The whole concept of a programmable Web may just be too important to rely solely on APIs. That's the thinking behind a Linked Data Working Group initiative led by the W3C that expects to create a standard for embedding URLs directly within application code to more naturally integrate applications. Backed by vendors such as IBM and EMC, the core idea is to create more reliable method for integrating applications that more easily scales by not creating unnecessary dependencies of APIs and middleware.
According to Harish Grama, vice president of product development for IBM Rational on collaborative development, the problem with APIs is that they are often difficult to create and maintain. Every time an application gets updated the APIs associated with that application are liable to break. The Linked Data Working Group is developing an alternative approach to give developers more direct control over data integration versus having to rely on services that might not actually be available at any given moment.
While it may take a while for an official Linked Data standard to emerge, Grama says that with industry luminaries such as Tim Berners-Lee lending their credibility to the effort we should see the industry coalesce around a set of standards faster than most people might normally think. Not only is data integration a long standing problem that the industry recognizes, it's clear that the next generation of innovation on the Web is directly ties to be able to dynamically integrate data.
In fact, IBM has already pledged to support Linked Data standard being developed by the WC3 within the IBM Rational Jazz collaboration framework that is at the heart of IBM's Collaborative Lifecycle Management platform. IBM also hopes to see what emerges from the W3C a standard become part of the Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC) core specification, an emerging standard that allows application lifecycle management (ALM) tools to share data.
At the moment most of the hopes for a truly programmable Web are tied to an API model that is inherently flawed. That doesn't necessarily mean that Linked Data approaches will eliminate the need for APIs. But in terms of making the Web a programmable resource, Linked Data represents a significant advance in terms of both simplifying the process of actually integrating data while simultaneously reducing dependencies on cumbersome middleware technologies that are expensive to deploy and manage.
Conceptually, linked data is obvious idea. But getting everybody to agree on an actual standard is another matter. At the very least, however, a generally accepted approach to linking data within applications that make the whole programmable Web concept more accessible to developers of almost every skill level should not be all that far off from here.
Graphic from Linking Open Data Project