Web services are not cool anymore

Well, it was bound to happen. No technology can be the cool new new thing forever. After nearly seven years, I guess it’s finally Web services’ turn.
Adoption rates for Web services continue to grow steadily, and a recent survey (which unfortunately sort of seems to mix Web services and SOA) indicates that SOA adoption is growing, and productivity gains are real.
This evidence seems to fly in the face of some of the recent criticism about SOAP.
So what does this all mean? It means that the inevitable criticism is starting to happen that happens when a formerly cool technology goes mainstream. It’s like that indie band everyone liked until they sold a million CDs.
This fits right into the Gartner group’s “hype cycle” – Web services are now past the peak of inflated expectations, through the trough of disillusionment, on the way toward mainstream adoption.
[Note: I could not find a link for the 2006 report that didn’t require Gartner membership, but I can tell you that SOA is right in the trough this year, and advanced Web services are falling toward it very quickly.]
So all this noise we continue to hear about how terrible WS-* is just means that it is going mainstream. 😉
But seriously, once a technology passes the hype cycle and becomes adopted, all its warts and bumps become more obvious as we find out what it is really good for, and what it is not. In that way the criticism is an acknowledgment of fit for purpose (even if it’s expressed in terms of what it isn’t fit for).
Mark Little recently posted an interesting opinion piece asking whether all this sort of backlash against Web services would threaten the acceptance of SOA. He clarified this in a comment, which says that equating Web services to SOA restricts options for using other technologies that may be a better fit for some SOA requirements.
Excellent point – we should no more propose Web services as the right solution for everything than we should propose REST as the right solution for everything.
In fact this kind of argues that Web services are going too mainstream – being used for things maybe they’re not good for. And so the criticism, the backlash, etc. is actually good, if it helps prevent that kind of thing.
We can (and will) fix many of the problems with Web services that are coming to light. Sure, SOAP may be more complex than it needs to be. This whole optional header thing is a bit weird – and how the headers work in combination isn’t clear. And some of the WS-* proposals will end up not getting used at all, or not getting used much.
Certainly many Web services tools take a somewhat limited view of XML and tend to tie it too closely to object oriented technologies.
But we can improve that, we can improve the way XML is used, include dynamic languages more into SOA environments (interesting to note the same survey referenced earlier also mentions the increasing adoption of Ajax), and fit REST-style interactions in where they make sense.
We can continue to separate services from objects, and create new tools that better support the service concept.
What we can’t do is get broad industry agreement on another set of specifications. I can easily remember when it wasn’t at all certain that SOAP would succeed in gaining sufficient adoption.
This is the world we have. It may not be pretty, but it works, and it is definitely better than what we had before.
And now it’s just as uncool, too.

9 responses to “Web services are not cool anymore

  1. Yes, all this reliability stuff is just boring! It reminds me of a talk by Brian Snow where compared the computer industry of today to the car industry of the 1930s. In the 1930s there were beautiful cars, low slung roadsters, convertibles, they could go fast, and they looked great. But when some unforseen circumstance confronted they would crash and the driver would die.
    Now look at today, the cars look nice, they go fast, but things get dicey you have ABS, air bags, etc. you have a good chance at being able to manuver out of a jam.

  2. Great post! Lots of quotable quotes, including “once a technology passes the hype cycle and becomes adopted, all its warts and bumps become more obvious” and “This is the world we have. It may not be pretty, but it works, and it is definitely better than what we had before.”
    It would be nice if all parties could just agree that “we should no more propose Web services as the right solution for everything than we should propose REST as the right solution for everything.” But that would be boringly pragmatic, and not good Diggbait 🙂

  3. Web Services are not Cool Anymore

    Great piece by Eric Newcomer. It’s tempting to ask whether they ever were cool, but I definitely held the whole WS-* stuff in much higher regard a few years ago. I’ll leave that comment to Mark :-)…

  4. Nice post, Eric.

  5. On the car analogy – yes, I think we more or less know what the “car” is now and we can continue to improve it, make it more reliable, safer, etc.
    This is definitely less cool than when we didn’t know what it was, and could experiment, try all sorts of new designs, etc.
    It may definitely be more boring now, and somewhat disappointing to some to move on from the initial phase, but that is the nature of business and industry.

  6. Day of the Dove

    Do you remember that Star Trek TOS episode where a hyper-intelligent shade of the color red locks a Klingon crew and the Enterprise crew in unending violent combat so that it can feed off their heightened emotions? Remind you of anything?
    If the RESTa…

  7. Web服务已不再Cool

    嗯,这是迟早的事。没有一项技术可以永远享有全新技术的称号。在将近七年之后,我想,也终于轮到Web服务了。Web服务的采纳率继续稳定增长,近期的一次调查 (不幸地是,它似乎混淆了Web服务与SOA)显示,SOA的采纳正在增加,并且确实带来了生产率的提高。这一迹象似乎与近来关于SOAP的批评公然抵触。

  8. SOA and Web Services are thought of by most people in the enterprise, but the attraction of SOA does extend to small business as well who also desire the separation of concerns, and all the technical benefits of heightened abstraction.
    Eric, your book propagates how ideal a companion Web Services is for SOA and this may even be true in the enterprise, but smaller businesses see SOA without web services as a very attractive option now, where Web Services may not be such an ideal companion to SOA any more.

  9. Hi Peter,
    Yes, I think that’s correct. I tend to focus on the requirements of larger enterprises I guess, since that tends to be the kind of customer with which I have the most interaction.
    I think Web services are applicable only when using multiple platforms for an SOA, and that’s where I think they are ideal. If you are using a single platform, such as .NET only, or Java only, it doesn’t really make sense to use Web services, since they are an abstraction across those and other platforms.
    I think we do say this somewhere in the book, but it doesn’t get much emphasis, and all the examples tend to be how Web services enable an SOA for multiple technologies.

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