating buyers and sellers has created a scalable trust mechanism at the centre of eBay's success.
Google is another obvious success story. Berners-Lee pointed out that Google did some web science when the founders looked at the fact that people could not find information. Google tackled this problem and changed the web to made things findable.
Berners-Lee said that the SMTP protocol used for e-mail was an example of a technical breakthrough that has shown its limitations.
"SMTP had not been designed to authenticate the sender, so it worked when there was a small community of people but has failed to scale when the Internet was opened up to consumers."
"When we build web systems we should make them scale-free. Scale issues of the web can impact software design," he said.
The Web science research initiative, a joint venture between Southampton University and MIT, began in November 2006, to look at why web inventions were successful.
Wendy Hall, a professor at Southampton University, said, "We just see the web and use it. The time has come to understand how we build systems for the web and ensure social benefits.
Web science is key to building modern IT systems said IBM senior consultant Phil Tetlow. "The scale and complexity of today's IT system are a challenge. No longer do computers work in a closed system. Now they are open.
"Today we understand parts of the web very well but little understanding of how it comes together, to direct all its traits for greater good," he said.