Web Mashups - Something a Little More on the Fun Side

Courtesy of markstivers.comCourtesy of markstivers.comMashups aren't really new, but it's neat to see companies using technology in cool ways.  Late last night when I was chatting with a friend, I ran into a Facebook post that sent me to a site that has become my new distraction from work.  This site blends education, art, and history in a really cool way.  They use videos, flash, photos, images, and audio recordings to educate people in a way that is pretty unique.  Also, it allows their users to contribute via Flickr, and follow them on a myriad of social networks.  Check them out...

Smarthistory.org has a ton of original content, and content published within their site, but what’s striking is how they make their content available to users and allow them to contribute.  First, a little disclaimer, the only true mashup within this site is a Flickr integration, but, since the bulk of the site is about art and history, it’s pretty powerful.  It shows how even simple integrations can really add value for users.
Another of my favorites is Platial.com.  Platial is more of a traditional web mashup.  It uses a combination of Google Maps and other technologies to allow people to become virtual tour guides.  The site provides a little bit of a local flair to the cities I visit most for business.  I highly recommend looking at biking routes in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco if you’re into riding.
I’ve always been passionate about history, art and travel.  I blame my mother and a 2,000 mile week-long childhood trek through New Mexico in search of Native American Pottery.  As a user, it’s cool to see sites able to blend these things together elegantly using other technologies.
Top 10 Mashups by Type (all-time)Top 10 Mashups by Type (all-time)What I think has finally encouraged the responsible creation of web mashups is the availability of tools.  Popfly and JackBE are reasonable examples of tools that have become available to businesses and users specifically for the aggregation and integration of content.  A third worth mentioning is Mozilla’s Ubiquity application.  Ubiquity is somewhat unique in that it allows for the creation of one-time or persistent mashups by users on-the-fly in the Firefox web browser.  As with most technologies, adoption by the masses requires time and education of the market.  Now that these tools are available, people are using them well and users are beginning to expect a level of richness that makes them attractive for business.
This has a business aspect behind it too.  As the web becomes capable of providing richer content to users, businesses are going to need to develop new and unique ways of leveraging the different web-based applications that are out there.  It is not cost effective to take the old approach of designing and hosting everything yourself.  Fundamentally, businesses have a hard time investing in the creation of comparable web applications to the current market leaders like Yahoo! and Google.  Mashups, especially simple and effective ones, are a way to provide value to the users of your site for a minimal amount of cost.
Top 10 Mashups by API (alltime)Top 10 Mashups by API (alltime)Take Orchestra for example.  Using the module system of Drupal (the free open-source software that runs our web site), we’ve created all sorts of little integrations.  On our offices page, you can see a mashup between us and Google Maps showing the location of our offices.  This may seem hard to do, but using some simple tools, Chris Bloom was able to make it look pretty awesome.  The same goes for our knowledge base.  We publish videos of our SAP content online, and embed them in our site via YouTube.  We even have widgets that show up on our pages from time to time inviting our users to register for webinars via DimDim.  The value to this comes in the simplicity.  These ready-made integrations allow companies like ours to provide a richer user experience for a low investment in time and real dollars.  Also, it lets us publish and reuse content multiple times without incurring any additional cost.
SAP is beginning to get in on this as well.  If you look at some of the stuff BoyumIT is doing, you can see how they’re providing simple and fast integrations to Google, Skype, and more.  This blending of services is going to only get better as time goes on.  SAP has also launched into a Service Oriented Architecture model to help provide a better user experience faster and at a lower cost.  We're supposed to get our hands on it in the SAP Business One space soon.
This is only the beginning.
If you have any questions about how we built our site, or want information on how we were able to do all these things quickly and without any money leaving our bank account, please contact us.