Web Services: Down, but Not Out

Loraine Lawson

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for a company briefly owned by the IT research firm Gartner. During that time, I spent a lot of time hearing about Gartner's Hype Cycle.

If you're not familiar with the Hype Cycle, it describes the love/hate/adoption cycle we -- the press and technology workers -- go through with new technologies. They are:

  1. Technology Trigger. There's a technology breakthrough, a public demonstration, demo or some other major even that brings attention to a "new" technology.
  2. The Peak of Inflated Expectations. Suddenly, the technology is everywhere and everybody is talking about how it solved this or that problem. But most people don't know how to do it, so there are a lot of failures, too. A technology in this stage will be written and talked about extensively -- with the focus on success stories and how-to advice. Here's my clue for this stage: If a glowing story has the words, "But while Sources say Technology X is no panacea," then I know we're well into this part of the hype cycle. Another sure sign: If the press say it will solve the IT/business alignment problem.
  3. The Trough of Disillusionment. Enough people have now tried the technology, so they know it doesn't actually perform as promised. A Google search will most likely turn up angry blog posts, but few trade press articles. Feelings associated with this stage include wanting to throttle any vendor or analyst who mentions the technology to you. Fortunately -- or unfortunately -- they have moved on to something else.
  4. Slope of Enlightenment. People are starting to figure out how the technology really works, pros and cons. There are automated tools that will help you implement the technology. One clue that you're in this stage is when there's a commercial, off-the-shelf solution for small businesses. My personal clue comes when my husband says they're "planning to add" the technology at the regional government agency where he's employed.
  5. The Plateau of Productivity. This is usually when the late adopters are comfortable adding the new technology to their repertoire. The technology is widely accepted and more people know how implement it, so you see wide-spread adoption.

At first, I thought it was excessively obvious. But as I've followed technology over the years, I've seen the wisdom of the hype cycle. It's easy to forget that what's out of vogue today will return.


I mention this because, it seems to me, Web services is sloshing its way through the Trough of Disillusionment. I've seen several articles of late about how SOA and Web services need to be divorced. That may be true, but the tone implies that SOA -- at the height of its hype cycle -- is somehow so-much-better-than Web services. I've also seen a lot of criticisms about the volume of Web services standards.


But it's important to remember that just because a tech is in the low part of its hype-cycle, that doesn't mean it was "just a fad" or not worth your time.


In fact, those using Web services are probably just settling down to figuring out how it works in the real world, as this blogger points out. (Though I think he's a wrong about how he sees the hype cycle.)


Over on the .NET Developer's Journal, blogger Frank Cohen offers a defense of Web services, particularly as the technology applies to SOA. He explains how these technologies complement each other. He also relates how companies are using SOA in conjunction with Web services to quickly create composite applications, thus giving these companies a strategic advantage over those who choose to focus on building more direct interoperability between services.


But if Web services is to move out of the trough and on to everyday usefulness -- and I think it inevitably will -- then advocates are going to have to address the problem of too many standards.

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