Thylacines and Wolves

If you look closely – right now – as we speak – a new ecological niche is opening up in the web.

It is just over eight years since we first saw the read-write web and a little more than three years since we heard about web 2.0. In that time, everyone has been gradually building up more and more valuable assets in the web: emails, photos, blogs, collaborations, videos, social networks. For some of us, a large chunk of our lives now has an independent existence in the web.

But something about this has started to become problematic. Our social assets are splattered across dozens of different sites and platforms. Multiple social networking sites vie for our attention. The result is increasing fragmentation of information and its associated problems – duplication and inconsistency. The world-wide-web has rediscovered that old enterprise bogey-man – integration! (or the lack thereof).

Some recent examples include John Udell asking where is SOA when you really need it, and Loic Le Meur lamenting the fragmentation of his social map.

At the same time a raft of new applications is attempting to address these issues:

  • Google Open Social aims for social network interoperability.
  • OpenID has now achieved broad support (if not success) as a way of managing distributed identity and authentication.
  • unifies message posting while FriendFeed aggregates the receiving side.

The key thing about these initiatives is that they all start at the edge of the integration problem. They attempt to support interoperability by unifying the interfaces to these web 2.0 platforms.

The new player that caught my attention recently represents the genesis of “web middleware” in the form of Gnip which bridges the “air gap” between the Producers and Consumers of the social web. And in a beautiful example of parallel evolution, Gnip makes use of wholly web protocols such as XMPP and Atom to provide the functions which are familiar inside the enterprise as JMS and SOAP. Gnip provides connectivity, message delivery and mediation between different data formats. Pinch me if that doesn’t sound just a little like an ESB. But it lives in and has evolved entirely from the web! This is the IT equivalent of discovering the Thylacine in the new world as an evolutionary parallel to the Wolf in the old world.

The funny thing is that while some middleware vendors are trying to figure out how to colonise the cloud (e.g. here and here), the natives are already evolving into that niche.