Web Services We'd Like To See.

by Timothy Appnel

In a recent CNET article, Margaret Kane reports on Google and Amazon's success with Web services and the benefits they are beginning to reap. Tim O'Reilly provides his commentary on the piece here. O'Reilly notes a key takeaway from Amazon and Google’s success is "...the importance of a decentralized approach rather than a top-down approach by a single vendor." In addition to his comments, I think it's also interesting to note that two service providers are driving real Web service adoption and not software vendors such as Microsoft and IBM. (Could this be an indication of a significant shift in the industry?)

Being a developer I want to see more service providers support general use Web services. I've been pondering this for a while, but the recent CNET article and the attention it has received put my thinking into high gear. Here are some of the service providers that I would like to see follow Google and Amazon's lead:

  • eBay. As the CNET article indicates, eBay has begun down this path on a limited basis presumably with third-party add-on service providers like AuctionWatch. eBay needs to open it up for general use. Some of the obvious uses include more powerful search and monitoring agents (think of melding a news aggregator with "real time" auction information) and "PowerSellers" integrating their eBay activity into their own web sites. This would only be the beginning. As Amazon and Google have proved, the net will find new and inventive uses for services that the original providers never could have imagined. I am just as curious to see what changes in eBay's auction policy may occur from the availability of this new capability.

  • PayPal. I realize they are now an eBay company, but since their integration has only just begun, I chose to highlight them separately. PayPal's signature service would be trickier to implement then others because real money is being handled, but it's not impossible. PayPal already offers "convenient" HTML interfaces to payments and shopping carts functionality. PayPal has been a major contributor to making e-commerce transaction possible to the masses. A move towards Web services would be the next logical step in my opinion.

  • FedEx. UPS. While keeping with the e-commerce theme, I'll mention FedEx and UPS here. I don’t think general Web service availability would be nearly as earth shaking as all the other examples here. They would be useful to the burgeoning market of mom and pop e-commerce that eBay and PayPal have helped foster. Like PayPal, both offer HTML interfaces to some of their services that can be made machine readable with some screen scraping which can be problematic and brittle. In addition to package tracking, both companies should create APIs for managing their shipping contacts, calculating costs relative to weight and location, and subscribing to package delivery alerts.

  • MapQuest. Opening their geographic plotting engine and roadmap data could yield some very interesting applications. An obvious use would be integrating directions with traffic advisories. (Call me odd, but I find it helpful to know that "fastest route" has two lanes closed for construction.) I had once hoped Vicinity/MapBlast would have made a move into Web services to gain ground and push MapQuest, but now as a Microsoft company that hope has waned given Redmond's top down approach to Web services.

  • Yahoo. The Web portal company has been marketing premium services to generate new revenue streams. Yahoo's relative success, in addition to Apple's similar foray with their .Mac services, indicates that there probably is a market. I believe the availability of a Web service API would be helpful to furthering those efforts. Yahoo Stores would benefit immediately from such a move. (See my comments on PayPal.) Yahoo Groups can be accessed in part using email and to retrieve recent messages as an RSS feed, but further accessibility via Web services could be useful. Other potential targets for Web services would include interfaces to personal email, calendar, briefcase and address book. (I would pay a nominal fee to Yahoo for this.)

  • Any site with information and news lacking RSS support. Whether it is just assumed or simply overlooked, RSS is the most widely deployed Web service across the Internet. Granted, most RSS feeds have very simple interfaces with almost as simple backends that are unlike the Web services that usually come to mind. (Who says Web services need to be complex or sophisticated anyhow?) Under the principles of the REST architectural style that the Web was built on, RSS feeds do qualify. Consider that any site search engine becomes a Web service if it could emit results in RSS and the format's potential in the realm of Web services becomes more apparent.

This is by no means a complete list. It is however a starting point to further discussions as to the future of Web service adoption and their potential of Web services to help drive innovation. What do you think?

What Web services would you like to see?


2002-11-30 21:17:21
UPS & FedEx
Both shipping companies and the USPS have developer APIs for accessing the sort of information you described above. I know that UPS uses an XML schema of their own design; I believe the USPS uses a similar system. FedEx is a mystery to me--our clients don't like them, so I've never had to use it. It'd be nice to have them work through SOAP or some equivalent, I must say.
2002-12-02 21:33:43
UPS & FedEx
Thanks for the tip. I dug much deeper into the UPS site and found the APIs you mention. (They could use to publicize them a bit more.) I need to review this further. SOAP would be nice since it is supported by numerous commercial tools and then some, but it may not be absolutely necessary.
2004-07-10 08:49:25
PayPal Web Services has luanched
- TransactionSearch
- GetTransactionDetail
- Refund
- Send Money