Some "Web as platform" noodling  AUG 11 2004

In the discussion of Flickr and Feedburner's spliced RSS/Atom files, Harold said:

I'm beginning to think that feeds (and content tagging) should be the starting point, not an offshoot. Until now, our tools have produced web pages then feeds. I'm thinking we need tools that create feeds and then let us combine them into web pages.

To put this another way, a distributed data storage system would take the place of a local storage system. And not just data storage, but data processing/filtering/formatting. Taking the weblog example to the extreme, you could use TypePad to write a weblog entry; Flickr to store your photos; store some mp3s (for an mp3 blog) on your ISP-hosted shell account; your events calendar on Upcoming; use iCal to update your personal calendar (which is then stored on your .Mac account); use GMail for email; use TypeKey or Flickr's authentication system to handle identity; outsource your storage/backups to Google or Akamai; you let Feedburner "listen" for new content from all those sources, transform/aggregate/filter it all, and publish it to your Web space; and you manage all this on the Web at each individual Web site or with a Watson-ish desktop client.

Think of it like Unix...small pieces loosely joined. Each specific service handles what it's good at. Gmail for mail, iCal for calendars, TypePad for short bits of text, etc. Web client, desktop client, it doesn't much matter...whatever the user is most comfortable with. Then you just (just! ha!) pipe all these together however you want with services (or desktop apps) handling any filtering/processing that you need, and output it to the file/device/service of your choice. New services can be inserted into the process as they become available. You don't need to wait for Gmail to output RSS...just pipe your email to Feedburner and they'll hook you up.

There are, of course, plenty of hurdles to overcome:

- Currently a bit hard on wallet. When you're paying $5-20 per month for each one of these services (in addition to $50/mo for broadband and $45/mo for your cell phone), living the connected lifestyle is expensive. If a company like Google can offer bundles of these services, it might get cheaper.

- Data needs to be portable. If Flickr starts to suck, you should be able to easily move all of your photos to a better service.

- Redundancy and failing gracefully. What if Blogger is unavailable when I want to rebuild my Web site after my Flickr photostream has been updated (see my MTAmazon plug-in problem)? Does the rebuild just fail or is the data cached somewhere?

- You need to get everyone to agree on interop/formats/etc. Fortunately, it seems like companies are a lot more willing to do this than 4-5 years ago (Amazon, Google, Flickr, Upcoming, & TypePad all have APIs or allow data output via RSS/Atom).

- Security. Lots of passwords and personal information will have to be passed around for all this to work. How about some commitment from these companies to keep this data as secure as they can?

This, then, is the promise of Web services. Nothing new, but it's nice to see things continue to head in this direction.

Related reading:
- GooOS, the Google Operating System (kottke.org)
- Inventing the Future (Tim O'Reilly)
- The Web as a Platform (John Battelle)
- Deepleap was an early attempt at some of this stuff (Lane Becker)

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