Friday, May 06, 2005

Repurposing Data and Services

Does it make sense to talk about reusing services, or should we talk instead about repurposing?

The word repurpose is largely being pushed from the data/metadata side, especially the XML/XSL crowd. XML is certainly relevant to technical reformatting and interoperability, but may also support data being put to new uses.
Meanwhile, some examples of data repurposing look like old-fashioned data sharing. Look at this abstract, which (when you strip away the fashionable technology such as intelligent agents) is just finding new uses for existing data.
  • Using Intelligent Agents to Repurpose Administrative Data ... (Jan 2004) (abstract)
The word also makes the bandwagon-jumping antics of some product vendors explicit. For example, following 9/11, Siebel repurposed its CRM software to deal with Homeland Security. (Government Computer News, Sept 2002) What's terrorism got to do with customer relationship management, I hear you ask. Well it does, in the same sense that an FBI agent might say "He's a tricky customer."

XML is very good for this kind of repurposing, because it operates at a level of semantic vagueness where it doesn't really matter whether "customer" means "customer" or "terrorist". To my mind this is both a strength and a weakness of XML. It seems to me that if we want to promote the repurposing of services, we need to explain how to design services that can operate with a calculated lack of semantic specificity, with weak preconditions. (But strong postconditions.)

See also Reuse or Repurpose (May 2005)

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