Portals vs. Mashups

A critical Information Technology objective for most mid and larger companies these days is the integration of disparate business systems.  The reasons are several, but Business Intelligence (BI) is a decent overarching label for all of it.
The JSR-168 and related WSRP standards are intended to facility this but are they too late?
Something old … new again
Once upon a time, way back when a big disk was just M’s and RAM was merely K’s, our stone age solution to "integration" was to get different applications to at least run on the same terminal — and even that was rough.  I don’t remember that we even had a name for that.  Fast forward about 20 years and we call it "integration at the glass".
Of course, it’s more than just glass.
The real deal is that we now have a common UI framework (HTML/Javascript) and network communication standards(HTML) that allow even the oldest and crufty’st legacy apps [mostly] to appear together in harmony on the same desktop.  So why build a portal when you already have a browser?
Granted, that is something of a simplification.  There’s still some tricky stuff to work out, like common authentication and inter-app state synchronization to name two, but those are arguably as easy to solve near the desktop as they are on the server — the network connection is simply not the barrier it once was.  We no longer are looking at making the binary choice between thin-client and thick-client, but instead can spread application functionality almost arbitrarily across what was once the "great divide".
The choice is where you do your mashing.
If you mash using WSRP, we call the result a portal, but if you mash in the browser, you’re suddenly a Web2.0 social app — and likely with a better valuation too. 😉
Now, I do think there is an unanswered technology question here and that is the life cycle cost of these semi-thin clients — our tools are simply better and more mature for server style implementation approaches.  This is changing.
A real test case
An application we recently built at StomperNet is split in just this way.  It is composed of two user facing components implemented in Firefox that wrap local functionality as well as remote services hosted by a PHP server.  There were some lessons learned, both positive and not, but on balance our approach provided solution features that would have been very difficult to provide any other way.  With the maturation of XULRunner we can expect this type of application partitioning to become even easier.

Is the World Really Getting Smaller?

A pretty widely regarded "truth" is that modern communications technology has reduced, and continues to reduce, the size of the world.  The "Small World Experiment"  , incorrectly attributed as the source of "six degrees of separation", arguably measures this.
But wait, does reducing the path length between people make the world smaller?  It makes the path length smaller — a tautology — but is that a useful measure of size?
How big was the world for early humans?  Sure, the world was really huge in terms of communications and travel, but damn small in terms of the percentage of the world these early people were aware of.
For example, the peoples of Europe didn’t even know about North America 500 years ago.  Today our economies and politics are nearly welded at the hips.  Awareness?  Hell, concern!
The "right" way to talk about the "size of the world" is not geographic or even person-to-person path length but in information theoretic terms.
With each advance in communications and travel technology, points progressively further away from your physical location become increasingly meaningful and accessible.  This does not increase the total information in the universe — North America did not get created by the Europeans discovering it — but it does dramatically increase the data that is in meaningful relation to own lives.
From time to time I grab my laptop, drop on the couch and browse for bands visiting Atlanta.  Finding one I like, I buy a ticket from half-way across the country from someone I’ve never met and schedule a trip downtown for 3 hours of fun — a trip that would require a two day ride by horse just 5 generations ago.
Or the personal vignette that spurred this post …
In updating my LinkedIn network — by itself a sign of an expanded information world — I found an ex-client from 2 years ago;  I invited him; I checked his connections and this marketing contact did NLP training with one of my own teachers — a person I have not had contact with since 1994.
Technology compresses both time and space — into the space between our ears — because that is where our image of the universe actually lives.  As the world "gets smaller", our heads get correspondingly bigger.
Smaller world?  No way.  The world grows geometrically larger as Moore’s law continues to be realized.

Plastic, Silicon, and NanoTubes

In the movie The Graduate, we were told that the future belonged to plastics, which indeed, have revolutionized much of packaging and product exterior design.

The invention of the silicon semiconductor gate changed pretty near everything not changed by plastic. Nearly all electronic devices today exist only because of the joint impacts of plastic and silicon.

And the 2004 equivalent to plastics is Carbon nanotubes. These rolled-up sheets of carbon atoms form tubes as small as ten Hydrogen atoms in diameter. Laboratory demonstrations have created marvels such as high speed, high density digital cameras, flexible video displays, and microscopic bio-sensors that can detect single viruses. A decade or more from now we will see portable electronic products based on a combination of nano and semiconductor technology that would be impossible to implement today.

But that prognostication is easy. More than this, we will see products that we can not today even imagine.

I can’t wait.