Web Services Intermediaries Evolve

I recently sat down with product managers and engineers from Actional, AmberPoint, Flamenco Networks, Infravio, and Westbridge Technology to get a preview of the new WSI products they are releasing this quarter. I discovered maturing conceptual models, more sophisticated and intuitive user interfaces, and evolutionary changes to product features.

The latest offerings from WSI vendors show that the market is continuing to deliver innovative fixes to IT problems. As the number of back-end Web services available for mixing and matching grows, WSI products will give IT shops the opportunity to show real agility in meeting business needs through custom solutions. But the wide range of vendors, architectures, interfaces, and conceptual metaphors can be daunting. My advice is to look past feature sets, sit down with the interface, and find the product that feels most comfortable and matches how your organization plans to use Web services. [Full story at InfoWorld...]

I'm constantly amazed that a market almost no one had heard of a year ago has a dozen or more vendors slugging it out. If you just go look at feature sets, you won't find much to distinguish all of the offerings. I can testify, however that they are different. The difference is in the service metaphor and how that translates into architecture and user interface.

This article is part of a special report on Web services. appearing in InfoWorld this week. There are a lot of good articles and information and I encourage you to go explore it. One that bears special mention is Jon Udell's Web services and natural-born cyborgs. (Jon usually has a flashier title than they print. The print title was more staid: "Web services' human touch.") In his analysis, Jon talks about the machine-human interface that occurs in Web services exception handling. When we stop talking about IT and start talking about business processes, exception handling means putting humans in the loop, not just handling Java exceptions.

On his blog, Jon takes the idea further. Referring to Andy Clark's Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence, Jon says:

When we say, jokingly, that Google and our weblogs have become extensions of our brains, it's not really a joke. Ever since the advent of language, and especially since the advent of print, our minds have operated in a hybrid mode, depending on a complex interaction between information processes running inside the skull and information processes running outside it. This is now our natural state, argues Clark, and it is not really meaningful or useful to try to precisely define the inside/outside boundary.
From Jon Udell: Web services and natural-born cyborgs
Referenced Tue Dec 02 2003 10:50:24 GMT-0700

This makes me think something I was reading in Smart Mobs to the effect that print was the first information technology and its become so ubiquitous that we don't even notice it. Its everywhere (even on your gum wrapper), ignorable, but ready to provide data when you need it. We're not even close to that state yet with computers---their still (mostly) boxes that sit on desks. Mobile devices (e.g. phones) start to change that but the closed platform makes them less innovative than they would otherwise be as AT&T and other carriers try to create walled gardens.