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Friday, January 31, 2003

Feed for thought
New additions to the glossary can now be read from this RSS 2.0 feed. Today's three additions were digital identity, REST and WS-I. As this selection illustrates, the glossary will aim to cover important concepts as well as technologies and other acronyms of note.

The introduction of the RSS service marks the production launch of the glossary, now that the core infrastructure has been created and tested. Its currently narrow scope will be expanding over the next few weeks with a steady flow of new entries over the next few weeks. A small redesign of the site home page in the coming week will allow us to list new additions there too, for the convenience of site visitors who don't use an RSS news reader.

As described earlier this week in the site diary, the glossary has been designed so that definitions are easily accessible in one of three ways: by typing a short URL in your browser's navigation bar, using a bookmarklet, or via a simple HTML form.
posted by Phil Wainewright 1:06 PM (GMT) | comments | link

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Google AdWords work
It's almost midnight. Your wife's plane landed at Heathrow over an hour ago, but due to severe weather and staff shortages, she's still waiting for it to get to a gate so she and the other passengers can disembark. Meanwhile, public transport has shut down and none of the car services you've tried have any drivers available. How do you get her home from the airport?

The modern professional turns to Google, of course. But this is the kind of situation that really emphasizes Google's shortcomings (exactly the kind of shopping experience Dan Bricklin has devised SMBmeta to help deal with). What keywords can I use to home in on a trustworthy car service that will take my booking at this time of night and get a driver there in time for whenever the airline and the airport get their act together sufficiently to disembark flight number BA875?

A cursory glance at some of the sites found in "Results 1 - 10 of about 16,200" does little to inspire any confidence that anyone is even going to pick up the phone, let alone provide the required service. But then I notice the ad that appears at the top of the green 'sponsored links' boxes over on the right-hand side: "24 Hour Chauffeur Drive, Heathrow Gatwick Luton Stansted, Amex Visa Master 1-7 passengers".

I wouldn't have picked this company on the strength of their website (it's decent enough but unprepossessing), but here's the train of thought that goes through my mind on seeing their ad: They've got an adwords account so they're obviously still trading ... They've included 24 hour as one of their keywords (that's the British version of what Americans call 24/7) so there's probably someone there .... If they're savvy enough to be using Google AdWords, there's a fair chance they're a reputable business.

A few moments later, Abdul at Parkward had taken my booking, and two hours later, I'm happy to say my wife has arrived safely home after a pleasant, professional ride back from Heathrow.
posted by Phil Wainewright 6:38 PM (GMT) | comments | link
A sudden dearth of news
As if to confirm the decline from a peak of hype, there seems to be a sudden lack of news stories in the tech press about web services. Google News, which is my main yardstick for measuring this, links to just 950 stories with "web services" in the text during the past month. That may sound a lot, but it's well down from the norm last year.

Meanwhile, two other usually robust sources have fallen quiet. InfoWorld's clean and slick new redesign appears to have bypassed its topic-specific RSS feed of web services-related stories. This always was an unofficial feed, never publicized anywhere on the title's site. But now it's inoperative too, having stalled at the last stories that were published ahead of the new look. I have a suspicion that InfoWorld is also running fewer web services-related stories since the redesign, because the title hasn't seemed to crop up with its usual frequency on the Google News search these past two weeks.

WebServices.Org can normally be relied on to step into the gap, but the site sometimes pauses for a day or two, and it's now into the second day of its current hiatus. The net result is that the Loosely Coupled news page has been looking a bit static this week, with most of the action happening in the right-hand sidebar, where we publish our own selection of notable stories (which we also include here in the weblog and on the home page).

At one time, NetworkWorld offered an RSS feed that could be tailored to specific topics, but there wasn't a great deal of energy behind that initiative either, and all mention of RSS now appears to have disappeared from the title's site. At least searchWebServices remains a good source of general articles on the topic, but its business model is such that the site doesn't offer an RSS feed either, as it depends on traffic visiting its own pages before ending up at the cited articles.

All of this gives food for thought on how to refine Loosely Coupled's own news offering, which to date has relied on republishing headlines of web services-related content from publications and selected weblogs that offer RSS feeds. We probably now need to look at some more sophisticated filtering and aggregation (either that or license Google's) in order to present a fuller service. But our main emphasis will be on publishing our own articles, a development that's been in the pipeline for several months now, and which will be going live next week. Rest assured there will be an RSS feed of links to those stories. At least we'll know that if no one else is writing about the topic, we'll be able to count on having fresh content of our own to feature.

If web services does need an obituary, then a special report published yesterday on CNET does a good job of describing what the technology originally set out to do and how it has evolved, with a good set of links to related archive material. But since the article is headed Web services finds new life as corporate bridge, it seems safe to conclude that it's premature to begin spreading rumors of its demise. The topic may have become less newsworthy, but the technology itself is becoming more worthy of serious consideration.
posted by Phil Wainewright 9:30 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Phases of web services maturity
Three distinct groups each have separate perceptions of where web services sit on the Gartner hype cycle. Developers are already well past the peak of expectations and plunging towards the trough of disillusion, as they discover the unpredicted pitfalls surrounding real-life implementations. IT architects have just climbed over the peak and have caught their first glimpses of the unfathomed darkness below. Business strategists, meanwhile, are still enthusiastically climbing towards the initial peak of optimism, with no inkling as yet of the challenges that lie beyond.

This was the intriguting perspective contributed to a lunchtime discussion today by Peter Bell, from Microsoft UK's .Net and developer management team. Peter was one of three experts brought together for the event by DataDirect Technologies, one of those behind-the-scenes companies that have a low profile in this industry and yet form an important part of the core software infrastructure. DataDirect makes drivers that connect applications to databases, and has played a strategic role in the development of ODBC and JDBC technologies working with, respectively, Microsoft and Sun.

Given how close DataDirect is to all the main players in the database market, it was interesting to hear Brian Reed, the company's VP of strategic planning, declare that "all the database vendors are implementing XML in different ways — it's a bit like the early days of SQL." It's not really a surprise to hear this, but it is useful to have it confirmed by an informed source. Evidently XML is going to enter into its own period of disillusion when people start actually using it in earnest rather than just talking about how it's going to transform IT.

Another interesting view came from David Norfolk, from Application Development Advisor, who was one of the media invitees at the lunch. He raised the issue of IT governance, in particular the question of how developers can vouch for the reliability and consistency of an application if some of the components are services provided from third party sources. This of course raises important questions about contractual relationships, quality of service measurement, service-level guarantees, independent verification of trustworthiness, and host of other legal and commercial considerations relating to web services. The fact that David brought up this point I felt supported Peter Bell's suggestion that developers are well past the starry-eyed anticipation phase and into the detail of what's really needed to implement web services.

To coincide with the briefing, DataDirect released the results of a survey of web services adoption in Europe, which you can read more about if you're interested in Catherine Everett's report in online title the inquirer. Security once again leapt out as the main barrier to adoption, although as David pointed out, the actual wording in the survey was "fear of security" rather than "lack of security". Personally, I think what this really means is that people feel insecure about web services, not that they feel web services are insecure.

To round off the session, DataDirect's Paul Hessinger asked each of the experts to comment on whether they thought web services will still be hot in two years' time. The three experts — Peter Bell, Brian Reed and Bloor Research analyst Tony Lock — were unanimous. They all believed the technology will still be important, but that it won't be a hot topic any more ... just part of the landscape. In Gartner terms, that means it will have ascended the 'slope of enlightenment' and begun to settle down on the 'plateau of productivity'. Though whether that applies to all three of the groups cited by Peter or just the first wave of them wasn't discussed.
posted by Phil Wainewright 2:55 PM (GMT) | comments | link
Twisted grids
I was going to write a worthy piece explaining what grid computing is all about until I read IBM's press release and began to chuckle. The end result was an ASPnews column about grid's moment of hype: ""Grid computing is not as tightly integrated as a cluster, but nor is it as loosely coupled as a network. It's somewhere in between the two. Alternatively, if you're in marketing, it's anything between the two."

I suspect we're going to be hearing a lot about grid computing this year, but unfortunately most of it is going to be complete and utter garbage. IBM is in danger of applying the grid word to just about everything, with exactly the same results that Microsoft achieved by applying the .NET label to just about everything.

Perhaps the problem is the word 'grid' itself, which has too much of a connotation of a fixed, rigid structure. The truth is that grid computing does have a legitimate role at every level from clustering all the way to networking, but rather than being an alternative to either of these things, it's a software construct that layers on top of them or on top of any other computer network architecture.

Not so much a new form of computing then, as a tool to enhance the computing we already have (hmm, perhaps it really is a virtual philosopher's stone that can turn lead into gold).
posted by Phil Wainewright 1:31 AM (GMT) | comments | link

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