Book review – a must-read: Web 2.0 Architectures, James Governor, Dion Hinchcliffe and Duane Nickull (2009, Adobe Developer Library, O’Reilly)

Many years ago now (1990-91), I achieved an MSc in Computing at Bradford University.  The course was built on foundational computer science concepts, the basics of binary data transmission, logic gates, modular programming techniques, system architectures.  At the time, I was very irritated with the course.  Although I could wire up a board to switch a mini-traffic light on and off in sequence, I didn’t have any training in office software packages, or the new GUIs such as the newly emergent Windows 3.0 clunking along on a 286 chip (although I did, for my project, use Macromind Director to animate some cute 3D molecular models to demonstrate the concepts of stereochemistry, which shows how far Macs were ahead in those days, I guess).  So I thought my course wasn’t relevant.  How wrong I was!

I never worked in systems development, instead moving into education where I’ve always pretty much worked at the user end of emerging technologies, culminating in my current post as an academic in the innovation field.  The knowledge I gained during that MSc was so sound that it kept me going right up until the advent of Web 2.0.  As far as Web 1.0 and PC LANs went, even though they were in their infancy back in 1991, I still found I had enough vocabulary to keep me going, using technology very effectively myself, showing others how to do that, and helping entrepreneurs see into the future.  However, over the past year or so, that feeling of confidence was starting to erode a little.  Things seemed to be changing quickly, and although I’ve never had any problem (apart from time) with picking up new applications, I felt I was becoming far less sure than I ever had been as to what was going on underneath — and for me that is CRITICAL if I want to anticipate what’s coming next.  There was a lot of hyperbole out there, but while that was exciting the public imagination (great!), my needs weren’t met.  Many of the books I tried were just too technical to make the connections I needed to my students, customers, clients, research partners.  Or, conversely, not technical enough. Then by chance, (or through twitter, whichever way you want to look at it), I came upon this book, which for me has definitely filled the gap – making the link between the technical and the market in a way that respects the importance of both equally, and indicates some possible gaps in service provision for future developers.

This is without doubt the best book I have read on Web 2.0.  It actually spells out in detail what is meant by Web 2.0 from both a systems architecture and an applications point of view, in a way  that incorporates the user at the outset.  Further, unlike some other books in this space that make rather hyperbolic predictions about what Web 2.0 might (or might not) mean for business, this text instead sets out boxed ‘entrepreneur alerts’ which point out gaps where innovation could occur.  This is so useful in providing *meaningful* linkages between technical possibilities and market realities.  Supporting that, there are plenty of practical checklists for actually making things work, such as “What Web 2.0 Users Will Demand of User Interface Designers”.

There is of course lots of technical material that will interest developers seeking to enter this field, with Chapter 7 identifying ‘Specific Patterns of Web 2.0’, fundamental system arrangements that provide a foundation for applications; each section is linked to business contexts.  The authors point out this debate is still ongoing, as the systems context is constantly evolving.  However it is clear that constructs such as, for example, Service-Oriented Architecture, Collaborative Tagging and Participative-Collaboration will be around for some time.  Earlier chapters underpin this important set of conclusions with introductory material on the nature of Web 2.0, with examples (Chapters 1-3) and discussions of modelling paradigms (Chapterts 4-6).  Concluding, the final chapter takes a look into how to create services that last into an uncertain future.

Finally, as well as being useful for systems developers and aspirant entrepreneurs, there is some useful material for anyone seeking to just know more about internet basics: what it is, how messages are transmitted, how it has developed and some explanation of terms such as HTML, Java, AJAX.  Certainly the most useful book I’ve read in while.

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