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Grasping at loosely coupled lightweight-ness

I've been thinking about two different Glue topics along a similar line lately: identity and WOA. Filing this under "credit where credit is due," my thinking has been largely inspired by the good folks over at Burton Group -- as Anne Thomas Manes put up a barn burner of a post about SOA being dead, and Ian Glazer pulled me into thinking about SPML, SAML and that whole mess all over again. I'm not sure how to deal with this exactly, so let me begin with the separate topic areas. 1. Identity: When I say "identity," I know what that means to me. I helped to start Digital ID World, and spent a good amount of time being pretty heavily involved in understanding "identity." But that "identity" sense is thick with enterprise requirements. Identity (to me) means things like SAML (security assertion markup language), and SPML (service provisioning markup language) and concerns around liability in federation, and BIG enterprise projects that take 36 months to implement, etc. That's what "identity" has been to me since about 2002. The advent of software as a service and the rise of things like OpenID are changing that a bit. I know when Brad Feld speaks about how screwed up identity is online, he's referring something pretty different than my sense of identity. So what's the difference? Is it RESTful identity vs. SOAP-based identity? In some senses, yes. But I think the defining characteristic isn't a programming choice - it's a "loosely coupled" choice. My 2002-2008 sense of "identity" (and really I mean "identity management") is VERY tightly coupled. When you implement an identity management system, or build a federation, that's just the nature of the beast. Brad's sense (or so I gather), and the sense of folks that are more on the SaaS and Internet Identity side of things is much more loosely coupled. And beyond that, probably much more driven by what you can *do* with identity versus simply managing identity's properties and authorizations. 2. SOA: While I've never "worked" in the SOA movement, I've certainly followed it. My sense (as an outsider) is that SOA is falling along the same lines as my experience with identity. Which is to say that while SOA traditionally is very tightly coupled and technology/protocol focused. WOA (web oriented architecture) is much more loosely coupled and "what can we do" focused. (sidenote: yes, I know the irony of saying that SOA is "tightly coupled.") When I start to put those two pieces together, I can feel some of the "meta-themes" of Glue emerging: focusing on what we can do (versus a protocol-centric discussion), and really getting down to what it truly means to be loosely coupled. 1. What can we do focus: Have you ever worked in a big protocol group (an OASIS type of group) - you know a "standards setting" body? It's an exercise in frustration. And they rarely work. Not that we haven't had great things like SAML come out of bodies like that - we have. But it's a slow, plodding, maddening exercise in rule making and engineering perfection seeking. Contrast that with the feeling I get when developers just go "build something." They grab pieces of what works and slap them together to achieve an endpoint of functionality as fast as they can. Why? Because they want to *do* something with what they're building, not simply engineer the world's perfect spec for authenticating third party sites around height and weight attributes (or whatever). That "do something" sense of urgency seems to result in a light-weighted-ness that will always evade the standards bodies. 2. Loosely coupled: do you know what "loosely coupled" means? I mean, I know it makes good copy for a tech article or a book title, but do you know what it means? Yea, I didn't think so - me neither. Still, it seems that we now live in the era of the API -- or maybe I should say the era of the badly done API (depending on your take). The stuff that happens between APIs, and the stuff that dealing with APIs means once we back into applications is really an unknown quantity in most corners. My suspicion (and I'm not a developer, so I might be way off) is that the essence of being loosely coupled lies in between our APIs somewhere. Okay, so stir all of that up in your head for a minute. Now realize that when Glue seeks to address topics around "identity" or "web oriented architecture" (WOA), we're both trying to A) wrap our heads around some emergent, meta-qualities that the topics have in common and B) simultaneously dive deeply into what it means to make those isolated topics work together in service of *doing* something. Glue is not about topics for topic's sake. We can't be a "virtualization" or "cloud" or whatever confernece -- because Glue isn't about the static state of exploring the new tech buzzword. Glue wants to drive toward what happens between those topics -- between the cloud and WOA and identity (and a whole host of other things). As I've said before, it's the *between* that really matters here. And maybe (just maybe), in the course of focusing on that, we'll begin to uncover some emergent, meta-topics. I've badly phrased these first two (and rambled on for far too long), but call it a start.

The Spaces in Between

I was reading a blog post the other day (for the life of me, I can't find it now) that was talking about "the spaces between" the Web API and the "cloud" (whatever that means) -- specifically, how it was that "space in between" where all of the real "action" was going to happen over the next few years. I have to say I tend to agree. Not that there isn't a lot of stuff to work out around cloud computing, virtualization, mobile computing, etc -- but the REALLY interesting stuff isn't what occurs *in* an area/space, it's what occurs between that area and another area. That thought is really helping me to sort through Glue topics, and, accordingly, I'm happy to announce that I've got our earliest of early draft agendas up (kind of, as I look on the website, I see that even it is not totally current). The thing I keep coming back to is how the topic/session ideas are addressing things that are about "the spaces in between." The spaces in between data, applications, architectural building blocks, messaging protcols, identity and context, etc. Beyond that, we need to start looking at the areas of need that span those in between spaces (governance in a cross-app, WOA environment, for example). So, go take a look at the agenda, and realize that a bunch of it is about to change, but you should still be able to get a good sense of *what* we're trying to wrap out head around with Glue. A few of the sessions that are confirmed might help a bit:
  1. David Heinemeier Hansson - As the creator of Ruby on Rails, David is pretty uniquely qualified to speak to "gluing" things together. Look for more keynotes of this caliber and type to be announced in the coming weeks (not months).
  2. Beyond Mashups: Using the Cloud to Integrate Below the Browser -- Andy Morgan, Internet Broadcasting. Andy describes the session this way: "JavaScript Global Variable Collisions, CSS conflicts, Widget Frameworks, iFrame blind spots, search blind spots and many other browser integration challenges face those of us working across the tops of the silos.  With the rise of Web 2.0 came the rise of the public API.  Application developers have a rich set of options for integrating data and functions.  What capabilities exist within the context of distributed "cloud" computing to help engineer a quality user experience that does not rely solely on the  desktop or browser to bring it all together?"
  3. Building Context Aware Services using Identity as a Foundation - Phil Windley.
  4. Using System Design to co-create lenses for data and context - Brian Oberkirch. Where Brian describes the session as: "Too much service design is orbiting around users creating content, whereas we're much more likely to collectively build on the fly contexts for something with bookmarks, comments, retweeting, etc.  It would be interesting to look at system design as a place where you help users co-create lenses for data. "
That's a beginning, and flavor of what I think we're aiming for with Glue. Bottom line: we're in this weird period of (some) VC's freaking out, economies sputtering under the paralysis of uncertainty, and people just generally walking around with some gloom and doom clouds hanging over their head. But the truth is that optimism and innovation *always* win out. Always. The time to get focused on that is right now. And Glue is going to be one helluva place to focus. To that end, we've priced Glue so that it is more than affordable ($395 early bird), and if you use the code "early1" you can get an additional $50 bucks off of that price. But hurry (can you hear the used car salesman in my voice?), that discount is only good for the next 25 registrations. Register today. ;-)

Trying to avoid the glue play on words

Okay, I've discovered the first problem with naming your conference Glue (no, it's not that other software companies have products named that): resisting the urge to title every blog post with some "cutesy" glue reference (i.e., "sticking things together," "drops of glue," "sniffing..." - you get it). ;-) In any case, it may be December (when the tech world always effectively shuts down), but we're still hard at work sketching out what Glue should look like. To that end, I'm *extremely* happy to announce our first keynoter: David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails framework. David's the first in a long string of what I'm sure will be amazing folks that will be involved with Glue. Because I'd like to get more input around keynotes, topics, etc - I wanted to publish a "mind map" that I started working on for Glue:

Glue begins to take shape

It seems like everyone is naming their product "Glue" these days (for the record, our first post here was on March 18th, 2008), but that's cool because Glue the conference is already starting to take shape. Our sponsors now include: Amazon Web Services, Gnip, MindTouch, NewsGator, Ping Identity, Microsoft, Cloud Ave, and Saugatuck Technology Research. A few notes, then:

  • As I've been chatting with folks about Glue, the "vision" of what Glue will be has started to come into focus a bit more. It all begins with the assumption that the web is the platform, and then asks, "now what?" Put another way, Glue is exploring what it means when applications are just assumed to live on the web. The result is that three topics have immediately crystallized: cloud computing (infrastructure glue), data integration (data glue - where "data" means everything from mashups to identity), and web oriented architecture (or, what happens beyond SOA?). The format for topics like this is clearly a technical one, and folks I've spoken with are indicating a real hunger for a conference that's going to "go deep." Format-wise, that'll mean technical workshops, open spaces and hack-a-thons situated around more traditional "content."

  • So, what kind of "specific" topic ideas have I started to receive? Jud Valeski of Gnip has offered up some great ideas that are indicative of the level/kind of stuff I think we'll end up having at Glue (quoting Jud):  1) "How do we evolve past LAMP" - the old, client-server-desktop, app building model died a long time ago, yet the "new way" hasn't been as good replacement in a lot of ways. why? how do we solve this?  2) "Keep it simple stupid" [WOA] = the best glues are often as simple as tree sap, highly complex chemically engineered glues are often overboard.  3) "Is the real cloud, actually glue?" - deploying code to virtualized instances is cool and all, but the cloud/glue is really abstracting the layers (e.g. data/db/big-table) and making those accessible in an "instance" independent way.
  • That's just one topic area, but you get the point. Really "meaty" stuff.We're still way early in the process, but we're now officially working on this, so I'd love to hear from you. If you're interested in becoming a sponsor, please email me ( Or, if you're feeling nutty and wanna register early (pre-agenda), go do so. The code "early1" will get you $50 bucks off of the already insanely-low price of $395.00.

A Sunday Morning Update

Quietly quietly, things are beginning to take their initial shape for the inaugural Glue conference. The naysayers point to O'Reilly shuttering events and say that launching a conference like Glue is crazy in 2009. I point to past experience, and Glue's pricing model, and say that Glue will be a huge hit. In fact, we're already seeing lots of interest:

1. Glue's advisory board now includes Zoli Erdos of Cloud Ave, Phil Wainewright of ZDNet, Chris Shipley of DEMO and Guidewire Group, and Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures.

2. Glue's initial sponsors now include Gnip, Amazon Web Services, MindTouch and Cloud Ave.

So, what's next? Well, as we begin to flesh out the sponsor list, I'll also start digging into topic ideas. We know that the cloudification of everything will be important, but I also want to make sure we keep a firm hand on the rudder of web oriented architecture (WOA) and how things like widgets, federated identity, and data mash-ups are stitching together (or should I say "gluing") everything from content, to data to identity.

Why should you think about coming to Glue before we even have an agenda posted? Glue will be a technical, "workshop-y" look at everything that developers (both independent and enterprise) and architects need to understand as more and more and all applications move to the web as platform. And you just can't get that anywhere else - now or in 2009. You certainly can't get it for only $395 (for a 2 day conference). Register now.

Financial crises and the leading edge of Glue

Everyone's hearing about the mess on Wall Street. In that context, this bit in Computerworld caught my eye:
 Paul Polishuk, president of the research group at Information Gatekeepers Inc., said that the increasing number of mergers and acquisitions will boost the market for IT firms that specialize in integrating networks. "Because Merrill Lynch is going to be bought by Bank of America, their assets are going to have to be upgraded," he said. "And since Bank of America and Merrill Lynch are two very different businesses, a good deal of work will have to be done to get them integrated."
It made me think about some of the new "web oriented architectures" and how all of that will get effected. Now, ideally, the "web as platform" erases those problems, right? Yea, right (not)! It seems to me that "glue" companies might just be born in the fires of various cutting edge integration projects that this crisis will bring. After all, nearly every great software company was born in a "recession." 2008-2009: the years of crisis that give birth to Glue software companies. Mark the dates.

Gnip - a great early example of G-lue

We're ramping things up around here -- revamping the website, beginning to recruit some sponsors, and just generally turning up the heat. In the meantime, I thought it would be good to start highlighting some "Glue" companies. My feeling is that folks are going to be bombarded by "cloud" or "SaaS" or something conferences in the next year - none of which will properly hook into the Glue aspect that is crucial to it all. As such, I wanted to starting getting a flavor of what we mean when we say "glue" (from so many different angles). Accordingly, here's a great ten minute video interview with Eric Marcoullier of Gnip (pronounced, Gah-nip) - it's a great early example of Glue (gah-lue - sorry, couldn't help myself) stuff.

We've got dates

I know it seems that things have been quiet over here at Glue lately - but its a myth (a myth, I say)! Behind the scenes, we've been digging through all of the groundwork that will help us to give you an incredible conference -- and one of the early first pieces is done: dates. Mark your calendars: Glue will be May 12-13, 2009 in Denver, Colorado! Obviously, things will only continue to ramp up from here - stay tuned.

Yahoo knows a good thing when they see it

Yahoo!, knowing a good thing when they see it, has decided to name their new offering after the Glue conference. ;-) I kid, of course, but only slightly. Yahoo's "Glue pages" does touch on the underpinning of the idea behind the Glue conference - namely, that once the web becomes the platform (check), the next major task is to integrate all of the web architecture we've built -- including search results. Accordingly, Glue pages:
...will leverage the Yahoo application coming months," Kelly said, though today it doesn't yet. "We will eventually open it up, so developers could develop customized search results for Glue Pages the way we're doing it for Search Monkey."
Turning search into a platform is a good idea. Giving people a means to "glue" that together with whatever they want is an even better idea - and it cuts through the "closed" nature of so much of today's web-oriented architecture. Between Microsoft's Live Mesh and Yahoo!'s Glue pages, we've now got two of the "big boys" (who were almost one) acknowledging what we're all about over here. And that's a good thing.

Oberkirch on glue

Brian Oberkirch is one of my favorite bloggers. This morning Brian decided to take on identity and "glue" in a blog post. Brian writes of gluing things together via identity in a personal sense, but its got me thinking about Glue in an enterprise sense. First, some quotes:
"Forgive me for thinking there isn’t a whole lot of life in lifestreams.  Dumb rivers of updates are a stop gap, surely better than what we had before (no centralized method for keeping watch) but not a durable solution for user or service value.  These dim aggregations cloak beautiful seams. "
"What’s interesting about our current round of science projects is the glue that holds them together. Or, rather, what you could do if you started to really think about the various forms of data glue you could give your users.  Post It Notes use weak adhesive to make your information surface mobile and the medium more plastic.  Let’s not get hung up on form factors, but intstead look to the deeper needs this rash of feature copying is trying to meet. "
"By fixating on one or two specific types of data views (status messages, ‘life’ streams) we miss the larger point.  Adam Greenfield isn’t wrong when he notes that our current social software offerings are weak simulacra of the rich interplay we enjoy in our ‘real’ lives.  We aren’t going to give people richer experiences by mimicking a narrow range of interface ideas. "
The "grand problem" of Glue (in the enterprise sense) is that as "the web as platform," "cloud computing," and "everything as a service" move into the enterprise (a move that is starting, but will obviously take *years*), the "architects" that have to deal with that (and I mean architect to include marketers as well as IT folk) are going to struggle mightily with how it is they simplify, manage and reuse all of the stove-piped stuff that lives in different web applications. The "seams" are the problem and the opportunity. The "information surface" will no longer be living in large enterprise software suites. The "end result" will resemble the weak and tenuous ties of real life networks more than the strong-armed structures of current IT architectures. Glue, the conversation and conference, will be about those elements. I can't wait.