Boloker to Web 2.0 Developers: Focus on Business Value

One of the founders of the Open AJAX Alliance has some advice for developers faced with the prospect of building applications in a world increasingly influenced by the advent of Web 2.0: focus on the business value.

"The needs of the business are driving a lot of what is being called Web 2.0," says David Boloker, CTO of emerging technologies in IBM's Software Group. "There's a technology component, but it's not all about AJAX. The technology will matter [to the enterprise] only in so far as it can be used as a business differentiator."

Boloker was in Santa Clara, Calif. last week to give a presentation at the first AjaxWorld Conference & Expo. During his talk, Boloker demoed an early version of QEDwiki(Quickly and Easily Done wiki), IBM's drag-and-drop mashup tool. IBM calls it a "Web 2.0 application assembler for the mass market." The tool works through a series of properties dialog boxes, through which developers define the widgets they want to use and the data that links them.

"As developers begin looking at this thing we're calling Web 2.0," Boloker said in a pre-keynote interview, "they need to define exactly what it is they want to do with it. Ask yourself, Who is going to end up getting the business value of what I'm about to produce? That's the first thing. The second thing they need to ask is, What are the tools available to me? I don't care if you're a .NET developer, a Java jock, or whatever; there are tools out there that can make your life easier."

Another consideration: How close to the edge do you really want to get. "You've got to ask yourself how you're going to introduce this thing to the company," he says. "You have ask, Am I going to be at the absolute bleeding edge, and will I know that's where I am because of the knife sticking in my back? Just how long is the on-ramp for this technology? What core developer skill sets are required here? The more skills required, the less chance of success, unless you're causing a paradigm shift."

And Boloker definitely sees that shift in the advent of Web 2.0 and AJAX. But developers shouldn't confuse the two, he said: "AJAX is a programming paradigm for the Web. It's important, and I'd even say that it's causing a paradigm shift as far the ability of development to provide rich Internet applications. And it can be used to create Web 2.0 apps. But a Web 2.0 application has to include the social dimension, the tagging, for example, and the sharing aspect--all the community-oriented aspects are important."

Boloker knows whereof he speaks: He and Scott Dietzen, CTO of Zimbra, founded the Open AJAX Alliance in February. The Alliance was formed to promote interoperability standards around the use of AJAX. Among the 15 founding companies were IBM, Google, Oracle, and the Eclipse Foundation. The group has nearly doubled its membership since then.

During his presentation, Boloker told attendees that the combination of Web 2.0 tools and open source communities are creating a "perfect storm" to enable new kinds of collaborations among businesses and their constituents.

"I don't question whether [Web 2.0] is succeeding," he said during the interview. "For me, it's a time-frame issue. Some people say we're there. I say, we're getting there."

IBM is planning to contribute additional enhancements to the Eclipse Foundation's AJAX Technology Framework (ATF) and the Mozilla Foundation, Boloker said. And the company plans to generate AJAX as part of the JSF Tools in the next release of IBM Rational Application Developer, set for release later this year.

"There is no one solution for anyone," Boloker said. "Someone at the show asked me, would you use AJAX or Flash or Java or C#? I said, Right now at least, there's a place for all of them in this Web 2.0 world."

All of which begs the question, is Web 2.0 making the operating system irrelevant?

"Not yet," Boloker said. "I believe we're already living in a Web-based world, but does that mean that transactions will only happen in your browser? Absolutely not. If you think about where Vista is going, we're going to see a lot of media streaming into the platform. You're looking a heavier broadband, a lot of memory, and the need for a container for all of that to work in. Right now, that container is not the Web--the browser--but an operating system.

"Remember that the Web is a lot more than just what you've got in your browser," Boloker adds. "It's also a means of transport. It could be a transport of information from one place to another, and that other place could be a container that's Vista or XP or Linux or Mac."

In a related announcement, IBM disclosed that the company is establishing a Web development zone on its developerWorks Web site. The Web development zone will feature technical resources for AJAX, PHP, ATOM, RSS, and Ruby, as well as Web development frameworks such as Spring, Shale, Struts, Rails, and Tapestry.

Organized by SYS-CON Media, the AjaxWorld event ran from Oct 2-4 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].