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Loosely Coupled weblog

Friday, April 12, 2002

Service grids will guarantee premium web services
Some useful links and explanation from about the concept of 'service grids'. These are networks that guarantee the quality, reliability and security of the web services that they carry (unlike UDDI, for instance, which merely lists web services the same way a yellow pages directory lists minicab firms). The post is prompted by an InfoWorld report of comments by Xerox chief scientist John Seely Brown, speaking about the need "to develop a trusted medium that will foster the willingness of enterprises to open up their core systems to a service model," according to the article. "There may be new entities — service grids as a managed service in the center of the cloud that [can create] a trusted medium," Brown said.
posted by Phil Wainewright 8:51 AM (GMT) | comments | link
What is a web service, anyway?
Representatives of Sun and Microsoft spent a morning in court earlier this week attempting to define web services in terms that would make sense to a judge. Microsoft's attorney was holding out for a definition that accepted the Microsoft-sponsored SOAP, XML and UDDI protocols as core to the definition of web services. But Sun's chief strategy officer Jonathan Schwartz defended a broader definition that regards pretty much any web-based transfer as a web service:
"Schwartz used FTP (file transfer protocol) as an example of a Web service, which in 1990 could be accessed only from a Unix command line but by 1995 could be accessed by a Web browser. He called that an "evolution" of Web services and said it had nothing to do with XML."

I firmly side with Schwartz. Although a consensus is emerging in favour of standardizing on SOAP et al as the foundation of the web services architecture, those standards are not a requirement. The vast majority of functional web services that businesses use today rely on HTML-based technologies such as JavaScript, CGI calls and Java. The most important aspect of web services is not the underlying architecture so much as the methodology of using the web to assemble component services. That is driven not by technology but by technique.
posted by Phil Wainewright 2:57 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Customization, personalization, economy and convenience
Here is a useful article from Knowledge@Wharton, reviewing the differences between customization and personalization, and why neither of them got consumers as excited as the first wave of dot-com pioneers thought they would. One of the paradoxes that I think has to be overcome is that all customers — business and consumer — want all of the benefits of customization, but with none of the costs. They want a custom solution, but with the same price and convenience as an off-the-shelf alternative. The only way to achieve that is by assembling solutions from interchangeable standardized components, and offering customers prepackaged choices with a menu of selectable options. Web services architectures are starting to enable this in software, but it's interesting that the article notes there is a similar trend in manufactured goods: "Automakers realize that for cars to be more customizable, their design has to be made simpler ... General Motors has developed a concept called AUTOnomy, under which vehicles ranging from sports cars to minivans would be built from a limited number of common chassis."
posted by Phil Wainewright 3:26 PM (GMT) | comments | link
First web services doubts appear
After hype comes disillusion. When you see a headline like Web services riddled with problems, then you know the first flush of enthusiasm is over and a wave of negative stories is on its way — even though all the initial idealist claims that had been made during the hype always were unrealistic. This article is notable for its level-headed tone and commentary, of which two examples:
  • "The age-old problems of distributed computing still exist, such as data mapping, transactional integrity, trust and security," attributed to Bernhard Borges of PricewaterhouseCoopers

  • IDC's Rob Hailstone points out the holes in UDDI:"The complexity of building a Web service that looks in a directory to find a function and use it, that is possible, but I still have to negotiate costs, service-level agreements, contracts, and to do all that in an automated sense is beyond the technology now."

posted by Phil Wainewright 1:05 PM (GMT) | comments | link

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Loosely coupled integration in the real world
In the IT world, the word integration conjures up thoughts of shared data stores and real-time access from one application to another. In the real world, the most pressing integration problems are often solved far more mundanely. A surprising number of ecommerce sites still use fax as their back-end integration tool for transmitting orders to suppliers for fulfilment. I discovered yesterday in conversation with Grand Central Communications that secure ftp is still much in use in the financial services industry to publish analyst reports, and among manufacturers to distribute electronic catalogues to their partners. These loosely coupled interactions don't need to be instantaneous. But businesses would prefer the integration to be more secure, reliable and manageable than mechanisms like fax and ftp can achieve. This is exactly what Grand Central brings to the party. Participants can still connect to Grand Central's web services network using low-tech interfaces such as ftp or even HTML screen-scraping, or they can connect using the latest web services wizardry if they prefer. The network bridges the gap between the two, while bringing the interaction within a managed infrastructure. The approach illustrates one of the important characteristics of loosely coupled solutions — they tend to minimize the systems integration work that is required, while simultaneously maximizing the business-to-business integration that can be achieved.
posted by Phil Wainewright 6:14 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Monday, April 08, 2002

Assembling weblogs as a KM tool
Knowledge Management expert David Gurteen began researching weblogs a few weeks back, and his latest email newsletter is full of enthusiasm: "Personally I am very excited by them - particularly as they relate to KM and personal-learning. I think they could become as popular as e-mail and instant messaging," he says. David's website is self-built on a Lotus Domino server, and it took him just two hours to set up his own weblog. But no self-respecting KM expert is going to stop there. He also created a page that brings together RSS feeds from several different third-party sources. "Rich Site Summary (RSS) is a simple XML format ... used to make news items and stories available on other people's websites. But also importantly it can make weblogs available too," he notes. Using RSS effectively turns the content of any weblog into an on-demand web service. Now that KM experts have started exploring the potential of this combination, it won't be long before professional tools and services emerge for RSS distribution and aggregation, and I suspect the weblog will quickly attain mainstream respectability on the back of these developments. (For more on weblogs and KM, see also the K-Logs discussion group on Yahoo!).
posted by Phil Wainewright 6:49 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Assembling on-demand services to automate business, commerce, and the sharing of knowledge

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