Collaboration Under SOA: The Human Aspects

This book chapter from Executing SOA: A Practical Guide for the Service-Oriented Architect shows how Web 2.0 business concepts apply to businesses, especially those enterprises that adhere to the philosophy of SOA.

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When it comes to inappropriate material, this platform supports a self-controlling system in which each user can remove those films he doesn't want to view. In this way, a democracy is in place here in which everybody can become a star if so elected by one's peers. Groups, subgroups, and discussion forums can be initiated by anyone because everyone determines what goes on the site and what changes. Users keep it dynamic, making other people want to visit the site to see what has changed, what new ideas came up, and what new discussion topics are online among one's family and friends or other social contacts. In this way, advertising is mouth to mouth as well as the traditional, electronic way. Other media takes input from the site and publishes information about these stars, reinforcing the attraction.

For companies, you can imagine innovation campaigns presented on an internal platform, discussed, and voted on. Ideas are easier spread than ever before. For any consumer/customer-oriented idea, the ratings, visitor counts, discussion content, and remarks by the target groups provide valuable input and help to determine corporate decisions.

For the IBM CEO Report 2007, the participating CEOs were asked what they considered to be the most significant source of innovative ideas for their company. The results (see Figure 8-1) clearly show that the power of innovation that comes from the direct participation of employees and customers is stronger than what the think tanks and highly paid experts in the research and development laboratories create.

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Figure 8-1 : The power of innovation comes from employees and customers

Besides YouTube, there are several other examples of how quickly ideas become widely known and accepted, and finally turn into a serious business. Consider, for example, a site that offers royalty-free images and graphics by members to members. The contributors are mainly ambitious amateurs who start for recognition reasons. The site has ratings and comments, offers discussion forums, and so on. These build and foster a community of self-help members. Hints and experiences are exchanged around the globe, and thus the quality of the images improves and reaches professional levels. There are rules, processes, and distinguished roles (inspectors who monitor for quality standards and administrators responsible for any "issues" among the members).

As a business, the low prices attract buyers, especially those who would not be able to pay high prices for artistic work (perhaps available at professional sites). The quality level is kept high; contributors are motivated to deliver to high standards; software and technical equipment are available at affordable prices. The community helps to achieve all of that. Normally, in such communities, about 1 percent or 2 percent of the members act as contributors, whereas the rest are mere consumers/customers. You can find a detailed analysis of such an organization and how it developed its business in the iStockPhoto Case Study: How to evolve from a free community site to successful business, by Kempton Lam and Nisan Gabbay (2006), published at Startup-Review.

8.2.6 Summary of Observations

Web 2.0 brings social and technical aspects to the table. For businesses, social aspects are more fundamental and determining than the technologies. The Web 2.0 sites offer infrastructures and guidelines that enable members to participate in a community, which makes them feel connected. The members see themselves as not just employees who have been asked to deliver a requested work item; instead, they feel free to deliver what they think is their best work.

This type of open platform means that ideas often quickly become a hit and spread more quickly than an advertising campaign could. Communities of people with similar interests or complementary interests (the providers and customers of images) merge to make the audience more alert for innovation. This generates well-defined, well-known (due to voluntarily outing oneself) audiences in these interest groups that can more precisely become targets for marketing campaigns, unlike with many other media

People are attracted to these sites because of the common interests they share with the people participating in them. This implies a certain level of motivation to participate, mainly as consumers; but the small number of contributing members is highly motivated to improve their offered products. Items are often posted simply because members want to gain recognition or become famous among their peers. Some of these contributors make it to stars beyond the reach of a site and often act as advertisers for followers.

A site can grow to huge memberships, millions of daily hits, and millions or even billions of value created and traded. They reach the critical mass to become a valued business interest. Recently, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion, and the established professional agent Getty Images bought the Canadian photographers platform iStockPhoto for $50 million. In each case, the new owners leave the platforms, rules, and guidelines in their core because these community-based ideas are what made them successful.

8.2.7 Technical Terms of Importance

From the technical perspective, most Web 2.0 sites have APIs for use by developers of mashup applications. Typically, Web 2.0 user interfaces apply the Ajax technology to achieve more responsive UIs.

8.2.7.1 What Is Ajax?

In the context of Web 2.0, Ajax stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. The term was introduced in 2005 by Jesse James Garrett. The purpose for this development technique is to create more dynamic and responsive web pages, as well as to build web clients in an SOA that can connect to any kind of server: J2EE, PHP, ASP.NET, Ruby on Rails, and so on.

It draws upon existing technologies and standards, including JavaScript and XML. Generally, it follows the operation pattern that a page view displayed in a web browser retrieves data or markup fragments from a service and refreshes just a part of the page. Different from some easy-to-use end-user tools for mashups, AJAX is nontrivial. It requires deep and broad skills in Web development, but the benefits to be gained can be huge compared to classic web applications that are programmed in the traditional way. Ajax enables major improvements in responsiveness and performance of web applications. (For instance, it is used at Yahoo! Mail, Google Maps, live.com, and others.)

8.2.7.2 What Is REST?

REST stands for Representational State Transfer. It is the architectural model on which the World Wide Web is based. The term was introduced in the year 2000 in a Ph.D. dissertation by Roy Fielding.

Principles of REST include the following:

  • Resource-centric approach.

  • All relevant resources are addressable via Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs).

  • Uniform access via HTTP: GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE.

  • Content type negotiation enables retrieval of alternative representations from the same URI.

  • REST style services are easy to access from code running in Web browsers, any other client, or servers, which is popular in the context of Ajax.

  • Takes full advantage of the WWW caching infrastructure.

  • Serves multiple representations of the same resource.

In short, these network architecture principles allow a seamless appearance of the websites to the users. Due to REST, the Internet is a dynamic network, not just point-to-point connections that could be based on remote procedure call (RPC) technology.

8.2.7.3 What Is RSS?

Another technical term that is important in this context is RSS. It stands for Really Simple Syndication, which describes a family of so-called Web feeds, ways to put information by independent users onto common platforms and enable a close to real-time representation of the updated content to its users subscribed to such a feed. This technique allows for updating one's websites in an automated manner, instead of manually editing them. Therefore, it is often used for blog sites, news headlines, sports tickers, and podcasts.

The history of RSS goes back to 1995, when Ramanathan Guha and his team at Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group developed their first approach to syndication on the Web, called Meta Content Framework (MCF). Delivered by the RSS Advisory Board in 2002 under the name of RSS 2.0, it found initial acceptance as a standard. However, it still took a few more years before RSS gained broad acceptance in the IT industry. One can say RSS became the standard when finally, in 2006, all usual web browsers incorporated RSS readers.

8.2.8 Everybody Knows Everything

The idea behind Web 2.0 is that everybody knows everything. In a way, the individual participant connected to the Internet becomes more involved and more empowered than ever before when dealing with technologies, especially with IT.

Self-help groups often emerge and become serious businesses, such as when a hobbyist platform on the Internet run by a photographer turns into a leading stock photography provider relying on thousands of hobby or semiprofessional photographers who sell millions of images to millions of customers at lower prices than any established vendor or broker. In this case, stock photographs become affordable to a larger clientele.

8.2.9 New Models

In other words, the market has been turned over. Everybody can offer everything to everybody else; one just needs to be connected by the Internet and using a platform for communication, which involves mainly advertising, searching, selling, and recommending. This means that new social models, technologies, and businesses will arise:

  • New social models in which user-generated content can be as valuable as traditional media, where social networks form and grow with tremendous speed, where truly global audiences can be reached more easily, and where rich media from photos to videos become a part of everyday life online. Here community mechanisms play a role similar to the essential one they had historically under rural or small-town conditions. The difference is now the participants no longer meet in one real place in town to discuss the issues and to develop new ideas; instead, they meet "virtually" all over the network at any time.

  • New technology models let software become a service. The Internet becomes the development platform, where online services and data are mixed and matched, and syndication of content becomes the glue across the network that is based on reliable high-speed, ubiquitous access as the norm. Tools are developing that allow every user to arrange IT as it is needed in any current situation.

  • New business models that are facilitated by changes in infrastructure costs, allowing companies to reach the "long tail" as defined by Chris Anderson (2006), which describes the large number of rather individual websites versus a small number of heavily accessed sites. Analyzing the resulting Pareto distribution, it shows that the sum of all visitors to the individual sites is as high as the ones on the favorite sites; in certain cases, it outnumbers the mainstream.

    Pareto distribution: That is, a mathematical term for a type of distribution curves that shows a heavy head of many users (hits in Internet speech) for a few number of sites, but a very large number of other sites with fewer users, which is called the "long tail." The sum of users in the long tail may easily outnumber the impressive number of users at the few strongly visited sites. In other words, the niches are larger in sum than the mainstream.

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    Figure 8-2: The rise of new business, technologies, and business models

    This makes companies turn to viral network-driven marketing, pay attention to the individuals, and gain from new advertising-based revenue opportunities. Based on these new technologies, a market for software as services and new ways to drive innovation by the customers emerges and quickly becomes the normal way to do the business.

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