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The Web Service Phenomenon

📄 Contents

  1. The Information Age and the Internet
  2. The Web of Services
  3. The Ecosystem
E-services and web services support the concept of making the Web work for you. Explore this phenomenon and see how exposing business assets in such a dynamic way is at the heart of the service economy.
This chapter is from the book

The e-service or web service phenomenon is about dynamic business interactions blurring the boundaries between businesses, partners, and customers. A complex web of services makes the Web work, rather than working for the Web. E-Speak makes this vision tangible by providing a services-development paradigm. 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.

1.1 The Information Age and the Internet

In the beginning, there were no computers. People had to do calculations using an abacus or later by hand. Scribes would spend a lifetime creating aesthetically pleasing copies of the Bible. Even news was spread via the town crier. Then one fine day, somebody said, "Let there be computers." And computers were born.1 People looked at computers and said, "This is good." Initially, computers were used for processing heavy scientific calculations. As technology advanced, allowing computers to increase in affordability, they gained in popularity — slowly at first, eventually picking up speed as people discovered more ways that computers could make tasks more efficient.

However, there was still one problem with computers. They could not talk to each other. People had to carry clunky media (disks) to take their stuff from one computer to another until one day when somebody said, "Let there be networking to connect these computers." So computer networks were born. They were rather slow initially, but learned to be quite fast soon. This helped in luring more people into the computer fiefdom — also known as the Digital Age.

Now the problem was that computers spoke some really bizarre languages that only a select few demigods called programmers could understand. That made it hard for normal people to interact with it. There were several attempts (such as COBOL and fourth-generation languages) to make computers human-friendly. All such attempts had only limited success.

Eventually, computers were primary vehicles for not only creating information but also for sharing information. Behind the doors of the physics offices at the Eu-ropean Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), someone said, "Let there be a web of computers, and let it be world wide so that we can share documents easily." This web of computers also had one characteristic not present in earlier computer networks. They used a rather simple protocol to communicate with each other and provided a simple language for human beings to get things done. For a lot of people, this gave birth to a new medium of interaction called the World Wide Web (WWW). The World Wide Web (after going through a period called World Wide Wait) became quite a powerful means of information exchange. The WWW brought digital information exchange to the general public. Email, commonly used in universities and government agencies, became a common means of communicating. 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 WWW translated into several new businesses, and dot.com phenomena developed. Suddenly, the consumers and the companies they buy 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.

The 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 simplicity led to another problem — information overload. Tons of Web sites sprang up with varying levels of information quality and freshness. Making the Web work for you was not really very easy.

1.1.1 Trip-Planning Experience

Imagine that you are trying to go to New York from San Francisco via airplane. You will need an airline ticket, a hotel, and maybe some sightseeing information. You can always go to a travel agency and get everything arranged for you (for a small fee, of course). But if you are lawfully employed, taxpaying citizens of the world like the authors of this book, you might want to save some money by doing this all yourself. So you turn to the Web and click, click. Then you click some more. After about half an hour of click-clicking and keying in your personal data some 50 times, you get fed up and finally take the deal that you think is best.

This is very inconvenient but it does work with a little time and patience. However, now suppose that your project slipped schedule and you need to postpone the trip. Now you need to change travel dates and hotel and tour booking, and because of all this, cancel the jazz festival completely. You go to the Web sites to make that change and — lo and behold — the fares are not the same anymore, are they? You are left with repeating the whole process again, as depicted in Figure 1.1.

You are left thinking it would be great if the Web could work for me. You tell the Web what to do and it returns the results with the same confidence as doing it yourself. Not a bad proposition — an age (Service Age) in which the Web takes your instructions and works for you.

1.1.2 I Am Interested, Tell Me More

Before we let out the secret that e-Speak is about, making the interactions with the Web easier, we first look at what was difficult in the above trip-planning experience. Among the firsts are the ease of use. Yes, the Web made information exchange very easy but resulted in information overload. Because it is so easy for everybody to publish content for the Web, almost everybody did, and as a result, 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 the jazz festival was at a site you did not even know existed until now.

Figure 1.1Figure 1.1 Frenzied Web interaction.

Formally, in an ideal Web environment:

There should be some known, trustworthy spots on the Web for you where you can go 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 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.

The Web sites you find may never have seen you before but 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.

All these features are helpful in making the Web work for you, rather than you working on the Web. Of course, some of these are present in the world today to a varying degree of functionality and success. What would be desirable is to make them available on a consistent basis. Once that happens, an experience such as trip reservation and planning, as described above, would be a more pleasant experience from a user point of view.

How can we make the Web work for you? E-Speak presents one approach. But before we talk about the details of e-Speak, it is first important to understand how e-Speak views the world. Rather than a client-server or a server-centric architecture view, e-Speak views the world as a web of services fulfilling needs of each other and eventually those of the users or clients that use these services.

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