Sunday, June 14, 2009

August 29, 2006 (2): Back in the Box?

Taking a whack at Web 2.0 has led me to wonder whether there is still any buzz over Web Services. When the book Out of the Box was published, I was working for a boss who wanted to see our laboratory go after the brass ring of Web Services in a big way; and I ended up being the annoying voice that kept saying, "Yes, but ... ." I just went to the Amazon site for this book and found that the last review was written in September of 2003. For me the operative sentence from that review was:

A highly readable work, just about the book's only weakness is that it is indeed based largely on conjecture, and the premise that today's web service protocols will form the foundation of long-term IT development.

I found myself thinking about this book last week when I was reading a 1983 paper from the American Sociological Review by Paul J. DiMaggio and Walter W. Powell, entitled "The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields." What fascinated me about this paper is the argument it provided that, in any given field, such as health care, education, or even politics, the organizations that populate the field tends towards resembling each other rather than towards diversity. Thus, they manifest the phenomenon of the replication of social systems that lies at the heart of Anthony Giddens' structuration theory.

The more I read, the more I realized that, while Hagel had envisioned a world that could thrive on the diversity of software services that could be installed on the Web, the necessary infrastructure required just that kind of homogeneity that DiMaggio and Powell had studied. It is all very well and good to have representation for a Web Services Description Language (WSDL) or a mechanism for Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI), but these representations can only link together different users of those users share some conventions on how those representations are structured. In other words the kinds of connection scenarios that Hagel presented can only work in a context of homogeneity among the beneficiaries in those scenarios. This then led me to ask whether or not, viewed as a population, Web sites are becoming more homogeneous or more diverse? I think we are still in a period of great diversity (which would not be good for Web Services); but it is not out of the question that the processes DiMaggio and Powell claim lead to homogenization, coercive, mimetic, and normative, will not eventually kick into action on the Web. Watch this space for further developments!

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