What if we modeled every user action as the passing of a document?

I was listening to a brilliant podcast on .Net Rocks where Carl & Richard interviewed Glenn Block, Henrik Nielsen, and Darrel Miller.  The topic was Web API, but it started with Henrik talking about how he worked as a student helping to create HTTP!  Great history lesson and a great philosophical show.

It made me sit and ponder modern architecture.  When I think about the parallels of HTTP and regular business, I keep coming back to the same premise: they both run by the passing of documents. Before modern computers existed, businesses operated by filling out paper forms and then placing them in the inbox of a clerk of a department. The clerk would have access to filing cabinets, and the clerk would process the form, sometimes creating a report or a reply message in the form of another document.

When I ponder modern architecture for business applications (that are all about productivity and the access to data/information), I keep coming back to the building blocks: passing documents. I think we have gone astray as an industry a little by creating applications that "edit" a customer record. The real business process behind this used to be a "customer change of address form" that was submitted to the office – behind the scenes the clerk would use some white-out (that’s too modern) and edit the actual record sitting in the file cabinet. But the interface between the person making the request and the system/clerk is the passing of a document!

Whether it is a client/server, smart phone app, or just a web application, I think we could make our designs simpler by modeling every user’s operation as a document.

I would love to hear some other thoughts on this.