Mashups: You've Probably Already Used Them Without Knowing

Mashups played a big role in what people were calling Web 2.0. The term was introduced to me by a co-worker and so I put the term on my list of things to check out. When I finally got around to looking in to what the buzz is about I was intrigued by the possibilities.

The idea behind a mashup is quite simple even if the implementation is difficult. A mashup is the combination of two or more pieces of software, typically software as a service, that when brought together form an entirely new tool. The first mashups that I encountered used Google Maps and was put together by Paul Rademacher. He combined house listings from Craigslist and mapping technology from Google to create a new site that displays the location of houses for sale on a map. So what was text-based data was repackaged as visual data resulting in a combination that was more useful than either component used separately.

The excitement for mashups stems from the increasing availability of these building blocks all over the web. Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and eBay are all providing users with the ability to programmatically interact with their services and to combine results with other tools. The only limitations on mashups are only those imposed by a programmer's imagination and capability.

Has anyone managed to monetize a mashup? Yes, many have over the years. The most common are those that are map-based. As far back as 2007, Zillow was received funding to the tune of $30 million. And then in 2008 the announced the integration of Bing Maps into their offering.

Mashups have become so popular now that they're not considered “new”. We're just about to the point where if you aren't using a mashup of some sort, you don't even meet the entry requirements of a web-business worth consideration. So standing out from the crowd is going to be difficult and realistically if all you're doing is overlaying data on a map, you may go unnoticed.

There is no doubt though that a successful mashup will certainly attract web traffic, but how you convert this traffic into sales is going to be a tough nut to crack. Of course, you might not be looking for a big payout. Your ambitions could be as simple as Paul's — shortly after creating his housing list mashup, Google offered him a job.

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