The Web as a Platform

Today I’m starting a new weblog that will focus on a discussion that has been gaining momentum over the past two years. As web services gain favor and companies, customers, vendors, and providers begin to communicate via these standardized APIs, we all realize new economies of scale as well as lowered barriers to entry.

My initial “aha” moment was during a trip to Redmond where a Program Manager walked us through a demonstration of the .NET version of Visual Basic and showed how in 30 minutes with something like 5 lines of code he was able to build a simple web application.

The scenario was a CTO talking with his IT guy on a plane ride. The CTO asks the IT guy what all the bug-a-boo over web services is about. Jacking into the net via the seat back phone, he strings together three separate applications that pipe their results to each other to bring back a result that confirms the obvious.

1. Input your flight number >
2. Flight number acts as an input to geo-tracking service like Flight Tracker >
3. GPS coordinates of flight act as an input service that translates GPS to Zip Code >
4. Zip Code acts as input into weather tracking service for radar image of weather conditions.
5. Look out your window and confirm weather conditions

No jokes about Bob Dylan and not needing a weatherman for such an exercise, this was just an example to get the juices flowing. If you think about various web applications as something that can be negotiated with the http equivalents of “grep” and “|” then you’ll begin to appreciate the transformative (and one could say, disruptive) power of this model. Add RSS feeds to automate the connections and it’s like adding oil to the machine – everything starts to run even more smoothly.

So, to kick off this discussion/weblog I’m pointing to Tim O’Reilly’s original posting that sums it up very nicely:

Bit by bit, we’ll watch the transformation of the Web services wilderness. The first stage, the pioneer stage, is marked by screen scraping and “unauthorized” special purpose interfaces to database-backed Web sites. In the second stage, the Web sites themselves will offer more efficient, XML-based APIs. (This is starting to happen now.) In the third stage, the hodgepodge of individual services will be integrated into a true operating system layer, in which a single vendor (or a few competing vendors) will provide a comprehensive set of APIs that turns the Internet into a huge collection of program-callable components, and integrates those components into applications that are used every day by non-technical people.

From Inventing the Future, April 9, 2002

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