Archive for October, 2010

Dumbing-down Mashups. A Good Thing?

I’ve been heads-down on some projects lately, and if I still didn’t manage to peek up and check some of my favorite sites, I might have missed this news about Dapper via ReadWriteWeb. <embarrassment>I had no idea Dapper had been acquired by Yahoo last week</embarrassment>

They were one of the original “do-it-yourself” API tools a few years back before switching their model to contextual advertising. I wasn’t thrilled to see the change in focus, but at least they kept Dapper up and running.

 Marshall Kirkpatrick has written an excellent article about discovering Dapper, and the effect it had on him. He barely mentions ”mashups”, but you get a great sense of how empowering the technology was for him.

He also mentions NeedleBase in passing, a free hosted tool that I admit I haven’t used much. In practice, it sounds very similar to Connotate, a commercial mashup product whose “Intelligent Agents” learn what to scrape by example. Alas, NeedleBase is a product of ITA Software, a travel search/software firm that was acquired by Google back in July. The product is still available, but Google doesn’t exactly have a good track record in the mashup space.

I see a clear trend away from “mashups”, and towards “data harvesting”.  Marshall’s uses of Dapper are clearly in the “Harvest” category, and NeedleBase describes itself as “a revolutionary platform for acquiring, integrating, cleansing, analyzing and publishing data on the web”. Even venerable Kapow Technologies no longer mentions the word “mashup” on their homepage, but you can read plenty about acquiring data from the web.  

What does it mean? Marshall makes a good argument how about technology that is too innovative for the current marketplace often doesn’t gain the traction it needs to succeed. I think we are seeing a slight “dumbing down” of mashup technology/terminology to a few simple use cases that people can easily grasp. Once they understand how these tools can give them easy access to a wealth of new information, they will start combining the various pieces and “mashups” will finally gain broad acceptance as a solution paradigm.

But that’s just the path for the teeming masses. If you’re reading this, you’re probably ahead of the curve and looking beyond scraping to mashups’ more powerful capabilities. Most firms have barely (if that!) begun to exploit the potential of mashups, and I see that as a chance to gain a competitive advantage. You can wait until mashups are mainstream (again) or you can use this time to build an enterprise app store, create propreitary information streams, and make your IT department more productive. Will you wait until your peers seize this opportunity, or will you use this time to jump ahead of them?

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