Web 2.0 Summit: Open Source software borrows back from the open API Web

Web services, software-as-a-service, and per-node, per-hour rent-a-grid computing are meeting in the middle. Web sites, companies with server software roots, and open source developers are converging on new ideas for business IT that blur the lines between APIs, services and software products.

As the Web 2.0 Summit (Nov. 7-9 in San Francisco's aptly-named Palace Hotel) drifted into its second half, the panels ended and all eyes were focused on the main stage in the Grand Ballroom. But the seats themselves weren't full, thanks to the Google Overflow Lounge, which looked like a funky nightclub with big comfy white couches surrounding large plasma TVs. The self-service mini-café – replete with energy drinks and health food snacks – didn't hurt the lounge's popularity, either.

Day Two's speakers were a mixed bag. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos talked about his company's foray into Web services and rent-by-the-hour hardware provisioning. Internet founding father Vint Cerf and Cisco's Robert Pepper argued about net neutrality at the bits-and-bytes level. Robert B. Carter of FedEx discussed the virtualization of distribution, and Bob Parsons of domain registrar GoDaddy.com showed racy commercials and talked about pulling GoDaddy's IPO when financiers insisted he cut his customer service staff (920 of 1340 employees) to reduce costs.

Ning, the new social network platform started by Netscape co-founder and perpetual entrepreneur Marc Andreesen, provided the conference's hottest technology demo. Ning has collected some of the key features of Web 2.0 social network sites – video and photo sharing – and exposed them as a framework for Internet users. It takes a few seconds, and no coding, to create a new social network site -- your own clone of HotOrNot or Flickr  -- and you can extend the Ning platform with their PHP plugin API or AJAX-ready REST API.

The LAMP Stack goes 2.0

The technology focus picked up on Day Three, when Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL AB, gave the opening talk. He proposed a universal database, a grand experiment in exposing relational databases over the Web, both publicly and in private relationships. With proper APIs and protocols, he said, data mining across organizational boundaries can happen and new mashups of structured data could be built.

I talked to Marten after his speech about MySQL AB's plans to build the underlying infrastructure to make this database possible. He said, “We're still in the idea stage. Part of being close to the open source community is that we can stimulate development of work in this area.” Projects on the company's new MySQLForge site include RSS and XML interfaces for MySQL databases, and he thinks further developments are coming.

The Forge is one of the new efforts by MySQL to open up its processes. Launched in October with the help of SpikeSource, MySQLForge hosts almost 200 MySQL-based projects. “Web 2.0 borrowed user-contributed content from the open source philosophy,” Mickos said. “Now we're borrowing it back.”

He thinks the LAMP stacks popularity with Web 2.0 developers depends in part on its versatility. “MySQL has always had a low latency and quick connections. This means it can help the LAMP stack handle payloads from small AJAX calls to multi-megabyte video streams.” He noted that most Web 2.0 sites maintain their LAMP architecture even after growing to global scale. “Web 1.0 companies spent time and money rebuilding their successful sites with technologies like Java and Oracle,” he pointed out. “That was a costly mistake.”

Mickos thinks that the growth of Web services will change the way people use database servers. Delivering data over the Web interface is going to bring more integration of the LAMP stack. “We've already seen integration in installation,” he noted, “and we'll probably have more basic services like user accounts, security and logging integrated vertically through the stack in the future.”

MySQL AB has already started talking with Amazon Web Services about ways to leverage the two products. “There are now tools to back up a MySQL database to Amazon S3 [Amazon's networked storage system] and we're helping to provide MySQL on EC2,” the server rental service, he said. Mickos doesn't discount on-demand replicated MySQL slave servers as a Web service, but he notes, “Replication latency over the Internet is a hard problem to solve.”

Open 2.0

Speaking of the LAMP stack, I also caught Apache founder and CollabNet exec Brian Behlendorf stalking the halls between sessions. “I spoke at the last two Web 2.0 conferences,” he told me, “and this year I'm sitting back and listening.”

Behlendorf is happy to see the opensource ethos in Web 2.0 community sites. “Open source software development has shown that big communities can get the job done. Before open source, nobody was sure that would work. Now, with projects like Wikipedia – Wiki everything – we take it for granted.”

Is there room for a company to facilitate Web 2.0 communities in the way that CollabNet helps companies with open source? “We're looking to build more Web 2.0 features into our software, but beyond that I don't know.”

I wondered if he thought that the Apache Software Foundation's emphasis on Java development in its Jakarta project, given Web 2.0 sites' preferences for more dynamic languages like PHP, Ruby, and Python. “Not at all. Having richer client applications means that you can build a more heterogeneous server environment – coding critical business processes in Java, with experimental and front-end code in PHP, Python, Ruby, or all three.” Java will be around for a long time, he said: “It's what businesses depend on.”

Brian's interested in the development of Web services, but he's concerned about implications for users and downstream developers. “When I hear the word open used for services and APIs, I cringe,” he said. “Just because something's available on the Internet, is it 'open'?” He pointed out that developers who depend on these services don't have the same flexibility as with open source software. “Most Web services aren't forkable. You've got a single provider and you have to trust them. That worries me.”

API 2.0

Chad Dickerson of the Yahoo! Developer Network thinks that's an unnecessary concern. “What you're interacting with in Web services is all Open Source: FreeBSD, Apache, Python, all the way down. We're providing programming interfaces to custom software that was only available through one interface.”

YDN is a great resource; they provide libraries to access Yahoo APIs in Python, Ruby, Perl, JavaScript and Flash's ActionScript. One of the most interesting libraries is the YUI, a set of JavaScript libraries for building rich browser apps. YUI is available under the BSD license, which was a pretty bold move by Yahoo. “YUI is a gateway drug for the rest of our available software,” Dickerson said.

Yahoo recently launched a browser-based authentication system named BBAuth, which lets external Web sites allow logins from Yahoo users. With more than 250 million users, Yahoo would be the fourth largest country in the world – that's a lot of potential users. I asked Chad why Yahoo didn't use of the competing single-signon standards available, like OpenID.

“We're exposing the authentication system that different Yahoo applications use. We're watching the authentication standards closely, but we wanted to expose the product our 11 years of experience in shared login.” The YDN helps internal Yahoo groups expose APIs, giving guidance, advice and exposure to their efforts.

He also thinks that worrying about moving from one service to another is misguided. “Most Web APIs are so simple, you can rewrite your client software very quickly if you need to.” I think he's right; client-side compatibility libraries like Mapstraction, which abstracts different mapping services so that you can easily switch from Google to Yahoo maps and back, can alleviate dependence on any one service. He says that standards will probably play a role in the future of Web APIs, but that simple lightweight standards are probably the best.

Dickerson also points out that Yahoo's best contribution to open source might be the good example of Web services they're providing. “We embraced REST for the Yahoo Search API, and our other services have followed suit. With our libraries and example code, we may have the best examples of Web services architecture available.”

Upshot 2.0

With the end of the Summit, what can we take away from Web 2.0? It's clear that the Web 2.0 movement isn't going away any time soon. The recently announced Web 2.0 Expo, scheduled for April 2007, will concentrate more on technical issues, but the Summit has shown that services and user-oriented Web sites are becoming an integral part of the Internet. The open source community provides the infrastructure for Web 2.0; it can also provide ethical guidance for its younger sibling.

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This story, "Web 2.0 Summit: Open Source software borrows back from the open API Web" was originally published by LinuxWorld-(US).

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