The World Wide Web, or the Web, has been evolving in its use ever since it was introduced in the early 1990s. Each phase changed both the way developers developed Web applications, as well as our view of the Web. In this article, I will briefly run through the changes that have taken place.
Web platforms did not arrive until early 2000s. In his influential doctorate thesis, “Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures“, Dr Roy Fielding laid the foundation of what was to be the cornerstone for a Web platform. In his thesis, Dr Fielding proposed an architecture called REpresentational State Transfer or REST for short.
In REST based systems, all resources are uniquely identifiable and can be referenced by Uniform Resource Identifier (URI). A resource can be anything from a record in a database to a program on the server, to a static document to a timer. For example, a URI of a customer record may be http://www.myserver.com/database/customer/12345.
Web applications built on REST principles are simple but extremely flexible. Let’s say you are setting up a Web site for Singapore news and you want to allow users to read the headlines with a browser or by their favourite RSS feed reader.
Prevailing wisdom would require you to have one URL for the headlines and a separate URL for RSS feeds. However, using REST we would identify the headlines URL as a resource with three possible representations, HTML, RSS and JSON (for good measure). And since this is a read-only resource, we will only honor the GET verb. And so the news site is not only a regular Web application, but also a platform because we can extend the Web site in lots of interesting ways.
The Web platform is gaining momentum; it would not be wrong to say that old and new Web sites such as Google, Flickr, Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook to name a few, are rapidly converting to or have converted to a platform.