Whither mashups…beyond Google Maps?


Mashups are a tantalizing concept. Put together two different apps, link some data and voila! A new hybrid app that doesn’t something incrementally valuable to either app individually. A good one that I recently enjoyed was the Super Tuesday Twitter map. It was one of two Twitter-related mashups covering Super Tuesday.

I will note that the Super Tuesday Twitter mashup used a Google map. And that’s not surprising. It seems that when people think of mashups, they automatically think of something grafted onto a map. Craigs List apartment listings. Megans Law sex offenders. Flickr photos of wineries.

It’s like that’s all anyone can think of. Now that’s actually overstating it. I took a look at the top 50 most popular mashups listed at Yahoo Pipes. Here’s my admittedly rough count of the categories (3 omitted from results):

  1. RSS management (14 mashups)
  2. Flickr service stuff (8)
  3. Online retail shopping tools (6)
  4. News search apps (6)
  5. YouTube stuff (4)
  6. Map (3)
  7. Persistent search (2)
  8. Combined search (2)
  9. iTunes (1)
  10. Upcoming.org (1)

So, obviously, there are some things beyond maps. RSS-related apps are showing good uptake.

However, it still feels like mashups are in their nascent stage. I think there are a couple reasons for that.

First, folks are still trying to get their minds around ways that they can be used. Web users are not all programmers. They aren’t thinking that way. They like to try out the things someone else has made.

The other reason is that tools themselves aren’t yet built out to allow more interesting apps. Or, it’s hard as hell to figure out how to use the tools if they are indeed there! For example, here’s a mashup I’ve tried to build both on Yahoo Pipes and Microsoft Popfly. Terraminds provides a nice search function for Twitter posts. You can convert the basic search function into a more persistent RSS feed for a given term. For instance, all tweets related to “enterprise 2.0”. I want to get the Twitter search results for “enterprise 2.0” posted to a page. The tweets include the Twitter author. I want to see the associated blog site of that author, listed right beside his tweet. That way, if the person says something I find interesting, I can click through easily to his personal website to see what else he talks about.

I have had no luck in figuring out how to use Pipes or Popfly to make this mashup a reality. It’s just too hard, or not even possible. Mashups still have a ways to go before they’re ready for wider usage.

So instead, maybe I’ll put all the Starbucks locations in San Francisco on a Google map…

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About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

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