The IT Strategy Letter
April 29, 2003 (Subscribe)

Free Online Seminar and a Free Book. Be one of the first to sign up for tomorrow's webcast, and you'll receive a free copy of my new book. John McDowall (CTO of Grand Central Communications) and I will be discussing Loose Coupling: Interoperability for Business Agility, Wednesday 4/30/03 at 10:00am Pacific time (1pm Eastern). The seminar will also be archived for later viewing.

The O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference

"You can tell this conference is bottom up rather than top down when digerati Esther Dyson and Howard Rheingold are sitting on the floor in the packed O'Reilly presentation. Could you imagine Alan Greenspan sitting on the floor of some financial conference?" --Jason Kottke

Most of the conferences we all attend are about the subjects we already know, but ETech's multidisciplinary agenda lets you ponder the future of your own field with the perspective of recent developments in others. Here are some of the sessions I attended along with links to the coverage by bloggers and other participants. [O'Reilly summary page]

Presentations (with links to summaries and reviews)...

Howard Rheingold: Smart Mobs
[phil | jason | cory]
Panel: DRM in Practice: Rights, Restrictions and Reality
Eric Bonabeau: Biological Computing
  [phil | daniel | derrick's interview with eric]
Tim O'Reilly: The O'Reilly Radar
Brewster Kahle and Lisa Rein: Internet Archive's Digital Bookmobile

[phil | trevor | jason's photos]

Alan Kay: The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet

  [phil | trevor | daniel | cory]

Kevin Lynch: Personal Interfaces (Macromedia's Central)

  [phil | trevor]

Clay Shirky: A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy: Social Structure in Social Software

  [phil | robert | cory | jon]
Dan Gillmor: Journalism 3.1b2
  [trevor | cory]

Mitch Kapor and Andy Hertzfeld: A New Open-Source PIM

  [ducky | phil]

Felipe Carbrera (Microsoft): The Future of Web Services

  [trevor | jon]

Craig Silverstein (Google): Google, Innovation, and the Web

  [glenn | cory | jon]

D. Pescovitz & E. Paulos: Roboflies, Flexonics, and the Social Life of Smart Dust

  [cory | trevor | jon] presented an entire day on their web-services interfaces, AWS. It's no surprise that the vast majority of developer partners are using the simple REST-style calls rather than those based on SOAP, and that these developers consider web services as merely a portal to Jeff Barr presented a number of independently developed applications such as Say Yes, which tells you what songs have recently been played on your local radio stations, then allows you to buy the CD from (No, they don't get a database feed from the radio stations. Their software recognizes the digital fingerprint of popular songs by analyzing the radio stations' audio.) is becoming an e-commerce platform rather than merely a storefront for independent merchants. The coolest concept is their support of XSLT. You use their web-services interfaces to manage your dynamic catalog content, but your "store" can be built using entirely static content. This means you can run an elaborate store from a very simple (inexpensive) web-hosting service. You build your site using XSLT style sheets rather than HTML. Your hyperlinks are REST-style URLs that include references back to the XSLT files on your own web server. When an server gets a request for such a URL, it fetches the specified style sheet from your server, applies the style sheet to the appropriate content from the amazon database (which then includes your catalog), and returns customized HTML to the customer's browser. The customer's experience is that of a dynamic site customized to your visual standards, but supported by's back end. And yet you can do it all with static files.

This approach is particularly interesting for the SME vendors, and I expect to see other web-hosting services offer similar support for e-commerce using XSLT and a rendering engine. When I asked about tools for developing XSLT style sheets, a few people mentioned Altova's xmlspy, which apparently has the ability to convert an HTML page to its XSLT style-sheet equivalent. (If you're familiar with xmlspy, let me know what you think of it.)


The subtext of the conference was as fascinating as the sessions themselves. For instance, it seemed as though nearly everyone was laptop-enabled. Aside from Apple-specific events, I've never seen such a high percentage of iBooks. (I'd guess at least 65%.) There were public WiFi access points everywhere, so it didn't make much sense to spend $16 per night to use the CAT5 connection in the hotel room.

I was happy enough using my now-antique Vaio Picturebook (PCG-C1VN), but those iBook users running Apple's OS X were in hog heaven using Rendezvous and the Hydra multi-user text editor. Very cool indeed. My iBook envy is almost beyond control.

Weblogs were hot, with a number of bloggers providing near real-time reports on the sessions. You could sit in one room and know what was going on in the others. Socialtext provided a real-time Wiki that allowed all of us--even those without iBooks and Hydra--to keep up to date on the rest of the conference.


With all those bloggers, you could count on some controversy, but it came from an unexpected source. On the first full day of the conference, Andrew Orlowski attacked the conference's submission process in The Register. Everyone was talking about it, and Tim O'Reilly came to the defense of the process and of the individuals involved. Even Dave Winer (now from Cambridge) decided he had been passed over. Something to offend everyone!

People and Gossip...

"One of the real treats of these O'Reilly conferences is getting to meet so many of the people I read everyday. This morning at breakfast, I was at a table with Glenn Fleishman, Tim Pozar, Cory Doctorow, Rael Dornfest, and Doug Kaye." --Phil Windley

Another lasting impression is the remarkable quality of both presenters and attendees. It was a literal geekfest. I can't recall ever seeing in one place so many people that I've wanted to meet and hear. It was even overwhelming at times. [cory's photos] And then there were all the amazing people I met (or didn't) but wish I'd had more time to get to know better: Glenn Fleishman, David Weinberger, Tim O'Reilly, Clay Shirky, Sam Ruby, Dan Gillmor, Doc Searls, Rael Dornfest, Adam Bosworth, Esther Dyson, Larry Wall, Ben and Mena Trott, Eric Bonabeau, Tim Oren, and namesake Robert Kaye, Mayhem and Chaos Coordinator.

Easily mistaken for one another.

It's a terrific conference. I'll be back next year.

And in other happenings last week...


No SOAP for CIOs "...although 86% used XML, only 31% employed SOAP, 14% supported UDDI, and a mere 3% adopted WSDL." [Source: Gartner via The Inquirer]
Posted Saturday, April 26, 2003 10:59:57 AM

Windley on Grand Central. Phil Windley tested Grand Central Communications' services in this review in InfoWorld. It's a real hands-on evaluation, right down to what Phil expected and what happened instead. He used simple tools (e.g., SOAP::Lite) on his end, and the evaluation doesn't address performance or scalability. But it answers the most important first-round questions: How does this thing work, and how hard is it to get it up and running? We need more evaluations of web-services products and services like this. Perhaps Phil and InfoWorld can team up for others. [Update: Phil tells me more reviews are on the way!]
Posted Saturday, April 19, 2003 5:44:15 PM

ZapThink on Service-Oriented Processes. In his new report ($995) Ron Schmelzer concludes:

  • Service-Oriented Process is Key to Meeting Business Agility Requirements
  • Service-oriented process includes orchestration, choreography, composition, workflow, transactions, and collaboration of Web Services.
  • The market for Service-Oriented Process solutions will grow from $120 Million in 2003 to over $8.3 Billion by 2008.
  • The standards landscape will converge on a single choreography, orchestration, and process flow specification in the next 12-18 months.
  • By 2005, over 70% of Web Services implementations will be process-driven.
  • Services must be developed devoid of process in order that they can participate in an SOA that meets the goals of business agility
  • Service-Oriented Management techniques can assist in managing discrete services as well as end-to-end business processes.
Posted Thursday, April 17, 2003 9:01:09 PM

The Fastest-Growing Hosting Providers. Netcraft reports the changes from December 2001 to 2002.
Posted Thursday, April 17, 2003 7:22:56 PM

Evaluating SOAP. I recently linked to an article in Australian IT about a study comparing the performance of SOAP to CORBA. I received a message from Chris Kohlhoff, one of the study's authors, suggesting that the Australian IT coverage might have been less than complete. On Chris' advice, I downloaded the original study's PDF.

Indeed, the study by Chris and Robert Steele only coincidentally addresses CORBA. Rather, it compares SOAP, FIX (a text-based protocol for capital markets), and CDR (a binary-format protocol). Among their conclusions:

  • The text-based nature of XML is not sufficient to explain SOAP's inefficiency.
  • Improvements in the efficiency of SOAP encoders and decoders may enable its use in high-performance business applications.
  • The cost of converting numerical data from to binary--identified as major by other studies--does not have a predominant role. [They noted that financial applications--unlike scientific computing--typically don't use floating-point data.]
Unfortunately, when evaluating round-trip latency, it appears that Kohlhoff and Steele only used local (LAN) connections of 10mbps and 100mbps in which the underlying latency of the link is insignificant. I'd like to see the results of similar tests using long-haul multi-hop TCP/IP links of 1,000 miles or more in which the latency of the network can have a greater impact than the overhead of the protocols.
Posted Thursday, April 10, 2003 6:06:14 AM

Book Watch

Loosely Coupled--The Missing Pieces of Web Services is still new and therefore somewhat hard to find. (The official publication date isn't until August.) In some cases, vendors can't keep it in stock. (We like that case.) In other cases there are just gaps in the distribution infrastructure. Here are some tips as of today:

  • NerdBooks: US$27.19, the best price we've seen for U.S. orders
  • US$27.99, but quotes anywhere from 2 days to 5 weeks
  • Doesn't have it in stock yet
  • DigitalGuru: US$31.99, quotes 5-7 days
  • RDS Press: US$39.99, direct from the publisher, ships within 24 hours.
    (Not the cheapest, but the best source for fast or non-US delivery.)

Review of the Week:

"Starting Systinet would have been much easier if I had had access to this book at the beginning. It really helps to understand the basic principles of Web Services and SOA."

--Roman Stanek, founder & CEO, Systinet

Media Appearances

Loosely Coupled: Interoperability for Business Agility. (Webcast) Wednesday 4/30/03 10:00am Pacific time, with John McDowall, CTO of Grand Central Communications. (Also archived for later viewing.)


Web Services Project Strategies. (Webcast) Recorded 4/21/03 with Brent Sheets at It should be online RSN (real soon now).

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The IT Strategy Letter is published weekly by RDS Strategies LLC. Much--but not all--of the content is published earlier in Doug Kaye's weblogs.


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"...essential reading for anyone seeking to deploy this technology."

--John Hagel, III,
management consultant
and author of
"Out of the Box"


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