August 16, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

From Web page to Web platform

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the documentation and tools needed to pull data from Web sites and to combine it with another information source to create something new. The effect is to put a great deal of power in the hands of outside individuals and to transform Web sites into programmable machines.

"Every site now is essentially fair game to go in, modify the site, change it, append it, trim it down," said Jeff Barr, a Web services evangelist at Amazon.

One factor in the burst of creativity is that publicly published APIs obviate the need for two Web properties to negotiate and cooperate in order to share information.

In some cases, though, APIs are not well-documented or accessible, which means that programmers need to do more work. Still, advances in development technology, such as freely available scripting tools, are lowering the skill level required to build Web applications.

Today, the XML-based protocols required to access data are standardized and well known. Scripting languages and frameworks, many of which are available for free, give individuals access to powerful tools.

In addition, a Firefox Web browser add-on, called GreaseMonkey, lets script writers change a Web site's presentation. Developers are encouraged to share scripts and push the limits of customization.

"The really progressive companies will look at this and say, 'There must be something valuable in our organization, if developers are willing to reach inside and extract it for themselves. Let's figure out a way to work with those folks,'" Barr said.

Opening up
With the success of Google and Amazon's programs before them, some Web start-ups are making developer involvement a central part of their business plan. Photo-sharing site Flickr and social-networking service 43 Things both publish APIs, for example.

In the case of Flickr, which was acquired by Yahoo in March, customers can find specialized tools to search through photos based on tags, or can sign up to get an e-mail notification when a change is made to a Flick page the customer subscribes to.

For its part, 43Things encourages developers to customize its service by giving them fine-grained control over the information the social networking site generates.

This all adds up to a shift in the Web. In effect, the nature of what a site can be has changed. Rather than being part of a publishing system, Web sites are becoming programmable, much like a PC's operating system.

Still, the experience of Holovaty at indicates how the potential of the Web as a development platform is still in the early days. The GoogleMaps APIs were not fully documented when he started building the application, which created more work for him.

In addition, Holovaty has had to "screen scrape" data from the Chicago Police department Web site, or essentially cut and paste data from the site, since its data is not formatted nicely for third parties. "If the police department's site gets redesigned, my scraper breaks," he said.

For some, the programmable Web fulfills some of the long-held promises of the Internet boom. Consumer services, such as Microsoft's Hailstorm, touted the notion of giving consumers access to their data wherever they are. Business would be able to tap into the Internet "cloud" and procure and combine third-party Web services from a public directory, too.

Amazon's Barr, for example, sees the e-commerce giant's embrace of Web services as a sign that that shift to the next generation of the Web is under way--even if it's only the beginning.

"I don't think everyone has fully grasped the latent power of this yet," Barr said. "We're on the very, very leading edge of seeing this happen."

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Business Models for Mashups are the Big Issue
Mashups are interesting hacking experiments for now. But site mashing crushes the first generation advertising business models (which is why GOOG and YHOO limit access). See <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> for a more detailed discussion.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I like your iddeas. I think that is usefull for me but not only.
keep working.
nice - <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by mess485 (3 comments )
Link Flag
A fine line between fair use and copy infringement
As a web developer I can tell you that web services like Google and Ebay are awesome, adding a little desktop or web software makes them better. That's great and all...

But, the key here is that these companies offer API's (Application Program Interfaces). Essentially tools and code to help a developer extract the data from the site that offers the API. This is fine as far as fair use go's, the companies are offering tools to take advantage of there data.

In the case of Grease Monkey , you are altering the site in way's that the site creators didn't intend for to happen.

Here in lies the fine line, user's have the ability to change a site that wasn't intended to be changed, therefore giving the user tools that essentially are baseless to use.

Now think though, Grease Monkey in still in Beta with a security issue. So now competitors can take advantage of grease monkey's code to essentially create advertisements for there own benefit, maybe GreaseMonkey already has EXTRA code to benefit them and advertisers in the way I just described.

Something to think about for those that check there bank accounts and credit card accounts online.


Posted by OneWithTech (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not much of a surprise... nearly weeks after google announce their
maps feature, someone was already mashing it together with
craigslist to find apartments available an the map.
Posted by (4 comments )
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Who Is Litigable?
Google maps are notoriously inaccurate. When a mashup sends the neighbors to hunt down a sex offender at the wrong address, who gets sued?

If I click on a subscription feed (the one-click advantage) and it downloads a virus, who gets sued?

Web 2.0 is the glaze over the crack.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Link Flag
Not much??
Not much of a surprise... nearly weeks after google announce their
maps feature, someone was already mashing it together with
craigslist to find apartments available an the map.??
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by mess485 (3 comments )
Link Flag
It's great to see web services working...
The direction with web services is for applications to be created using them. You put multiple web services together and you can have a great application. The web, therefore, becomes a platform which, in the future, should enable really thin client devices to do great things despite their small size.

Who needs applications installed locally on the device if the best ones are available online? Who needs big storage on a device when the biggest storage services are available online? You see, the only thing limiting us now is the communication and security infrastructure. But it is easy to imagine we are heading towards that direction...
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
big storage on a device
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by George Cole (314 comments )
Link Flag
I still feel using RSS feeds to provide additional third party data and content is a lot more hassle that parsing XML WSDL files and the like to interact with other sites.

Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
XML WSDL files and the like to interact with other sites.
Ncie -
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by mess485 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Inviting third-party developers to build on top of a company Web site. Like: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Posted by mess481 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nice idea
Nice idea. Great article.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by preferatele12 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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