What is a service?

My favorite still comes from this wikipedia article about IBM’s SSME:

Service involves both a provider and a client working together to create value.

or a longer version: Services are processes, performances, or experiences that one person or organization does for the benefit of another – such as custom tailoring suit, cooking a dinner to order, driving a limousine, mounting a legal defense, setting a broken bone, teaching a class, or running a business’s information technology infrastructure and applications.

Princeton‘s definitions, categorized (irrelevant ones removed):

Help someone/Do something to someone
# work done by one person or group that benefits another; “budget separately for goods and services”
# an act of help or assistance; “he did them a service”
# the act of delivering a writ or summons upon someone; “he accepted service of the subpoena”
# make fit for use; “service my truck”; “the washing machine needs to be serviced”

Help an authority/entity
# the act of public worship following prescribed rules; “the Sunday service”
# a company or agency that performs a public service; subject to government regulation
# employment in or work for another; “he retired after 30 years of service”
# military service: a force that is a branch of the armed forces

Perform an action
# serve: (sports) a stroke that puts the ball in play; “his powerful serves won the game”
# servicing: the act of mating by male animals; “the bull was worth good money in servicing fees”

An infrastructure helping a community
# be used by; as of a utility; “The sewage plant served the neighboring communities”; “The garage served to shelter his horses”

An academic treatment from New Zealand that attempts to draw out characteristics of a service, summarized as:

1 Identification
1a. There should be a meaningful name for the service
1b.There should be a unique reference for the service

2 Understandable
2a. Any limits on the usefulness of the service (eg permit only applies in limited area or time) should be clear
2b. It should be clear who to contact for more information about the service
2c. Distinctions and similarities between services should be evident

3 Accessible
3a. It should be clear where the service is available
3b. It should be clear through what delivery channels the service is available
3c. It should be possible to describe both services available on-line and off-line
3d. Any technological requirements for accessing the service should be clear
3e. It should be clear when the service is available
3f. It should be clear in what language(s) the service is available
3g. Any eligibility criteria for the service (eg age, citizenship) should be clear
3h. Any costs involved in using the service should be clear

4 Evaluation of suitability
4a. If the service has a particular target audience, this should be made clear

5 Establish trust
5a. It should be clear who delivers the service

6 Accountability of service

7 Relation
7a. It should be possible for the user to describe the service at different levels of aggregation and still discover meaningful information
7b. It should be possible to identify related documents

The word service appears in too many parts of Software literature: Software as a Service (SaaS), Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), Web Services (WS), etc. While is can be confusing, the principle applies.

Otherwise, we might as well call it using a technical jargon that no one cares: function call.

So, what is a service?


Other References:

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