Its the Links Stupid!

Peter wrote a good post last month about the power of links. It strange to be evangelizing links over ten years into the Web revolution, but in an ironic twist, what the average person immediately groks seems to have mostly escaped the notice of geeks.

Anyone who uses the Web immediately grasps the power of links – they are the way in which you navigate through the Web. In fact, I think the value of the Web is almost entirely due to links because they enable Reed’s Law.

But for whatever reason, geeks have traditionally equated links with HTML and therefore have not understood their power. On the grand scale, this failure has led to the Soap/WS* detour and the painfully slow adoption of REST. On a smaller scale, it results in developers creating custom xml formats like this (borrowing Peter’s example):


Instead of like this:

    <account href="http://bank.example/accounts/3242"/>
    <account href="http://bank.example/accounts/5523"/></accounts>

The problem with the first example is that is assumes a closed system – thereby throwing away all the benefits of the web including discoverability, interoperability, aggregation, etc.

So while links drove the phenomenal adoption of the human Web, the lack of links has severely stunted the growth of the machine web (computers talking to other computers).

The Rise of Atom

Fortunately, Atom (and its predecessor RSS) has changed the game. Originally considered just a blogging format, Atom instead will become the foundation of the machine web and will eventually become as an important format as XHTML.

Why? The links of course! (you didn’t expect another answer, did you?). At its heart, an Atom document is simply a list of links with a bit of standardized metadata. As a result, it finally enables the machine web to leverage Reed’s law thereby leading to the explosion of mashups and Web 2.0 sites we see today.

And this is just the beginning of course. Now that the requisite standards are in place, over the coming decades the machine web will follow the human web and grow exponentially as all the devices around us (cars, houses, appliances, sensors, etc.) start to come online and join the Web.