Nowhere is the Internet's do-it-yourself mentality on display more prominently or more engagingly than in the world of mashups.
Just check out Programmable Web. It's the home of the mashup, an idea that first percolated into public consciousness a few years ago and has since become a raging phenomenon. As in pop music, where the "mashup" idea first appeared, Web mashups join some data from here, some logic from over there, and perhaps yet another party's user-interface to create what amounts to brand-new Web services.
Some, like an early one that overlaid the locations of public restrooms on a Google Maps, aim to the practical. Others are just plain silly, like Bleeoo!!, which invites people to record for posterity their vocal impressions of that once-ubiquitous sound that dial-up modems made when connecting to a server. (I kid you not.)
Playful or serious, useful or mindless, mashups certainly illustrate the great power of open APIs. Programmable Web recently reported that its list of publicly available APIs has topped 4,000. Harnessing those interfaces are the 6,200-and-counting mashups that the site lists in its online directory -- including Programmable Web's own set of public APIs.
But wait, there's more. Adam DuVander, executive editor of Programmable Web, notes that untold thousands of private APIs are active on the Web, as well. These are the pathways, for instance, that hundreds of device makers use -- each manufacturer gets its own unique interface -- to connect to Netflix's video-streaming service, for instance.
The upshot of this Cambrian Explosion of APIs is a quiet transformation of the Web and, in turn, ways of doing business. In the 1980s, readers of a certain age will recall, Sun Microsystems coined a prescient phrase to help market desktop workstations: "The network is the computer." Sun and others germinated that idea on local area networks (LANs), but today it's flourishing across the globe-spanning Web.
As consultant Dion Hinchcliffe pointed out in a BusinessAgility Radio show yesterday, well defined APIs and protocols such as SOAP and REST, its successor, are enabling corporations to weave together their supply chains and underlying IT systems in ways that were never possible before. And not only is weaving more easily accomplished; so is the un-weaving and re-weaving of disparate business processes facilitated. As business conditions change, as partners rethink relationships, and as work is outsourced to specialists, the information technology links remain reconfigurable.
In a way, with new cloud structures being formulated and implemented, the Web is being turned into a giant computer. That was a vision put forth by noted venture capitalist Vinod Khosla a good decade ago. A co-founder of Sun, interestingly enough, Khosla foresaw the day when all of the traditional elements of computing would be "decomposed" into services available over the high-speed Internet. And sure enough, that vision is being realized as Amazon.com, for instance, provides CPU cycles and storage, Salesforce.com provides business apps, and so forth.
Of course, what's enabling users to create from these services' so-called "composite apps" is that they remain loosely coupled. Or, as Khosla put, they are federated, not tightly integrated. And that is possible largely because the growing menus of Web-based services offer stable, well defined interfaces. No years-long programming projects are required to weave them together. To one degree or another, they can be snapped together almost as easily as the Bee Gees can be mashed up with Pink Floyd. (See here, please.)