Book review: Web 2.0 Architectures

This is an excellent read, though it was not what I expected from the title. It is written by three people who are always forthright, sharp and insightful, and who live on the Web: James Governor, Dion Hinchcliffe and Duane Nickull. Nickull works for Adobe, and the book labelled as part of the Adobe Developer Library, but don’t let that put you off if you are a Java guy, or a PHP developer, or a Microsoft Platform person: this is about concepts and patterns, not specific products.

So why was it not what I expected? Well, I thought it might focus on the challenge of developing highly distributed applications, looking at what it takes to make such applications reliable, performant and scalable. I know even from my own dabblings that decisions about where to locate different pieces of logic and handling things such as authentication, transactions and security are tough problems with which many of us need help. However, this title rarely descends to that level of detail – though it is a little unpredictable in that respect. The authors do find space, for example, for several pages on common mistakes in designing web forms, reflecting I imagine their level of frustration at how often they encounter them. Inconsistent, yes; but forgivable.

What you do find is detailed and often brilliant attention to the definition of terms. What is architecture? What is a model? What is a pattern? What is a Mashup? What is a Rich Internet Application? What is Service Oriented Architecture? What is a Reference Architecture? And of course, What is Web 2.0? These discussions are pithy, illustrated with real-world examples, and convey the authors’ enthusiasm for the new era which is now upon us.

As you read the early chapters you feel that this is all leading up to something big. That’s correct, but again it might not be what you expect. In fact, this feels like an introduction to a much longer book that is yet to be written, a fault which can only be excused by the idea that it is you, not they, that have the task of writing it.

Here’s a short extract from a section called The Timeless Way of Building Software: Inspiration for the next generation of Web Software:

Take a look at some of the great web software, such as Google’s search page, Flickr, or Delicious. They all have that unique yet unhurried grace that comes from perfect ease and natural balance. But what do they have in common exactly? They are beautiful, ordered and harmonious. But especially, and what strikes to the heart, is that they live. They are the perfect blend of logic and emotion, of the machine and the human experience, intrinsically intertwined and symbiotically embracing each other.

If you find this excessively rhapsodic you will probably not like this book. Note the title though: this is a Web 2.0 book as well as an architecture book; and a couple of pages on from the above quote we learn the significance of that:

…this timeless way of software architecture represents a more complete reconceptualization of what we thought we knew. We can give this place, where common sense and logic collide with humanity and society, a name.

We call that place Web 2.0.

And that is pretty much how it ends.

Overall it’s a great read, written I suspect in haste, accounting for the odd sloppy phrase or two, but always fluent and enjoyable. Recommended for those who are thoughtful about what it means to do software today.

View on Web 2.0 Architectures: What entrepreneurs and information architects need to know

View on Web 2.0 Architectures: What entrepreneurs and information architects need to know