11 May 2007

Mashed up data (sounds like mashed potato)

Data is a necessary piece of nearly every software solution (I'm sure we can all think of exceptions, but there is data there too). Web 2.0 via mashups makes data integration from various sources relatively easy. Applying the MVC pattern to Web 2.0 we have view and control provided by Flex, AJAX / JavaScript / wikis / feed readers / browser, etc. and the model JSON or just raw data in syndication format. The formal nuances of data, its structure and relations, etc. are not the focus of mashups but rather pulling out relevant information fragments from various sources into a new whole (aggregation, composition, integration, etc.) creates a new information model, that requires new controllers and new views (unless you can reuse those from elsewhere too, but by and large you are pulling in data, aggregating and defining a new format, contollers and views. That's it. So why do IT departments seem to make it soooooo difficult? Job security and FUD.

Web 2.0 is, and provides, RAD (Rapid Application Development) for the Web. (RAD came out of the client server era, and in many IT shops today the term or concept are never used due to negative connotations and associations of an historic nature). RAD was cool and good back in the day as it empowered less skilled application developers to be more productive...today Web 2.0 technologies allow both developers and non-developers to create powerful, compelling softwware solutions with minimal effort. Minimal effort means a faster time to market as well as lower entry costs, redo, scrap, do over, change all become more cost effective and viable (and faster too).

To see how effective web 2.0 can be for you here are few cool tools that I find valuable. Note, I am not affiliated with these companies, developers or communities in any formal business or even friendship manner; I simply like what they have to offer and I think you will too:

First, for any IT people reading this, you should go have a look at ActiveGrid. I blogged about AG before, and will do so again in the future. If I was in charge of a small IT shop (or a team in a large IT organization) that needed to provided higher value, reduced costs and enable greater agility, this is where I would start. I'd build and deploy new apps on AG, retool my IT employees and start a migration plan for existing applications. I'd also start with the open source version until I was nearly ready to go to production and would give careful consideration to a commercial license based on the information available to me. ActiveGrid would be a foundational technology platform upon which I would rebuild my IT infrastructure. Period, end of story.

These other products and technologies could be leveraged by IT too, but are more focused on business people that need to get business done rather than IT who are in the business of supporting business, i.e., they are more usable for non-IT business users.

RSSBus. Just go and have a look, they do a great job of splainin' (explaining) what they do. Basically, you take data from all kinds of sources, aggregate it and create new scripts to act on it, and you can do this recursivley; building up your own catalog of feeds and scripts and using those provided by others. Of course, you are encouraged to submit yours for use by others. Great way to pull all the data you need in one place with a very easy toolset. Kudos to the RSSBus team! I will have more to say about this technology in the future too.

You can combine RSSBus and ActiveGrid in many complimentary ways.

Another technology I wanted to mention is OpenKapow. They claim "mashups in minutes" and its very accurate and true.

There are also Yahoo Pipes and Google Gadgets.

There are some overlaps in these and complimentary combinations too. Please let me know if you are using any of these and where, or if you are using other Web 2.0 tools, I'd like to learn about what else is out there. These are the tools that I would look to use if I was in charge of IT direction at any company. I'm sure there are many others...what they all have in common is simplicity and utilization of core technologies available to everyone on the Web.

Now have a look at what some IT industry heavyweights are proposing for business application development: big, complex, costly and heavyweight solutions that are so last century. I noticed that many of the products of these large vendors are consistent with their own size and complexity, the bigger the vendor the more complex their solution strategy it seems. There is an easier, faster and cheaper way to provide technology solutions to business, its Web 2.0. So easy its almost magic ;)

Thanks for reading