Once they have SOAP or XML-RPC (or REST-style) APIs, web-facing databases become program components. You can see this best in BookWatch Plus, a service that combines the Amazon and Google APIs, plus the existing BookWatch service.
I am proud to say I played a small role in getting this API off the ground. Inspired by the ever-prescient Jon Udell, I started talking up web services back in my March 2000 JavaOne keynote. I was fascinated with Jon's idea that web services could do for the internet what the shell and pipes did for the Unix command line -- create a loosely coupled architecture in which people could build new functionality out of small, independent tools. But I was disappointed to see that web services seemed to go off into an enterprise black hole (what Clay Shirky calls EDI++), rather than becoming the freewheeling next generation internet programming and power user environment that Jon and I had imagined.
So I started lobbying some of the interesting web sites to start offering SOAP APIs. I hit up Larry Page and Eric Schmidt at Google last year, and while they were noncomittal at the time, they later got the ball rolling. (I have no idea if my visit played a significant role.) I've also hammered AOL's MapQuest relentlessly in public talks, but have never gotten any traction with anyone actually at AOL.
Earlier this year, I went up to see Jeff Bezos with a web services pitch: Amazon isn't just an e-commerce-site. It's become the information hub of the publishing industry. How about giving us some tools for building out services based on that hub? (Some of the tools I proposed: a bibliography generator that could be plugged in to a word processor; market research tools for publishers; interfaces for library catalogs.)
Like every web site owner I've talked to, Jeff had a couple of questions. What's in this for me? How will I make money? My answer was as follows:
And of course, in Amazon's case, there is a built-in revenue opportunity for the existing business. Third-party Amazon-based applications do lead people back to Amazon, where they buy products.
Jeff was intrigued, and told me a day or two later that he'd discovered that his skunkworks team already had a web services API in the works. But he says that without my presentation he "might have done something stupid like shutting the project down."
Jeff came to the Emerging Technology Conference (Building the Internet Operating System) with a couple of his folks back in April, and then Amazon held its own invitation-only web services developer conference last month. And now we've got a second really cool set of services to play with.
So I feel like a proud uncle. A big attaboy for Colin Bryar and the other great folks at Amazon who developed the API. I can't wait to see what other new applications people create. There's a great set listed on Amazon's API info page, as well as an oreillynet article on building Amazon apps from Visual Studio .Net.
Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., thought by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world. In addition to Foo Camps ("Friends of O'Reilly" Camps, which gave rise to the "un-conference" movement), O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the Web 2.0 Summit, the Web 2.0 Expo, the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, the Gov 2.0 Summit, and the Gov 2.0 Expo. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar, "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim's long-term vision for his company is to change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators. In addition to O'Reilly Media, Tim is a founder of Safari Books Online, a pioneering subscription service for accessing books online, and O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, an early-stage venture firm.
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