Will the Real Mashup Please Stand Up

August 1, 2007 at 3:23 pm | Posted in Composite Applications, Mashups, portals, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

I think I get this whole “mashup” thing, but there’s one part I’m still figuring out: why is a combo made with Google Maps considered a mashup?

To explain my confusion, I’ll start with some history. The term mashup is derived from the music world where it describes a song created by combining (generally overlaying) parts of other songs. I’d describe it as a “frankensong”. The term “mash” has implications of a forceful, less-than-orderly combination of things. If you check the dictionary, you’ll see definitions and synonyms for “mash” that include words like “violence”, “pounding”, “crush”, and (yikes!) “pulpy mass”. The implication is that the musical combination is supposed to be quirky, creative, and charmingly rough. The outcome should be “new” – a different vibe, emotion, genre. It should be an unintentional use of the pieces involved.

I can see how a messy Facebook page, with all sorts of seemingly disconnected content and media crammed next to each other to create a new and charming mosaic of someone’s life, would fit the mashup concept.

But take a look at everyone’s favorite web-based example of mashups: Google Maps. A client recently told me mashups should really be called “mapsups” because Google Maps seems to be the only example anyone can give! In fact, according to ProgrammableWeb, Google Maps accounts for 50% of all mashup API use. John Musser’s Mashup Feed shows 54% of examples leveraging Google Maps.

But are they mashups?

Google provides a mapping API that is used to provide geographic visualization. It’s not unintentional or hijacking something for an unintended use. It’s just an API. This is what it is for. It is no different than calling out to a charting API and, indeed, there have been visualization libraries for a long time for bar charts and geographic mapping (Microsoft MapPoint comes to mind). Maybe it seemed like a clever type of repurposing and combinatorial innovation to the first few people that saw mapsups, but they may have been uninformed about the code-calls-API underpinnings.

So, if the most common example of mashups doesn’t fit the narrative of the mashup and its origins, does that mean mapsups aren’t mashups? Or that the word has evolved and, if so, what does it mean now? I’ll mull that over a bit and publish my thoughts in another blog entry.


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  1. […] State of Mind August 2, 2007 at 4:06 pm | In Composite Applications, Mashups, Web 2.0 | In my previous posting on mashups, I described how the origins of mashups (quick combination of parts that weren’t meant to go […]

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