For some time I have been interested in investing in what I call “web
superservices.” Our RSS Investors fund is dedicated to helping
entrepreneurs create such services and link them together into scripted
metaservices, to solve important social problems. Web superservices
provide essential functions for solving problems (such as search,
storage/archive, security, pooling of information, notification of
changes, identification of relationships, analysis of memes), are
available on the web as public or near-public global resources with
enormous economies of scale and scope, have very simple open APIs, and
can be integrated (scripted together and/or customized) by users or
near users to provide custom solutions to important problems.
These services are rapidly evolving, and are radically changing the
ecology of information technology, the availability and flexibility of
computing solutions and, indeed, worldwide society.
Consider the new web ecosystem. Ecological succession continues
in Internet and society. This is the direct analogue of ecological
sucession in nature: grasses and weeds giving way to connifers
giving way to hardwood forests with mature canopies. Each new stage of succession brings with it
new keystone species, linked togetether in new forms of relationships.
Small, “one server” companies are becoming essential services: Bloggdigger, del.icio.us, weblogs.com.
Companies consciously bioengineered for the new ecology
are becoming well-established and are evolving quickly:
Bloglines, Technorati, Blogger, Typepad, Newsgator, Flickr.
Large e-commerce and search/portal/media companies are opening up their
interfaces more and more deeply to enable users to access their core
functions as scriptable services: Yahoo!, Google, MSN, eBay, Amazon.
Media companies are adding so many RSS feeds, with so many specific
topics and sources, that they are becoming realtime scriptable content
sources to anyone using a news aggregator. Boston.com has 42 discrete RSS feeds for specific columnists. Want to follow the Red Sox? And my.yahoo.com has become the world’s largest aggregator, and–not coincidently–the largest online news site.
By the wide deployment of open standards and APIs by web sites, and
especially by the invitational, “pull” orientation of URLs and
RSS–where the user can initiate a relationship with a service whenever
and howerver the user wants–the population of global, powerful,
scriptable superservices is fast expanding, as is the diverse community
of users that are scripting these services together into solutions.
Dave Winer gets much of the credit. His original blogging and
aggregation software was based on a functional analysis of the ATEX high
end content management system that at the time was used by most
newspapers and magazines. His journalist friends complained about it,
and it was expensive. Dave’s columns for Wired were edited in an
ATEX. Dave made a functional analysis of what the ATEX did, and
created an open, inexpensive, community-oriented version of it.
This content management system in turn enabled a whole community of
users to create blogs.
Now this methodology of system and service development has become more
general. This is in large measure due to Dave’s influence in keeping RSS simple, and in promoting what I believe is a new approach to developing service and application software.
Superservices are going to advance very quickly from here on out. We
will be presented with an expanding array of powerful, general purpose,
scriptable and user-oriented services from which to choose in rewiring
our world. All the “verticals” will be affected. The
functional analysis of media continues, with the new
search engines and aggregators and other superservices, but more
important, the functional analysis of other information technology
solutions is spreading, and will yield new forms of superservices not
yet conceived. Consider SAP, the largest provider of enterprise
resource planning and management system. SAP has recently
promised to open the APIs to its conventional web services. But this is
too little and too late. Expect entrepreneurs to analyze the
underlying functions of SAP systems, and provide open, superservice
alternatives, letting corporate users script together powerful new
networks of superservices at a fraction of today’s cost, and with
vastly more speed and flexibility.
Web superservices Google search July 15, 2005