In a previous post I mentionned mashups, which are becoming an integral part of web applications. An article from the FT does a good job of explaining in layman’s terms what this is all about.
The mashups that let companies get creative with data
WEB 2.0: Many businesses are seizing the potential of the easy combination of information from many sources
By ALINE VAN DUYN – September, 5th 2006 – (c) 2006 The Financial Times Limited.
Teenagers around the world spend hours every day borrowing or stealing pieces of information from the web and assembling it on their own web pages. On tens of millions of web pages on MySpace, Bebo or Cyworld, users can find the world’s most popular sound tracks, video clips and pictures.
They are not the only ones using easily available web tools to create their own sites with their favourite content. Businesses around the world are embracing the so-called web 2.0 tools that allow the easy combination of information from many sources.
“With web 1.0 you built a better mouse trap and then waited for people to come along and use it. With web 2.0 you build something that could be a better mousetrap or something else,” says Ray Valdes, research director of internet services and web platforms at Gartner, the US research company. “You unleash people’s creativity and in the process add value.”
This second stage of the web reflects the rapid spread of broadband connections, which make it easy for people to manipulate and view content, including pictures and video. Borrowing a term from disc jockeys and musicians who combined different sound tracks to create new ones, “mashups” have become one of the most useful new applications of the web 2.0 technology for companies.
A mashup is a website or web 2.0 application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service. In their simplest form, these combinations of information – essentially a kind of interactive cross-referencing tool – allow a builder, for example, to combine details about assignments with maps, traffic and weather data to determine how long it will take to get from one job to another.
“The do-it-yourself web is emerging and some of the technical barriers are coming down,” says Rod Smith, IBM fellow and vice-president of IBM’s emerging technology software group. “Before, creating an application to analyse data would require months of work between business analysts and IT departments. Now, some of these projects can be created in half an hour.”
All this is possible because many sites provide “hooks”, or application programmer interfaces (APIs), that enable computer programmers to tap into and capture information easily. Other methods of sourcing content for mashups include tapping into web data feeds such as the really simple syndication (RSS) feeds that many sites use to deliver news information and other updates, and Java-Script, a programming language developed by Netscape.
Whatever the source, captured data can be incorporated to create all kinds of mashups. Many of the most popular ones combine existing data from sources such as Amazon.com, Ebay, Google, Windows Live and Yahoo in innovative ways (see http://www.programmableweb.com/ for lists of mashups.)
Google Maps, Google’s web-based mapping service, is one of the most popular mashup components. There is an entire blog devoted to popular Google mapping mashups.
Some of these mashups combine information from Craigslist, the online classified advertising service, and Google Maps to show the location of apartments for rent, for example, or provide other useful services. Others provide more obscure services such as tracking the birthplaces of Oscar winners or allowing fans of American Idol, the television talent show, to research the contestants’ home towns.
“It is a requirement of most venture capitalists and funding principals that you provide open APIs,” says Mr Valdes, –“because it extends your reach.”
More and more companies are using APIs and other web 2.0 tools to build their own mashups. They are already looking at ways to change how they communicate with consumers.
Since information of any sort can be viewed as a “feed”, banks, for example, could try to limit the rush to their websites by customers checking their accounts on Friday afternoons by automatically sending out a e-mail or an alert (similar to those commonly sentout about breaking news -stories) with account balances. This could save the banks money, by cutting down on extra server capacity required, and make banking more convenient for-customers.
“The norms of the internet are changing,” says Mr Smith. “We are at the initial stages of this whole era. Mashups are just some of the things that people can easily do, but in a 10-mile race, we have really just left the gate.”