A handful of universities are working to build a software architecture and reusable components that can make web applications easier to develop and use.

The University of Toronto said it recently was awarded $2.5 million (£1.25m) by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to work on the FLUID Project, which now is being supported by more than $8 million in funding.

The project involves building swappable interface components for web applications so that universities and other organisations can build applications more easily. For example, the project could settle on a standard way for an application to let users pick a date, such as through a pull-down menu or pop-up calendar, according to project leader Jutta Treviranus, director of the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at the University of Toronto.

"The architecture and tools we provide will help ensure that people building various web applications within a large institution use similar components and make it easier for builders to adapt those components for the individual needs of students and educators," said Treviranus. "The end result will be a library of high quality, accessible, usable user-interface components that universities internationally and any number of large organisations around the world can use, and ultimately a better web experience for users."

Other schools involved include the University of Cambridge, York University, the University of California at Berkeley and University of British Columbia. IBM, Sun, Yahoo and others are among the corporate partners.