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Amazon Hacks by Paul Bausch

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What Are Web Services?

Web Services are essentially nothing new. They’ve existed in various forms ever since research groups and businesses started networking online to exchange data. These machine-readable requests were built on an ad hoc basis with whatever tools were standard in the companies at the time, and then replaced or obfuscated with layer upon layer, hack upon hack. This was a rather costly and not particularly pretty state of affairs; furthermore, each Web Service was unique and not easily adaptable or interoperable with additional parties and other services.

Perhaps the first truly “Web” service was a combination of spidering and scraping. The Web introduced a presentation markup language called HTML, which allowed you to represent data in a form that was readable by a web browser and that was, for the most part, pleasing to the person browsing. By scraping (reading between the bits of HTML markup), you could get to the underlying data; by doing so programmatically (spidering ), you could automate this process.

So with the increasing number of database-backed web sites appearing on the Web in the mid-90s, people had an enormous data set at their disposal. With just a little programmatic elbow grease, you could search the Web, track stocks, read the news, etc. But scraping is a brittle process—it relies upon the layout of a site remaining fairly static, and the programmer maintaining the scraper needs to make alterations as a site bolds this, italicizes that, and so ...

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