Berners-Lee: Web services movement will be a turning point

World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee says the Web services movement could be a turning point for the entire IT industry.

BOSTON -- Tim Berners-Lee hardly needs an introduction. In 1990 he created the World Wide Web and also built the

world's first Web browser. Today, the "father" of the Web is director of the World Wide Web Consortium, a group he founded to guide the Web's development. In his spare time, he's a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Laboratory for Computer Science. In an exclusive interview with SearchWebServices.com at the Open Group's Boundaryless Information Flow conference, Berners-Lee discussed his take on the Web services movement and why it could be a turning point for the entire IT industry.

Web services are getting a ton of attention right now. Do you think the IT industry is over-hyping Web services?

Berners-Lee: I think there is a draw [to Web services] in the long-term, but it's not the technology that's revolutionary. It's not a philosopher's stone. What you're seeing in IT with Web services is about angling to solve existing problems with existing solutions like XML and HTTP, the building blocks of the Web. I've talked about enabling information flow and automation, and the Semantic Web is about that. People are realizing the [important] issue is about automating communications between two companies. Gaining true interoperability is one of the first steps toward the Semantic Web.

So it isn't over-hyped because there's a real need for this. The most important thing that needs to happen now is the [IT] industry needs to find the strength to build more blocks on top of what's already been developed. There's more to Web services than streamlining business processes, but that is important to businesses because of the money it saves.

Are Web services vendors too involved or have too much power over the development of standards?

Berners-Lee: There can never be too much vendor involvement in standards. They only have too much power if there are vendors excluding other vendors.

Isn't that happening right now?

I'm just hoping... well, what's most important is that there're royalty-free [standards]. The large companies are coming around to this idea, but the jury is still out. I hope all the technology will be free. 

What's the worst-case scenario if patents and royalties are attached to Web services standards?

My fear is that significant standards will be covered with patents, and if so it'll just kill development. A lot of these [proposed] vendor patents are ridiculous, but the fear and uncertainty over them is there. The work... needs momentum, and the IT industry sees an exciting challenge here and has a lot to gain, especially since the tech industry is in a downturn. People need to pull together. 

Are Web services vendors too involved or have too much power over the development of standards?

There can never be too much vendor involvement in standards. They only have too much power if there are vendors excluding other vendors. 

Web services are getting a ton of attention right now. Do you think the IT industry is over-hyping Web services?

I think there is a draw [to Web services] in the long-term, but it's not the technology that's revolutionary. It's not a philosopher's stone. What you're seeing in IT with Web services is about angling to solve existing problems with existing solutions like XML and HTTP, the building blocks of the Web. I've talked about enabling information flow and automation, and the Semantic Web is about that. People are realizing the [important] issue is about automating communications between two companies. Gaining true interoperability is one of the first steps toward the Semantic Web. So it isn't over-hyped because there's a real need for this. The most important thing that needs to happen now is the [IT] industry needs to find the strength to build more blocks on top of what's already been developed. There's more to Web services than streamlining business processes, but that is important to businesses because of the money it saves. 

Five years from now, what will be the most important result of the development of Web services?

It'll be the fact that this was the place where the industry established how to make the tech industry royalty-free. I think we'll look back and see this period -- at least I hope we will --is when we established that this type of technology should be open.

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