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Web Services: An Introduction

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After the tidal wave of the Internet, a new phenomenon in computing has just started making inroads into the Information Technology (IT) world. According to Naresh Apte and Toral Mehta, the phenomenon of Web Services will be a dominant paradigm in the coming years.
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After the tidal wave of the Internet, a new phenomenon in computing has just started making inroads into the Information Technology (IT) world. This phenomenon is based on the concept of service-based computing, and it promises us that it can "make the Web work for us" rather than "us working on the Web." This set of ideas, collectively called Web Services, will be a dominant paradigm in computing in the coming years. So what exactly are the Web Services, and why do we need them?

The Web Services phenomenon is about dynamic business interactions blurring the boundaries between businesses, partners, and customers. A complex web of services makes this vision possible. In the broader view of the world, e-Speak is all about services and the ecosystems they reside in. These ecosystems themselves reside on the Internet.

Information Age and the Internet

The invention of the Internet brought a versatile communication medium within reach of everybody. At once, it increased the usability of computers many times over, and became part of our daily lives. People created pleasing Web sites that published information about themselves and the products they wanted to sell. The ease with which different kinds of information could be exchanged using the Web translated into several new businesses, and the dot.com phenomena developed. Suddenly, consumers and the companies they bought products from found a new way to reach each other. Companies deployed a very low-cost infrastructure based on the Web to communicate with each other and exchange information about parts, orders, and design changes. E-commerce, or Internet-based business transactions, are now deep-rooted in the business models of most of the companies.

The World Wide Web (WWW) made sharing and information simply a matter of loading the pages with some special tags on a sophisticated computer called a Web server that is attached to a network. However, the evolution is not yet complete. The simplicity of deploying a Web site led to another problem—information overload. Tons of Web sites sprang up with varying levels of information quality and freshness.

So far, the Internet has made it easy for us to communicate with various entities; however, it hasn't made it easy to accomplish our tasks. Consider planning your trip on the Web.

Trip-Planning Experience

Imagine that you are trying to go to New York from San Francisco via airplane. You will have to go several Web sites in order to find good rates for air travel, car, and hotel. After the travel-related bookings are done, information about the local area (such as weather, points-of-interest, and reservations for local attractions) is still several clicks away. And if you have to make any major changes, such as changes in dates or the destination, you will have to repeat these steps all over again! At each of these Web sites, you will have to fill in your personal information and preferences, and read the fine print for any restrictions. Figure 1 depicts this scenario. The problem is worse in the B2B world due to formality in relations and legal implications for service delivery and quality-of-service.

Figure 1 Frenzied Web interaction.

Let's look at what was difficult in this trip-planning experience. Among the firsts is the ease of use. Because it is so easy for everybody to publish content for the Web, almost everybody did, so Web users found that there was no easy way to wade through all of that and get to the right content. Secondly, there was no central place you could go to get a job done. For hotels, you had to go to various hotel sites; for sightseeing, to a few more; and you perhaps visited a few sites you did not even know existed!

In an ideal Web environment, the following should be true:

  • There should be some known trustworthy spots on the Web for you to go to and ask for whatever you want.

  • You should be able to express what you want in a meaningful way to the computer (and the Web).

  • The choices you get back should be based on your expression/whim/mood at that moment, not on some general profile information submitted years ago. Also, the results returned should be relevant for you and what you are looking for. No information that just happens to have the right keywords should make its way to you.

  • Although the Web sites you find may never have been seen before, they should be able to serve you in a customized way as much as possible.

  • Finally, when you change your mind, you should be able to repeat the whole process in a painless manner.

Of course, some of these sites are present today, with a varying degree of functionality and success. What is desirable is to make them available on a consistent basis. After that happens, experiences such as trip reservations and planning, as described above, would be a more pleasant experience from a user's point of view.

How can we make the Web work for us? The Web Services concept presents one approach. But it is important to first understand the service-centric world that consists of a collection of services that fulfill the needs of each other.

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