Mashup is a State of Mind

August 2, 2007 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Composite Applications, Mashups, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

In my previous posting on mashups, I described how the origins of mashups (quick combination of parts that weren’t meant to go together) don’t match the most common apps called mashups (Google Maps mashups or “mapsups”). I then wrote “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?”

That day an article by Ben Worthen appeared in the Wall St. Journal (“‘Mashups’ Sew Data Together”, 7/31/07, B4). Of course the screen shot was a mapsup (journalists, please check out this mashup of Sudoku with numbers from flickr – a non-mapping mashup – to validate this isn’t a one-trick concept). But the non-technical, business-related focus of the WSJ would certainly force them to give a good definition that is declarative, binary, and unique right? Think again.

“Mashups essentially are a way to take data trapped in separate applications and combine them into new, hybrid applications”. Just “a” way – if there are others then what’s the difference? And portals don’t fit this definition? Is it that the pieces being combined can be placed on top of each other or aggregated versus side-by-side like in a portal? But Facebook doesn’t fit that definition. Does it have to use Web 2.0 rich internet application technologies like Ajax?

Maybe it’s a new subcategory. Is this an implementation of service oriented architecture (which states apps from piece parts like mashups as an end goal) or an alternate mechanism? Is this a type of composite application? But still, it has to be differentiated from other types.

And talk about giving a non-unique definition, a few paragraphs later the WSJ quotes another definition “A mashup ‘combines data from disparate sources into something that is more valuable than the sum of its parts'”. If it’s really combining data you’re after, don’t business intelligence (BI) tools do that? Or dashboards? Or are those mashups too?

I can come to only one conclusion: Mashup is a state of mind. It’s a way of doing things, not a new technology. Just like Web 2.0 is more of an attitude (be more social and networked, emphasize informal networks over corporate heirarchy, use the latest set of technology on the web, etc.) that can be applied to new and old tools, mashup is an attitude that says there are a lot of great things you can do quickly by ignoring detailed integration and just slamming different pieces together. Quick is a relative term – I created a Google mapsup in a few hours with some Javascript coding which may not be “easy” to some, but compared to how long it looks like it would take it’s pretty good. That’s as much a credit to the Google Maps API though as it is to the mashup concept.

If that’s true, then it isn’t appropriate to say “Mashups do xxx”. One should say “doing things in a mashup way enables you to do xxx”. But they won’t – the term has taken on a life of its own. And if it leads to people rediscovering technologies like portals, BI, and dashboards; creating new web-based composite application creation tools like Popfly or Yahoo Pipes; and attaching a new label to aggregated apps like Facebook then that’s fine with me.


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