Web services are still used primarily to integrate information within companies. But recent decisions by Amazon.com Inc. and search-engine Web-site operator Google Inc. to deploy Web services may give the technology more credibility for use in business-to-business settings.
Amazon has deployed a Web-services platform that the online retailer's 800,000 marketing affiliates can use in building Web sites that incorporate content and features from Amazon. The Web services, for example, will let third-party sites search for and display products from Amazon or provide access to Amazon reviews. Amazon affiliates will earn referral fees of up to 15% for each Amazon sale made via the links.
Amazon, which reported a $94 million loss last week, hopes Web services will drive more business to its site through its marketing affiliates.
Web services may also be a boon for publishers who write custom screen-scraping applications to pull their books' sales rankings off Amazon's Web site. They can use Amazon's Web services to integrate their own applications for generating book-ranking reports, analysts say.
Amazon is offering its Web services for free. Developers can download a development kit and apply for a token that keeps track of usage. The services are based on XML and Simple Object Access Protocol standards. The Amazon announcement is similar to one Google made in May to provide developers with a Soap interface to its search engine.
Web services have been slow to catch on for B-to-B applications because of perceived scalability limitations and shortcomings in authentication and security, says Ronald Schmetzer, an analyst with research firm ZapThink. To date, they've been popular internally in the financial-services, health-care, pharmaceutical, and government sectors.
Amazon's and Google's moves seem to disprove scalability and authentication worries, Schmetzer says. They're notable for the sheer volume of traffic on each of their sites, he says, adding that other companies are beginning to use Web services to augment their EDI-based business-to-business exchanges.