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SOA World Editorial - Discovering Dr. Dolittle

You might be thinking that I'm about to start this month's editorial with a reference to talking to animals and tie that to SOA

From the title, you might be thinking that I’m about to start this month’s editorial with a reference to talking to animals and somehow tie that into SOA. Instead, what I actually would like to talk about is the pushmi-pullyu (I got the spelling from Wikipedia; I always thought it was “push-me pull you”). In the books, the pushmi-pullyu is an animal with two heads, each one going in the opposite direction.

What the pushmi-pullyu means to me in this particular context is two-way communication and the enfranchisement that it represents. In particular, I’m talking about the way Web 2.0 enhances SOA and further enables changes in our communication model from a push to a push–pull model.

You might think we already have a two-way model, but in most cases there’s not really an equality relationship between the push and the pull. For example, a corporate site interacting with a consumer ought to be as much about the consumer’s needs as the corporation’s. Why, you ask? Because Web 2.0 is about social computing, and is as much a response to the unfriendliness of static web pages as it is a technology movement.

SOA discussions all tend to follow the same pattern – establish fundamentals, set up security, look at scaling, set up governance, and we’ll get to BPM later. All of these issues are worthy of discussion, but they also tend to shortchange an area that I think needs even more focus – user interaction.

I don’t just mean eliciting a response from a user either. I mean actually allowing the user to make decisions and guide his path through the services offered by a corporation. Social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace are cases in point.

Traditional Internet marketing and personalization concentrated mostly on segmenting users from a corporate viewpoint. These are our high dollar users; they get more bandwidth and discounts. These are our low dollar users; they get a slower response. In some ways it made sense – if you ignore the fact that the user is an intelligent human being and can often resent being seen as merely a dollar sign or a variable in an equation.

The impact of social computing and the human network effect are already changing the way we have to look at end users. Far from viewing them as simpletons who need our guidance, we need to enable them as intelligent beings who can chart their own course through our services, and who enjoy the freedom to associate with one another on their own terms. In short, treat people like grown-ups. Now there’s a frightening concept.

Yet it pays dividends every single time. Brand loyalty, word of mouth, customer adoption – all are driven by focusing on taking a service, and making it extremely easy for a user to consume it – in whatever way they may find appropriate.

Social networking sites could have static groupings – default settings that you could choose to enroll in. But that limits the participation of others – because it doesn’t allow for open enrollment and dynamic creation based on user-defined groups – and creates a one-way conversation between the corporation and the user. What’s really needed is the ability to work both ways and allow the user as much freedom as the corporation enjoys (or at least almost as much).

The lesson is clear for us – to make SOA truly meaningful we have to give users a means to interact with services in ways that they choose. We need to break down the walls that we’ve worked so hard to put up and find the courage to empower the end user (and the strength and intelligence to still have a secure environment without security checks interfering with individuality). If we can achieve that, we’ll have made the whole SOA journey worthwhile.

That’s our focus for this month – Web 2.0 and SOA. Now I’ve got to run; I’ve got a con call with a chimpanzee on line one and the lions want to discuss a shared governance model.

More Stories By Sean Rhody

Sean Rhody is the founding-editor (1999) and editor-in-chief of SOA World Magazine. He is a respected industry expert on SOA and Web Services and a consultant with a leading consulting services company. Most recently, Sean served as the tech chair of SOA World Conference & Expo 2007 East.

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