If you thought link rot was bad, you’ll love app rot. (Or approt for short.) It’s coming. And if you’re creating or using so-called “mash-up” features, (described later), you should be thinking about approt and ways to mitigate its effect.

Just what is “approt?” It’s a new Web 2.0 word I’ve made up to describe what I believe will be the next annoyance on the web. In short, approt stands for “application rot.” Or alternatively, you could say, “API Rot.” (API is Application Programming Interface.) Approt happens when a web page owner has created a feature that depends on applications created using various features of several services. Many – if not most times – the source data or programming code or both comes from organizations outside the control of the new feature creator. The new feature creator may have a business relationship with the source providers. In fact, this will likely become a business model for companies currently providing souce data for free. In any case, if one or more of the technologies being used as a source disappears or changes form, it’s likely the newly created feature will break. It may break hard and obviously, (such as just not being there), or insidously, (where something is maybe missing, but since it’s missing you don’t even see that something’s missing).

Of course, in many ways none of this is new. As with so many “Things Web,” all that is old is new again. Data from encyclopedias to phonebooks to whatever has been licensed to software and service vendors for years. What’s different now is the increasing variety of data and applications services that are available to so many feature developers in openly usable formats.

Nontheless, approt will happen. There’s several reasons why this will happen.

  • Some shared source material will become unavailable. This may be by accident due to a service outage, or intentionally by a company that chooses to no longer provide the data or feature set for free. (Possibly because it  can no longer affod to.)
  • Data formats or source applications will be updated. Again, one of at least two things may happen… First the data/application owner may not send out an alert to those using their feature set, (possibly because they either never collected registrations or not having required registration by users, they have no means to send such an alert). Alternatively, the source organization does send alerts, but the creator of the new feature doesn’t have time or interest in updating their feature by the time the source organization changes it’s material.

Webheads probably already “get” this as they say, and can maybe stop here. For anyone else who’s still curious, I should probably go back briefly and define some terms.

  • Link rot: Link rot is when a hyperlink, (i.e. the stuff you click on to go places on the web), no longer goes to where it was supposed to. You’ve likely seen the occasional 404 Not Found page. Some web sites try to mitigate this problem by re-directing you to someplace less user hostile, but the bottom line is, the link has gone bad. Whether it’s due to a page no longer being available, moving web locations or whatever, the link is either gone or going to a place different than the expectation set by the link text. Hence, “link rot.”
  • Web 2.0: According to Wikipedia,Web 2.0 generally refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web
    that lets people collaborate, and share information online. In contrast
    to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to
    desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages”
  • Mashup: Again, we go to Wikipedia, “A mashup is a website or web application that seamlessly combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience.”

What can be done about approt?

  • Producers or mashups should register with a source data provider if registration is provided.
  • Users of mashups should take care to avoid making a mashup part of any key business process until or unless they can be sure of confidence in the ongoing availability of the service in question. Due dilligence here may require going past the feature provider alone and making sure that the upstream source material, (be it data or code), appears to be stable in its ongoing availability.
  • There may not yet exist any best practices yet, but companies providing data or applications that they know they are going to used in such ways should maintain registration and communications with users.

Bottom line? Beware. Approt is coming to a web site near you. Just make sure it’s not your company’s site!