I have enormous respect for Phil, one of the most insightful analysts regarding software trends. I am a loyal reader of both his Loosely Coupled and Software as Services blog. But, having participated in the discussion about the emergence of Web 2.0 here and here, I have to admit that I am a bit skeptical about rushing to announce the arrival of Web 3.0.
What Phil really seems to be talking about is the migration into the enterprise space of many of the technologies that are shaping Web 2.0 in the consumer arena. As Phil suggests, this is part of the broader “consumerization” of IT. This is an important development and it is only in its earliest stages.
One significant barrier delaying deployment of these technologies is the cultural gap separating many of the early pioneers of Web 2.0 initiatives and enterprise CIOs. The pioneers of Web 2.0 generally view large enterprises as dinosaurs. Enterprise CIOs, if they are even aware of developments associated with Web 2.0, tend to dismiss them as marginal novelties with little relevance for “real” business.
One of the few large enterprise CIOs to anticipate and act on Web 2.0 developments is JP Rangaswami, CIO of the global investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. Phil has just returned from a gathering organized by JP to explore new principles of software architecture for the enterprise that he discusses here and here.
Phil believes the on-demand architectures that are re-shaping Web 2.0 consumer applications will have an even more profound impact on the enterprise marketplace:
Don’t be surprised, then, if Web 2.0 also turns out to be just a staging post on the way to a much more mature and durable Web 3.0 era. . . . As with any shift from one generation to the next, there’s plenty of scope for new leaders to emerge – and for established front-runners to stumble – in the battle for supremacy.
I take all that as a given, but I still resist categorizing this change as “Web 3.0” (I have even more trouble with Phil’s more recent efforts to label this change as “Enterprise 3.0” – by my count, enterprises have been through at least five or six major generations of technology shifts).
Phil is focusing on two related changes. First, the emergence of the traditional enterprise as a significant new customer set for the technologies that are shaping Web 2.0. Second, and related to the first, an urgent need to define and deploy more sustainable business models. In particular, he has been hammering appropriately on the need to define other revenue models beyond advertising for the enterprise market. But these are not profound technology shifts. These are marketing opportunities and business challenges created by Web 2.0 technology.
Certainly the building blocks in the form of XML, RSS and Ajax (among others) are all in place. Yes, a profound re-architecture of software applications will be required to effectively exploit these technologies in the enterprise market (a while back, Phil did a great riff on Same old Software, as a Service driving home this point), but there is still a profound re-architecture of software applications pending in the consumer space as well.
Bottom line, if you take the definition of Web 2.0 that I offered in a previous post - "Web 2.0 refers to an emerging network-centric platform to support distributed, collaborative and cumulative creation by its users" - the issues identified by Phil all fit comfortably within this definition. Phil is discussing with great insight how Web 2.0 will play out in the enterprise market, something that few others have even addressed – but he is not pointing to a new generation of foundation technology.
I have two reservations about Phil’s specific perspectives on the migration of these new technologies into the enterprise:
- Phil suggests that application services will be the most economically attractive layer in this new software architecture. I am more skeptical – these application services will certainly be profitable, but will they be scalable? I suspect that most application services will address very profitable, but very small, niches. The real way to create scalable value in this new world will be to find out how to become someone else’s platform - in other words, to persuade others to develop services on top of one's own services. Rather than thinking about software as a service, from my perspective, it will be much more productive and rewarding the re-conceive software as a platform, but that’s the topic for another posting.
- Phil doesn’t explicitly discuss the potential for service grids in his topology (although they might be implicitly covered in his notion of aggregation services). JSB and I have written about service grids here (pdf) and here (abstract only, purchase required). We continue to believe these will be a significant source of value creation, especially as Web 2.0 technologies disseminate into and across enterprises. Ensuring that services are reliable, secure and warranted will be critical - and more and more challenging as services get nested in more complex ways within other services.