I recently read two blog posts on Microsoft's VisitMix site recently which show how conflicted large Web players can be about embracing the fact that The Web is the Platform. The first is a blog post by Scott Barnes entitled Rich Interactive Applications which contains the following excerpt

When you think of RIA what is it your mind casts an image to first?
RIA isn't about attention/eyeballs, it's supposed to be focused on empowering end users of a defined type, to carry out mundane task through an enriching user experience. User Experience is the key, in that a true RIA solution has the power to abstract complexity through aggregation or 360 degree view(s) of content without altering context.
That is Rich Interactive Application (RIA) shifting the paradigm. It had nothing to do with the Internet, suffice to say it's housed within an agent which is connected to the Internet - or - Intranet.

This blog post was the first time I've seen the term RIA defined as Rich Interactive Application instead of Rich Internet Application. Digging a little, it becomes obvious that Scott Barnes's post is just one of many in an ongoing flame war war of words between developer evangelists at Microsoft and developer evangelists at Adobe.

Redefining a term in such a way that it becomes all-inclusive is a recipe for devaluing the term [which might be Scott's purpose]. This is the lesson from the all-inclusive definitions that started to swirl around industry terms like Service Oriented Architecture and Web 2.0. More importantly, the problem with using the term "Rich Interactive Application" to define what developers commonly describe as RIAs is that it completely misses the point. Developers and end users are not excited about the ability to build and use rich interactive applications, they are excited about being able to build and use rich interactive applications on the Web. They've had the former for as long as desktop computers have existed, the latter is what is currently jazzing people up (e.g. all the hype around AJAX, Flickr, YouTube, the Facebook platform, etc).

Don't fight the Web. People don't get excited about "interactive" desktop applications. When was the last time your best friend, mom, daughter, sister, co-worker, etc told you about some cool desktop app they just found or use regularly? How does that compare that to the amount of times they've told about cool Web sites they found or use regularly?

Think about that for a second, Mr. Rich Interactive Application. Embrace the Web or you will be left behind.

Onto Joshua Allen's post entitled Web is THE Platform? SRSLY? which states

Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch reports on Google's presentation today at Web 2.0 Conference.  Jeff Huber of Google, trying to slam Facebook and MySpace, said "A lot that you have heard here is about platforms and who is going to win. That is Paleolithic thinking. The Web has already won. The web is the Platform. So let’s go build the programmable Web."

I was rather surprised, because I heard that same line just two days ago, from Dare Obasanjo.  Jeff apparently reads Dare's blog, and was in a hurry to prepare his speech.
When I hear someone talk about the web as a platform, I have a pretty clear picture:

  • Utilizes open standards, preferably mature specifications and preferably from W3C
  • Utilizes web client runtime that has massive deployment; depends only on functionality that can be found in the majority of browsers
  • Runs the same no matter who is hosting the code

This is non-negotiable!  When any normal person writes "for the web", this is what she means! 

Joshua goes on to cite Google for hypocrisy because it's widget platform is every bit as proprietary as those of MySpace and Facebook, and Google's doesn't use any of the ad-hoc standards for exposing social graph data in a shareable way (FOAF, XFN, etc).

Although all the things Joshua lists are important, they aren't what I was really harping on when I wrote the post referenced by Joshua. The problem with the Facebook platform is that although you can use it to build Web applications, they are not on the Web. What do I mean by being on the Web? Here's a sampling of writings from across the Web that does a better of job of explaining this than I ever could

Tim Berners-Lee

When I invented the Web, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely.

Jason Kottke

Faced with competition from this open web, AOL lost...running a closed service with custom content and interfaces was no match for the wild frontier of the web. Maybe if they'd done some things differently, they would have fared better, but they still would have lost. In competitive markets, open and messy trumps closed and controlled in the long run.

Anil Dash

It's not true to say that Facebook is the new AOL, and it's oversimplification to say that Facebook's API is the new Blackbird, or the new Rainman. But Facebook is part of the web. Think of the web, of the Internet itself, as water. Proprietary platforms based on the web are ice cubes. They can, for a time, suspend themselves above the web at large. But over time, they only ever melt into the water.


Saturday, October 20, 2007 5:52:44 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
is "Anil" pronounced "anal"?
Jimmy Snuka
Saturday, October 20, 2007 6:09:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Thanks for the Anil Dash quote. It is a great companion to the notion of the Internet routing around barriers.

I'm more emotionally pleased with R Interactive A than R Internet A, ignoring the posturing it involves, because it resonates with the idea of a blended range of facilities and different hosting models, especially for the Social Grid.

If you want to use RWA for Rich Web Application, the sort of exclusively hosted-in-the-cloud thing, fine. I think that is even a reduction of the potential of RIA in even the broader Internet sense.

To ponder: Skype just pushed an update at me. I hate that model, since when running LUA it is worthless as the download will fail to install and I won't have anything I can find on my machine to install later when I setup as administrator to do what administrator's do. (So we have a blending problem right there, and I have not seen one-click solve it.) It happened that I was running as admin at the time I got the notice, so I installed it, but this is not what I am normally willing ot do.

On the other hand, Skype strikes me as an RIA, but it is clearly not a web-only kind of thing. Ditto for Windows Live Messenger. As I said, this is something to ponder.

There are some barriers to smoothness to overcome, especially around deployment. I say blending is going to matter. Well, it is what intrigues me at the moment.

PS: I don't propose to fight the web, so I take your point about that.
Saturday, October 20, 2007 6:44:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
There are a lot of ways companies fight with the web to their detriment. In Microsoft's case, .NET and the whole umbrella has been at war with the web's open platforms every since the Java Wars with Sun.

Given that the web is largely about community, this has been a case of Microsoft fighting the web to their detriment:


One hears concilliatory noises, but one sees little real progress.
Saturday, October 20, 2007 7:06:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
No doubt, it is interesting to talk about applications that are connected to the Web regardless of whether they are Web-based or not. What I think has happened is that Adobe now has Flash + Apollo/AIR and Microsoft has WPF + Silverlight, there is a need to define the technology category without restricting it to being about Web applications.

The problem is that in doing that the discussion loses sight of the fact that it is the Web [or just plain network connectedness - for the intranet junkies] that is driving renewed interest in this application space not the "richness" of GUI application frameworks.
Saturday, October 20, 2007 10:01:09 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Umm OK. No question that the excitement is all about delivering web services/applications with these cool technologies. I find that intriguing too.
Sunday, October 21, 2007 9:04:24 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"[...] The problem with the Facebook platform is that although you can use it to build Web applications, they are not on the Web. [...]"

I believe the do not ignore this fact, and are opening up, if somewhat slowly... they will at least allow apps to be found from the internet:

sure, to use them you still need an account... but so do other applications and platform and sites...
Sunday, October 21, 2007 10:15:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"Adobe now has Flash + Apollo/AIR and Microsoft has WPF + Silverlight, there is a need to define the technology category without restricting it to being about Web applications."

As a vendor of an RIA framework (www.zeepe.com) I am supposed to be neutral, objective and polite at all times.

But I've been thinking about and working on this stuff for a very long time now, and reckon I can recognise a wrong turn when I see it. So ...

... if in 5 year's time, AIR has become a significant success amongst both developers and consumers - that's in terms of absolute overall security, significant usefulness of output and a reasonable return on the time you invest in getting good at it - then I'll eat my best hat AND will donate $10K to a charity of Adobes's choosing.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007 8:15:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think many people are using the AOL analogy a bit too loosely: http://www.visitmix.com/Blogs/Joshua/aol-not-web-is-a-platform/.

But I find it telling that the people with the highest moral position about "on the web" also have the lowest market share (the smallest startups claim much higher moral ground than Live Spaces, for example). This doesn't jive with the prophets of doom who keep telling us that "walled garden == failure". The biggest business successes on the Internet today (Google, MySpace, etc.) are all walled gardens in the most important aspects. My problem wasn't that Google was being hypocritical; it's that the statement was basically meaningless. Don't tell me that you are "less walled garden" than your competitor, unless you define what *you* mean by "walled garden". There's always a catch.

I am as idealistic as anyone about the "right" way to do things. I just felt compelled to point out when the preaching doesn't jive with reality.
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