The Limitless Capability Of The Next Web

Uber made an important move last March, a move that reinforced my vision of where the Internet is headed. For the first time, users are able to summon an Uber ride from other applications without ever opening the Uber app itself.

Some of you have already encountered this new capability firsthand. This “programmable web” was a key enabler of Siri and is a decades-long thematic that is just starting to bear fruit.

Uber’s Request API announcement marks an important evolutionary milestone in that process. It is not the first, but it is perhaps the most visible example of a vision for vast interoperability and collaboration that extends far beyond mere referral linking.

Uber isn’t just embedding a sliver of their service into other sites’ services and applications. Instead, they’re syndicating nearly the whole enchilada.

This takes a certain amount of courage. But of course their motivation is clear. The closer at hand transportation can be, the more frequently we’ll enlist Uber’s help. The more ubiquitous Uber is across various devices, appliances and spaces, the easier and more frequently we’ll access the service.

I want to emphasize the philosophical shift Uber’s decision represents. I envision a web that in the next few years enables users to orchestrate a variety of services from any single endpoint. Where you enter and where you leave the broader ecosystem will cease to matter. What and how much it can simply do for you will define the relevance of this coming “everywhere Internet.”

The potential dynamic combinations of capabilities and referrals generated by a vast collaboration between services are quite literally limitless.

What is today considered “business development” will in this manner become programmable, too. Instead of applications and services operating as single-purpose islands, they will actually start to collaborate, orchestrated by central brokers that are smart enough to weave and normalize each service’s data model and capability set into a complementary and powerful task-completion engine. Businesses will make available their rich APIs and plug in to a massive network of millions of users and all sorts of devices, where simply participating will become one of the more important business development activities in which they engage.

Success will shift from discovery models, such as SEO, toward consumption models based on the frequency with which a service can satisfy user requests, the quality of their data, responsiveness of their API and referrals to other participating services. Once you plug in, you’re instantly making money.

Uber’s Scott Biggart wrote that “our imaginations are running wild…we have no idea what you might build, but we cannot wait to find out.”

This statement resonates with me. Traditional individual APIs and most resulting mash-ups require a predetermined use case that must be hard-coded.

What will in contrast define the coming decade is accommodating unforeseen use cases that a technology’s creators never could have imagined. And moreover, such a marketplace as I am describing here will also create new revenue opportunities each individual service never could have attained alone.

The potential dynamic combinations of capabilities and referrals generated by a vast collaboration between services are quite literally limitless. And that is where things begin to get exciting.

Today’s apps are islands. Tomorrow’s web is about weaving together multiple services to serve a far more powerful set of capabilities that will redefine our own expectation about what’s possible. In doing so, we’ll also redirect the way revenue flows on the web.

Uber understands that transportation from one location to another is only one step in a broader user narrative. On my ride I might be celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary or taking my brother home from surgery. I might be running errands or scrambling to the airport.

The applications that I use before, during and after my Uber commute benefit from being tightly coupled with Uber, and vice versa. “Get me a ride to the nearest hospital” or “Have an Uber ready to take me to the airport” require more information and collaboration than today’s individual apps and services generally provide.

Requests like “On the way to my brother’s house, find me a good bottle of wine that goes well with lasagna” are entirely possible to handle with an ecosystem of services that can handle the various aspects required to complete the task. These examples will only be the beginning of the next generation of possibilities.

The future of the web is therefore not just programmable, it is profoundly interoperable. The next generation of APIs we’ll see must embrace this emerging reality, as Uber has.

Image via Relativity Media