It’s two hours in to the three hour e-commerce process mapping meeting with three sets of consultants in the heart and heat of London with the traffic noise, police sirens and vaguely pleasant Hare Krishna chanting wafting in through the open windows of the meeting room. I’m minding my own business quietly in the corner, designing pipelines, data flows and object models, coding prolifically and generally doing much more useful things in the safe confines of my head when it happens… What’s your middleware? Hmm? What? Was that directed at me? Of course it was. Nuts.
Middleware, middleware, I’d better think fast. Not a term I use but I’m sure I can remember what it actually means. It must sit between things… Oh yes, it’s coming back to me now. Middleware, the point-and-click programmer’s equivalent of Perl. Middleware, yet another layer of largely unnecessary abstraction. An API for APIs. A tool for fooling developers into thinking that they’re not tightly coupling their applications together when instead they’re tightly coupling to a third-party system they have even less control over because they’re incapable of agreeing direct service communication specs with that other application. “It’s ok, it’s standards-based”. Sure it is. Whatever you say… Middleware is the consultants’ friend though – a clever sounding service that does the integration for you but generally requires little direct development and provides easy resale of the same work to multiple clients.
I’ve been developing large-scale, high traffic websites for a few years now and I’ve never had need for a component that specifically markets itself as middleware. Not once. I’ve used plenty of APIs, web services, object brokers, message queues, key-value stores and any other number of components with easily identifiable purposes but I think using middleware for middleware’s sake is still just a little too meta for me. Yessir! It’s a genuine, bona fide, API’d middleware. I see it absolutely as a Springfield Monorail application, but those Shelbyville folk are so much smarter, maybe I should be more like them.
What’s my middleware? None, I don’t have one. I don’t want one, I’m pretty sure I don’t need one. Cue surprised looks, amusement and disbelief.
Ok, twist my arm, I suppose I quite like Zapier. (Ahh, ok, he’s one of us after all)
Update: I tried to find a pretty picture to augment the post with but I couldn’t find anything on Google Images or Flickr that didn’t make me want to punch the screen.