Why “Web Services” Sucks…

The phrase “Web services” (note the lower case “s”) has been in use for several years now, either to mean a service offered on a Web site (eCommerce, for example), or Web site-related professional services. The meaning of Web Services discussed in this report, of course, has little to do with either of these vernacular uses of the phrase. In addition, the word “Web” has come to refer to the World Wide Web, which again is only tangentially related to Web Services in that it uses HTTP as a transport protocol and HTML instead of XML for its data format. Just what “Web” is the phrase referring to?

It is true that the World Wide Web and Web Services share the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) as their fundamental communications protocol. However, it is possible to use HTTP for types of communication that aren’t related to either kind of Web, and furthermore, Web Services do not require HTTP. Nevertheless, the fact that both concepts share HTTP is probably how the term Web got involved in Web Services.

The word “Services” is more straightforward, but still leaves room for some confusion. We are referring here to the fact that we are using a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) to expose, bind, and locate available functionality on a networks. However, are Web Services the Services themselves, the overall computing architecture, or are they the software that provides the Services? Do you build Web Services, build applications that provide functionality using Web Services, or do you build software that provides Web Services? If the latter is the case, then what do you call the software? The answer is, unfortunately, “Web Services”-the term is used to refer to the Service, the computing paradigm, and the software.

This multiple meaning is especially pernicious, because Web Services represent a shift from thinking about the software and its functionality to thinking about the Services first, and then thinking about the software behind them. Fundamentally, Service-oriented architectures are not software architectures; they are Service architectures. More annoyingly, is Web Services singular or plural? Is Web Services a singular concept, or are Web Services a collection of modular components? Is Web Services a noun, adjective, or direct object? These are small annoyances that bother not just developers, but the marketers that must promote the technology.

Counterpoint: Because Web Services are an enabling technology, the terminology isn’t particularly important. What’s important is what people and companies do with Web Services

Today, “Web Services” is a buzzword, and as such, marketing departments have chosen it to lead many of their campaigns. As with all buzzwords, however, the phrase’s lifetime will be relatively short. As Web Services themselves become increasingly important in the context of the solutions companies build with them, the terminology will either shift to more accurate and descriptive words, or the phrase will simply lose its buzzword status. The real point is that this discussion of terminology is irrelevant to the fundamental technology and business issues that Web Services represent.

ZapThink Opinion:

ZapThink is not interested in the term “Web Services,” or any other terminology, for that matter. We’d be perfectly happy if someone coined a different term altogether! In fact, our definition of Web Services doesn’t even depend on SOAP or WSDL, but on open, non-proprietary technologies for loosely coupling systems. Given that, in order for the concept to work, those technologies must be standardized and accepted by all implementing bodies.