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Hopefully web hooks are actually approaching critical mass. Just to be sure, a couple weeks ago I submitted a proposal to OSCON to speak about them. Here’s the abstract I sent.

Web hooks are going to make the web programmable. Three years ago, I stumbled upon this simple architectural pattern in web applications and was struck with a vision of the real programmable web. I’ve since realized today’s programmable web is hardly programmable. It is programmatic. Web API’s give you the power to programmatically use web applications, but they do not let you program them. That is, extend them, customize them, or fully integrate them with each other.

Mashups, the poster child of the programmatic web, are useful, but they also show what happens when you can’t directly integrate web services: you get new ones. Mashups represent the aggregation of services, not the integration of services. However, this is not about some grand proposal for a standardized way for all web services to integrate with each other. This is really about something simpler, and as a result has even richer implications.

Web hooks are about applying the old, simple concept of the callback to web applications. This simple mechanism is changing everything, perhaps even more than did the web API. By allowing users to hook into the logic and events of your systems, you go beyond user-generated content into user-generated functionality. Imagine users extending your web application with new features that can be shared with other users. Imagine discovering your web application suddenly fully integrated with complementary services. If there was a service equivalent of open source, this is pretty close.

After three years of letting just the mechanics of web hooks spread and develop, a number of solid case studies from tiny start-ups to giants like Google and Amazon have popped up, demonstrating the implementation. Sometimes it happened from my influence, sometimes it was just the practical way to solve a problem. Some people latch on to the notification use-case to eliminate polling. Only a few seem to see how the same mechanism can be used to create plugin architectures and platforms. But it also realizes a vision of pipes for the web, allowing you to conceptualize web applications as components that can be strung together to create something more than the sum of the parts.

The point of this talk is to spark public conversation about web hooks. To get us thinking about them. Possibly implementing them. The model has been cooking for a while, and there are lots of examples, demos and ideas to share after thinking and talking about it with other developers for the past three years. More recently, there’s been an influx of activity around the idea, so it’s getting hot. I want to show people just how far this simple, yet novel idea can take us…

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