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Web Services Now and When
By Clint Boulton

November 30, 2004

Continued from Page 1

Building on the Blocks

Building blocks alone are not enough. Vendors, working under the aegis of standards bodies like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and OASIS, are developing standards to ensure that Web services work together independent of vendor.

While the work pace of standards groups may seem glacial to customers, technical committees realize how important it is to get things right. In the process, they avoid overlap, confusion, or infringement on the technologies of other parties.

This takes time. But as any expert on software will tell you, a schema like Web Services Security (WS-Security) is vital to the further development and adoption of all Web services standards, laying a foundation for secure messaging. After all, when a company’s agent goes out to search for supplies (and another application to communicate with), it has to be sure it knows who it’s about to hand over critical data to, such as credit card information.

Analysts generally believe that when vendors that helped pioneer many Web services protocols, such as IBM, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, commit to a standard and it finds acceptance within the W3C or OASIS, it is locked in. When the 20 or more standards are trimmed down, modified, and passed, the software community will have a complete stack from which to program and build new services.

Who’s Doing Web Services Now?

You’d be surprised how widespread they are already, even while pilot programs are only getting underway among businesses to test how well the agents navigate security and messaging issues.

Perhaps the best example of the growth of Web services is eBay. The online auction king has been aggressively developing its Web services platform by extending application programming interfaces (APIs) that essentially turn its Web site into a platform.

Tim O’Reilly explained eBay’s evolution of Web services in a White Paper published in June for eBay’s developer section:

“We’re moving from a world in which the software that most people interact with is desktop software residing on a personal computer into one in which software is running as a set of services provided over the Internet.”

The auction site’s developer section gives soup-to-nuts information about deploying its eBay API. “With the eBay API, you communicate directly with the eBay database in XML format. By using the API, your application can provide a custom interface, functionality, and specialized operations not otherwise afforded by the eBay interface.”

Since 1999, eBay has offered APIs and now offers more than 100 Web services calls available to developers to build applications that can connect to those services. They include pricing information, buy-it-now features, and payment options through its PayPal subsidiary.

The growth and use of APIs across the Web illustrate how rapidly Web services are spreading, even as technical issues such as security and authentication are worked out by standards bodies.

Online retailing giant is another example. Companies such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have been helping developers build and deploy Web Services and clients for close to four years now. Sun’s J2EE platform, for example, is where developers build on the building blocks in order to access’s selling platform.

As for Microsoft, its .NET framework was launched in 2000 with the next generation of Web services in mind. The 2.0 version of the .NET platform, currently in beta, aims to make building Web services applications even easier. It also complies with the SOAP 1.2 messaging protocol as well as a basic security profile spec for Web services in the latest release.

As has reported, when outsiders build onto eBay’s or’s platform — either via the .NET or J2EE platforms — they often do it in surprising ways that the mother company wouldn’t have considered. This point helps distill the essence of Web services — and why the concept is fundamentally changing the Web.

For example, when exposed data from its Alexa Web services beta program, it kicked off a wave of creativity as it provided aggregated, close-to-real-time information about Web traffic, including the top sites visited and where visitors to one site go next.

“By offering Web services, we let a thousand flowers bloom,” Jeff Bezos said during October’s Web 2.0 conference. “With APIs, we can let the ecosystem develop and get innovative about things we ourselves may never have thought of or gotten to.”

Page 3: Future Forward

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