06 April 2009

The PUSH and PULL Museum - Jeff Lindsay's WebHooks

Jeff Lindsay, or NASA Ames Labs and general WebHooks guru, gave a presentation back in February at Google about WebHooks. WebHooks are a very simple idea, a RESTful POST and PULL system for a programmable Web. The idea of WebHooks is simple, make it so that Web users can set a condition when met on your system through an update or commit will send your information to a URL. That is pretty much it. However, the point, and its implications, goes much deeper than this.

First of all, as Jeff Lindsay, and Kurt Cagle at O'Reilly, point out, WebHooks are really much more revolutionary than they seem at first sight. In the current world of the interactive Web, even Web 2.0, it is largely a PUSH, or some might say POST, world. Users access our web pages, ask for resources which are broadcast on other web pages. Now, as Web 2.0 and Social Computing have shown, there is a lot of potential in this model. Especially with the addition of Mashups, APIs and AJAX. However, what this model is lacking, according to Lindsay, is the a real programmable web. As Jeff Lindsay says, this time as progrium:

To users, web hooks are a way to get events and data in realtime from their web applications. From this they can use the data however they like, empowering them with the ability to extend and integrate, and start seeing the true vision of the programmable web. (Quoted From)
The technology of this is very simple, trivial even, but the implications for the Web, and museums, is vast. We can envisage a Museum 2.0 world where every time we update, commit our documentation, or even simply add to our online resources, that thousands of users will get data sent to URLs. What will these URLs do with this data? That is up to them. They may mash it up, they may insert it into their own databases, they may simply embed it within their own web pages. It is up to who develops the URL as to how it will process this data.

Obviously licenses will have to be developed and certain decisions made about use of museum data, though museums are already making their on-line data available via Attribution/Non-Commercial license. However, with the ability to allow users to decide what data they want, under what conditions it is to be provided, and how they will use it, could completely transform museums. Simply to have the ability for Source Communities to be certain that all data concerning their patrimony is automatically sent to them, for their use, without having to constantly come and request such information, will radically shift the power of description and identity in museums.

A brave new world? Probably not. But the beginnings of a radical shift in who can account for museum collections? We can but hope.

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