tl;dr A theoretical framework for dis-aggregating the web services stack and separating front end apps from back-end servers (databases, files, permissioning). (Part of a series of posts.)
But then we get stuck when we want to store a piece of data in a database or a save a file in file-system, or if we want more than one person to use our new web page. Suddenly, we have to learn to set up web-servers and database servers and file servers and configure all of these so that they work together and we have to administer them so they don’t break down.
It struck me that for almost all apps that I use or imagined I wanted, the bulk of the unique value proposition lay in the front-end interface. Besides that, the basic work of writing and reading from databases and file systems and administering the services all seemed common across all apps. I don’t mean to say that all the unique back-end processing done by web-services companies are of zero incremental value to me. I am just suggesting that many apps might work quite well with only a restricted set of core generic back-end functions.
I propose that personal servers have the capability to “install” such apps. In other words, you should be able to upload a zip file of html/css/js files and have it serve those pages to you, so you can “use” the app. In such a model, the app become fully portable and autonomous. I can change the app if I want. I can move it to another server and a completely different back end environment. I can delete it. I can share it. And most importantly, I can do all this without needing the permission of the app developer or anyone else.
The portability of apps from one server to another, based on a common set of back-end commands also changes the dynamics of app distribution. A developer can be confident that their app can be installed by anyone with a server that accepts the defined APIs. In the same way that developers know that their ios app can be installed on all the millions of iphones out there, they will also know that if they build their apps using the standard APIs, it can be installed on all servers that accept such an API.
I would also suggest that what you lose in back-end sophistication by creating a common interface to the server, you can gain in making apps easier to write, in reducing barriers to app creation and distribution, in creating app portability, and in fostering a more dynamic environment of app iteration. This inevitably leads to greater creativity among markers of apps, which could kickstart a virtuous cycle of consumer adoption and new app development.
What’s more, besides giving us a greater variety of apps, this platform would free our data from the shackles of the web services model…
* Some exceptions and caveats to the no-back-end thesis: