Collaboration Under SOA: The Human Aspects

8.2.4 Services for Mashups

Besides its searching functionality, which was Google's first intention when getting on the Internet, their website is a good example of providing services for mashups. Mashups are Web applications that combine data/functionality from more than one source. Allowing any user via the Web to use the services offered within applications on his or her end devices, you have the provision of services for mashups. For example, you can add geographical information to items that have been found by the Google search. As a service for mashups, Google Maps services can be used directly by end users in a very convenient fashion. Any Maps service itself can be combined with other services (for instance, Google's own Find Businesses function), generating higher value to the users. Google exposes the Maps services as remixable services so that there are now a huge number of mashups (programmed combinations of those) using these services.

Transferred to IT and business operations at a company, you can ask your company's IT shop to provide several distinguished services that the end users, your employees, can combine with any other accepted services and applications to create suitable solutions for them. The services that are ready, approved, and accepted by an authority unit within your company can be kept in a pool with appropriate trust marks or certifications issued by the IT shop or a trusted provider.

The end users can then access the services in their mashups that run on their site. Enabling services for mashups and providing appropriate support by your IT shop means that every employee becomes a kind of programmer who shortcuts the traditional way of getting application solutions. For the IT shop, this means a change from a general solution provider to becoming an authority who cares for the infrastructure and the standards and who develops services and approves external services that are ready to be used within your company.

In the sense as earlier described by O'Reilly, concrete applications development becomes more an end-user task, and no longer shows version cycles and release dates. However, there has to be a sufficient number of useful and valuable services available that can be found in the repository and are made available via the enterprise service bus (ESB) infrastructure.

Going a step further, as Google offers a certain set of services from their site, it will cause more service providers to offer software that runs at some place in the network and delivers well-defined results. Over time, we can expect more providers to come to the market so that economically we see the start of a software as a service(SaaS) economy. This means a new software-delivery model where software vendors are developing Web-native software applications (web services) that are independently hosted and operated by application providers to the users. The customers no longer pay any fees for owning the software, but for the use of it.

As soon as Internet service providers begin charging for the use of their services or services of third parties that they are hosting, there is a new market. That new market consists of software vendors who develop and offer services implemented in software and application service providers (or perhaps better, SaaS providers) who make those services available for end users to build their solutions on their ends.

Assuming a market for SaaS has developed, there are new alternatives for companies to choose from. The available services can be used to complement the existing IT, for example if there is a need for support of special tasks that are too expensive to develop a solution for.

This complementing job can be done by specialists at the IT department, or a company can decide to fully rely on a service provider to deliver the services according an agreement. Or depending on the policies, the trustworthiness of the application services providers, and finally the savvy of the employees, the CIO can develop a strategy of allowing (or in certain cases, encouraging) the use of mashups within the enterprise, especially when the advantages outweigh the risks. In fact, as Tim O'Reilly envisions it, this may become the norm for a Web 2.0 company.

8.2.5 User Contribution and User Ratings

YouTube leverages user contribution and user ratings. With YouTube, we see a platform that addresses the human urge to express oneself. Digital cameras enable people to create films at a low cost, and more and more people become their own film directors, editors, and actors.

Not everybody makes it to Hollywood to become a star, but cameras at affordable price points enable every person to star in home movies and publish them via the Internet. Rating systems fuel competition, and the published number of downloads and good ratings are what motivate people to produce and upload more films and better films.

When it comes to inappropriate material, this platform supports a self-controlling system in which each user can remove those films he doesn't want to view. In this way, a democracy is in place here in which everybody can become a star if so elected by one's peers. Groups, subgroups, and discussion forums can be initiated by anyone because everyone determines what goes on the site and what changes. Users keep it dynamic, making other people want to visit the site to see what has changed, what new ideas came up, and what new discussion topics are online among one's family and friends or other social contacts. In this way, advertising is mouth to mouth as well as the traditional, electronic way. Other media takes input from the site and publishes information about these stars, reinforcing the attraction.

For companies, you can imagine innovation campaigns presented on an internal platform, discussed, and voted on. Ideas are easier spread than ever before. For any consumer/customer-oriented idea, the ratings, visitor counts, discussion content, and remarks by the target groups provide valuable input and help to determine corporate decisions.

For the IBM CEO Report 2007, the participating CEOs were asked what they considered to be the most significant source of innovative ideas for their company. The results clearly show that the power of innovation that comes from the direct participation of employees and customers is stronger than what the think tanks and highly paid experts in the research and development laboratories create.

Besides YouTube, there are several other examples of how quickly ideas become widely known and accepted, and finally turn into a serious business. Consider, for example, a site that offers royalty-free images and graphics by members to members. The contributors are mainly ambitious amateurs who start for recognition reasons. The site has ratings and comments, offers discussion forums, and so on. These build and foster a community of self-help members. Hints and experiences are exchanged around the globe, and thus the quality of the images improves and reaches professional levels. There are rules, processes, and distinguished roles (inspectors who monitor for quality standards and administrators responsible for any "issues" among the members).

As a business, the low prices attract buyers, especially those who would not be able to pay high prices for artistic work (perhaps available at professional sites). The quality level is kept high; contributors are motivated to deliver to high standards; software and technical equipment are available at affordable prices. The community helps to achieve all of that. Normally, in such communities, about 1 percent or 2 percent of the members act as contributors, whereas the rest are mere consumers/customers. You can find a detailed analysis of such an organization and how it developed its business in the iStockPhoto Case Study: How to evolve from a free community site to successful business, by Kempton Lam and Nisan Gabbay (2006), published at Startup-Review.

8.2.6 Summary of Observations

Web 2.0 brings social and technical aspects to the table. For businesses, social aspects are more fundamental and determining than the technologies. The Web 2.0 sites offer infrastructures and guidelines that enable members to participate in a community, which makes them feel connected. The members see themselves as not just employees who have been asked to deliver a requested work item; instead, they feel free to deliver what they think is their best work.

This type of open platform means that ideas often quickly become a hit and spread more quickly than an advertising campaign could. Communities of people with similar interests or complementary interests (the providers and customers of images) merge to make the audience more alert for innovation. This generates well-defined, well-known (due to voluntarily outing oneself) audiences in these interest groups that can more precisely become targets for marketing campaigns, unlike with many other media

People are attracted to these sites because of the common interests they share with the people participating in them. This implies a certain level of motivation to participate, mainly as consumers; but the small number of contributing members is highly motivated to improve their offered products. Items are often posted simply because members want to gain recognition or become famous among their peers. Some of these contributors make it to stars beyond the reach of a site and often act as advertisers for followers.

A site can grow to huge memberships, millions of daily hits, and millions or even billions of value created and traded. They reach the critical mass to become a valued business interest. Recently, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion, and the established professional agent Getty Images bought the Canadian photographers platform iStockPhoto for $50 million. In each case, the new owners leave the platforms, rules, and guidelines in their core because these community-based ideas are what made them successful.

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