From Web services to Web 2.0 -- same name, new game

This week's announcement that Google had acquired GrandCentral Communications reflects one brand's evolution from Web services intermediary to Web 2.0 innovator.

This week's announcement that Google had acquired GrandCentral Communications reflects one brand's evolution from Web services intermediary to Web 2.0 innovator.

Up until a couple of years ago, we in the Web services/SOA world knew Grand Central as a kind of an integration-on-demand provider before the concept hit the mainstream.

Now, a new GrandCentral is becoming well-known as an online service for integrating phone numbers and voice mailboxes into Web accounts.

This is obviously a whole new company under the same name, but talk about a dramatic difference in business models.

I had the opportunity to speak with CEO Halsey Minor on a couple of occasions back in the days of the old Grand Central, who described the company as sort of an external ESB on demand, linking and providing integration from a client to any other business partner or customer company via Web services interfaces. In fact, Grand Central was at one time positioning itself as a "Salesforce.com" for integration. (See Dan Farber's 2004 interview with then Grand Central CEO Halsey Minor [also founder and former chairman of CNET].)

I checked around in an attempt to trace what happened to this Web service service. As I understand it, Halsey Minor took GC itself in another Web 2.0-ish direction, morphing it into Swivel, an online data aggregation and presentation service. Minor is also reported to be backing the new GrandCentral, founded in 2005 by Craig Walker and Vincent Paquet, who bought the GrandCentral name from Minor.

Does this shift reflect the greater opportunities vendors and their investors see in the emerging Web 2.0 space, versus sticking to the plumbing of the Web services/SOA world? Maybe -- there must be something to it, since Google just swooped in with $50 million.

As reported repeatedly in this blogspace and throughout the ZDNet community, SOA and Web services providers are hot acquisition commodities themselves. But don't be surprised if some vendors take the expertise and technology they have accumulated and switch gears entirely, moving out of the plumbing and into something completely new and out of the box.

That's what makes this market so interesting. Sometimes names stick -- of course, National Cash Register is more than cash registers, and International Business Machines offers more than just business machines.

By the way, the new GrandCentral proposition looks really interesting -- you get one phone number that rings any and all other numbers you may have, as well as an online venue for managing voice mail. They call it "one number for life."

In fact, Tim O'Reilly, who was on the board of the original Grand Central, said earlier this year that he expects GrandCentral "to become one of the premier Web 2.0 and social networking platforms overnight, and it's squarely aimed at the heart of the communications device used by more people than any PC application will ever touch."