Lucent buys ProgrammableWeb.com

Just when you thought there was no money to be made in the mashup space (with major players exiting left and right) along comes this rather surprising news story (full PRNewsWire link).

Alcatel-Lucent Acquires Leading Web 2.0 API Repository ProgrammableWeb
“Alcatel-Lucent today announced that it has acquired ProgrammableWeb, the technology industry’s universal source for Web APIs (application programming interfaces) used by application developers to build web, mobile, and other connected applications that serve consumers and the workplace.”

I know John Musser, founder of ProgrammableWeb.com as a result of our mutual interest in mashups, our joint membership in the New York CTO Club, and from having written/collaborated on a few articles (also here and here) for PW back when my book was released. He’s a great guy who has done a lot for this new paradigm. I personally have used PW’s API and News RSS feeds to provide content for this site from its inception. John is apparently staying onboard to “continue to oversee the repository’s operation”; I hope is able to keep the site independent and objective with its new corporate oversight and structure.

So, it’s great to see some money being made in the mashup space, but I have to admit my first reaction  was, “Lucent?!?!”. Let’s face it, it’s not like they’ve even established a toe-hold in the mashup space when you consider what major players like IBM, Microsoft, Google, and Oracle have done (and in some cases, un-done). Why would Lucent suddenly enter the space in what seems like such an unconventional manner: Buying a mashup directory instead of new tools or services?

The press release gives us a window into their thinking:
“If you look at any organization that launches an API, you quickly realize that the one thing the most successful APIs have in common is a vibrant developer ecosystem,” said Laura Merling, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent’s global developer strategy. “Our goal is to protect the uniqueness and independence of ProgrammableWeb as an API repository and developer resource, while adding beneficial technologies and service provider relationships to the mix for everyone’s benefit.”

It seems that Lucent also was attempting to build a PW competitor of sorts with it’s Open API Service. Acquiring PW and its resources is a great way for them to build our their API repository by leveraging the work already done by John and his team.

Thinking about this deal, I can’t help but recall what Yahoo! looked like in the mid 90′s.
Back then, Yahoo was a simpler place, dedicated mostly to web-search against an index that was almost entirely hand-assembled. If any of us had the chance to acquire Yahoo! back then at a reasonable price (I have no idea what Lucent paid for PW, btw) wouldn’t we have jumped at the chance?

Fast-forward to 2010, and PW today is to mashups and APIs what Yahoo was 15 years ago to search. Lucent is clearly betting that API directories will experience some similar level of growth, and in this acquistion they saw a key opportunity for  getting in on the ground floor.

In the Search arena, we eventually saw many of the dominant players ousted and new giants emerge. Will we see the same in the mashup directory space? ProgrammableWeb only has about 2000 APIs in its directory. And like Yahoo!’s, it is a directory that is largely manually assembled. It’s logical to assume someone will eventually figure out how to automatically assemble similar content (perhaps using mashups!)

Will Lucent be able to keep ProgrammableWeb from suffering a decline like Yahoo’s? If the answer is “Yes”, PW could become the next Google when it comes to APIs and mashups.

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