Click here to close now.


Related Topics: Microservices Expo

Microservices Expo: Article

Is the "Web" in "Web Services" a Misnomer?

Understanding the Phenomenon Requires Looking Back, Forward, and Around

I know I shall be accused of being old-fashioned, but sometimes in order to understand the present, let alone the future, one of the very best starting-places is the past. Take for example the present surrounding Web services. The best clue to what is happening right now in the early 21st century comes from an English philosopher and political economist who lived and wrote in the 19th century, John Stuart Mill.

No new ideas can make their way in the world, wrote Mill, "until aptly selected words or phrases have, as it were, nailed them down and held them fast." And the (so far, very brief) history of Web services illustrates his point magnificently.

Credit for coining (or first using) the term belongs to Philip Greenspun, the now-retired computer scientist who was a pioneer in developing online communities. Three years ago I asked him whether he recognized the way it was being used, back then, and he didn't. "I might have coined the term but not with its current meaning," he wrote me. 

Greenspun continued: 

"What I meant by a 'Web service'  was what I might today call a 'Web appplication,' i.e. a Web site that does the job formerly done by a desktop app. The Microsoft .NET-style 'Web services' we just called 'Web-based distributed computing'."

In Greenspun's view, "Web services" as it was being used back then (in 2002) was a misnomer.

"I personally think something incorporating the standard 1960s and 1970s term 'distributed computing' is the right one. 'Web services' doesn't fit because most/much of this stuff will eventually be happening on the Internet but without what most people think of as the Web (i.e., users will not be viewing in HTML though probably HTTP will be used so technically it could be called 'Web')."

The characteristic insight and prescience of Greenspun's analysis here was demonstated this week from two diametrically opposed camps.

In San Jose, Sun's president and COO, Jonathan Schwartz, made a speech in which he asserted that the PC is "so yesterday" because the desktop is no longer what matters. What has become important, Schwartz said, are "Web services on the Internet and the mobile phones most will use to access them":

"The majority of the applications that will drive the next wave of innovation will be services, not applications that run on the desktop. The real innovation is occurring in the network and the network services."
Meantime, far to the north of San Jose in Safeco Field in Seattle, WA, where Microsoft was staging its 30th-birthday annual meeting, Bill Gates was reviewing his company's first three decades and chose, out of all the myriad trends and phenomena - guess what - "Web services" as one of the two most central focuses in Microsoft's history:
"As I think about the last 30 years," Gates said, "I’m most proud of our making 'big bets' on technologies like the graphical user interface or Web services and watching them grow into something people rely on every day."

So there we have it. Microsoft wants to chain "Web services" to the realm of the desktop where commercial domination is still possible, while Sun wants to liberate the term to the superset, to the Network itself, a technical meritocracy where no such domination is possible but where the overall global market is so vast that any company with even a single percentage point of it can maintain and nurture a vibrant multibillion dollar business.

Above all, it is precisely the elastic quality of a term like "Web services" that will guarantee its secure place in the i-Technology lexicon for decades to come. It's all a little like Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

Comments (2) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Most Recent Comments
Steve Ross-Talbot 10/24/05 07:33:03 PM EDT

I think that Philip Greenspun's comment that it really id distributed computing on the internet or through the web as defined by standard connection protocols is exactly correct.

The term Web Services is not and has never been helpful. People have forgotten what it really is and the term distributed computing is what it really is. By naming the term we can at least begin to have an understanding of what it is and therefore ask the right questions of it. Today, alas, this is not what happens. It is caught up in myth making and marketing and the important issues are forgotten.

I would suggest that naming is not a luxury but a necessity and refer all to the following url:


Steve T
Chair W3C Web Services Coordination

Web Services Journal News Desk 09/25/05 08:37:30 PM EDT

Why the "Web Services" Takeover of the World Will Continue. I know I shall be accused of being old-fashioned, but sometimes in order to understand the present, let alone the future, one of the very best starting-places is the past. Take for example the present surrounding Web services. The best clue to what is happening right now comes from a philosopher, the English philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill.

Latest Stories
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true ...
In recent years, at least 40% of companies using cloud applications have experienced data loss. One of the best prevention against cloud data loss is backing up your cloud data. In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Sam McIntyre, Partner Enablement Specialist at eFolder, presented how organizations can use eFolder Cloudfinder to automate backups of cloud application data. He also demonstrated how easy it is to search and restore cloud application data using Cloudfinder.
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York and Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty ...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 7-9, 2016 at Javits Center, New York City and Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 18th International @CloudExpo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Y...
Cloud computing delivers on-demand resources that provide businesses with flexibility and cost-savings. The challenge in moving workloads to the cloud has been the cost and complexity of ensuring the initial and ongoing security and regulatory (PCI, HIPAA, FFIEC) compliance across private and public clouds. Manual security compliance is slow, prone to human error, and represents over 50% of the cost of managing cloud applications. Determining how to automate cloud security compliance is critical...
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, San...
As organizations shift towards IT-as-a-service models, the need for managing & protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and now cloud environments grows with it. CommVault can ensure protection & E-Discovery of your data - whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud, or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enterprise.
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at DevOps Summit, Asaf Yigal, Co-Founder & VP of Product at, explored the value of Kibana 4 for log analysis and provided a hands-on tutorial on how to set up Kibana 4 and get the most out of Apache log files. He examined three use cases: IT operations, business intelligence, and security and compliance. Asaf Yigal is co-founder and VP of Product at log analytics software company In the past, he was co-founder of social-trading platform Currensee, which...
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi’s VP Business Development and Engineering, explored the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving t...
There are over 120 breakout sessions in all, with Keynotes, General Sessions, and Power Panels adding to three days of incredibly rich presentations and content. Join @ThingsExpo conference chair Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040), June 7-9, 2016 in New York City, for three days of intense 'Internet of Things' discussion and focus, including Big Data's indespensable role in IoT, Smart Grids and Industrial Internet of Things, Wearables and Consumer IoT, as well as (new) IoT's use in Vertical Markets.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data...
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, Inc., the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Alert Logic, Inc., provides Security-as-a-Service for on-premises, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, delivering deep security insight and continuous protection for customers at a lower cost than traditional security solutions. Ful...