In mid-to-late 2005, the Internet reached a “tipping point.” Internet end users began doing a lot more than creating and posting their own content (text, music, photos, videos) and commenting (via blogs) on each others’ content and ideas. Internet hobbyists--lead users--began to develop thousands of new applications by combining two or more Web services to create fun and useful combinations. These customer improvisations which build on other's work are referred to as “mash ups.”
What Are Mash Ups?
The term mash up came from the field of music. A musical mash up is a remix of two or more songs into a new piece of music.
A Web mash up is a new application that is created by pulling together two or more complementary Web-based applications and/or data sources; for example, mapping a database of known child-molesters onto a map. Every time a new person is added (or removed) from the child molester database, their location is automatically added or removed from the map.
Maps are popular platforms for mash ups. People have created dynamically updated maps showing traffic jams on their commute to work, crime incidents in their neighborhoods, all the public Wifi locations within a five-mile radius, new sightings of animal or plant species they care about, the locations of public bathrooms, the actual movement of buses along their routes, the impact of global warming on bird migrations. You simply combine a mapping service--like Google Earth, Yahoo! Maps or VirtualEarth--with any geo-coded data set, and you have an application that updates itself every time the data changes.
Photos are great fodder for mash ups as well. Popular photo mash
ups include combining news feeds, maps and a set of tagged photos to provide an
interactive view of what’s happening. There are already three books that have been
published describing popular mash ups and hacks that have been built using Flickr.
Weather is another great platform for mash ups. In the
The spread of this improvisational mash up behavior from music to Internet applications is part of the phenomenon that Tim O’Reilly christened as “Web 2.0.” A number of converging trends enabled the mash up phenomenon: the emergence of open and human-readable application interfaces (APIs), using protocols like eXtensible Mark Up Language (XML), the widespread syndication of information (newsfeeds, databases, etc.) through Really Simple Syndication (RSS), and an Internet social etiquette that strongly promotes “opening up” applications and information for re-use and re-mixing. At the same time (2005), the tools and services for developing and combining Web applications were becoming easier to use. You don’t have to be a programmer to create a mash up. You don’t need formal training. You can figure out how to create your own mash ups pretty quickly by reading a few “how to’s” on the Web. The smartest companies are the ones creating end-user-level tools that will enable your grandmother to create her own mash ups!
By mid-March 2006, there were 500+ documented mash ups (not counting music mash ups), and thousands more that had escaped documentation. Even more impressive was the speed with which mash ups were appearing. In the first quarter of 2006, 5 or 10 of new mash ups were coming into being every day. The number and diversity of these highly specialized and often idiosyncratic customer-built applications are amazing. We describe them as “customer-built,” because by and large, each of these mash ups was created by the person who actually wanted to experience the functionality. In some cases, these mash-up have been created just for fun. In other cases, they fill a compelling need. In still others, the improvisational mash up is an extension of the natural human tendency to want to help others.
I predict that in 2006, mash ups will take off at a rate that will surprise even the most optimistic of us. You have only to look at the amazing customer creativity that is already rampant online--from the hundreds of thousands of Anime videos being created, to the billion-plus tagged photos on Flickr, to the billions of dollars of value being generated by customer-designed cities in Second Life, to the hundreds of thousands of developers who are happily contributing to open source--to realize that, as our pioneer Pat Kerpan puts it, the companies that “harness humans’ absolutely pathological need to create will win.”
Mash Ups Enable Customers to Creatively Consume Your Brand Experience
I began to daydream about different kinds of mash ups I could use. As I did so, I realized that there are lots of opportunities for businesses to create and expose the kinds of end-user consumable data services, monitoring services, marketing services, and event-triggered services that would enable customers to interact with their brands. To-date, most of the providers of services that are being consumed and built into mash ups are Web Services companies, like Yahoo!, Google and Amazon; or service providers whose Web Services have been in use for some time like FedEx and UPS; or publicly-funded organizations (NOAA, NASA, BBC) and others that feel that its part of their mission to make their information easy to consume. But what about the rest of you? Why aren’t we all publishing consumable services? Many of us DO publish RSS subscriptions of information and blogs. That’s the first step. The next step is to publish your APIs and to provide a couple of sample mash ups to give people ideas about what services you offer and how they could fit into their lives and work.
Financial (and Other) Services. For example, I could create my personal net worth meter, combining the daily value of my real estate holdings, with the current value of my financial portfolio (Fidelity), and my artwork (Christie’s). I could extend Quicken to not only automatically track and categorize my bills as they’re paid through a variety of auto-debit and bill pay services, and to roll any leftover cash into higher interest accounts, but to also monitor the prices of large screen TVs at Circuit City and Best Buy or of the hottest Mac laptop configurations at different retailers.
Travel-Related Services. Or, since I’m planning a trip to Uganda and another one to Italy, I could create my personal trip planning mash up, monitoring the fare prices, itinerary options, and seat availability (Expedia, Sabre, British Airways, Alitalia), combined with the changing meeting event calendars for the commitments I have in both locations, along with the schedules of my traveling companions and those with whom I hope to connect. I’ll want restaurants, museums and out of the way finds that other customers have found to populate themselves on my maps (igougo), along with bus and train routes and schedules, and I’d like to see pictures that other people have taken (Flickr) to show up on my map so I’ll know what to see and what to avoid.
Business Services. I could create a mash up that shows me the actual progress of the Snap-on dealer’s truck in my area, so that I could easily intersect him and trade in the tool I no longer use for the spiffy one I now need. I could maintain my repair shop’s tool inventory and merge it with the inventories of the tools my staff of technicians personally own, and subscribe to new tools and diagnostics that will meet the specs of the cars we service.
I could use mash ups to build my own customized network management, application management and security monitoring console, to monitor the health of my networks, to automatically detect new applications and devices, to monitor license activations, support entitlements, contract expiration dates, and moves and adds.
Consumer Services. I could create a mash up that shows me the current Thomas the Train inventories for my three grandsons (which they would be happy to maintain) along with the new releases as they’re announced. For my garden, I could have my own garden plan and, in addition to receiving catalogs in the mail (White Flower Farms, Burpees), I get new plants plunked into the correct spot (sun/shade, season, zone) in my garden plan. You get the point… let your imagination roam. Send me your favorite mash up ideas, or stick a comment on my blog with your mash up wish list.
OK, we’ve talked about these kinds of “roll your own” services before, what’s different now? Why have they suddenly moved from fantasy to reality?
If You Build Them, They Will Come
What’s different now is that you don’t need to figure out what kinds of applications end customers would value and use. You don’t have to design and host those applications. You don’t always need to create an end-to-end customer experience. All you need to do is to take much of the data-driven information you already have (inventory, order status, promotions, pricing, diagnostics, branch and plant locations, people and vehicle movements, market data, etc.) and expose that information as services--both for other applications to use (within and outside your organization) and for lead users, and eventually end customers, to use in combination with services they select from other companies.
Customer-created mash ups may consume the services you provide, but the mash ups themselves are created on the customer’s desktop/palmtop/mobile phone. You don’t control (or want to control) the complete experience. You DO control the experience and the branding of the services you provide. So Starbucks’ store locater service includes Starbucks’ branding (logo) and parameters (e.g., Wifi-enabled, seating capacity, food assortment). L.L. Bean’s trail-blazing service could include white water rafting conditions, cell phone coverage, first aid stations, and bear-sightings by other hikers.
The trick in building mash up-ready services is to anticipate the different parameters that might be useful to end customers to use and to make these accessible in ways that end users can rapidly stitch them together. Also, don’t forget to be ready to consume reciprocal data feeds that customers will send back, such as the bear sightings, the trail hazards, the current snowfall, and the beautiful photos they’ll capture, tag, and share as they’re engaged with your brand.
Microsoft and Ray Ozzie's Vision for Mash Ups
Speaking of mash ups, Ray Ozzie, who is now one of the leading strategic lights at Microsoft, has glommed onto the idea of enabling end consumers to create their own mash ups. Ray thought about this challenge for a minute and decided that Microsoft’s office application clipboard was an early precursor of the kind of tool that would make it easy for our moms or grandmoms to create mash ups. While the office clipboard lets you cut and paste among Microsoft office applications--which many grandmas know how to use, Ray is now positing a new concept, that he calls “Live Clipboard,” that would enable casual computer and internet users to cut and paste data between Web sites and between the Internet and PC-based applications. I think Ray is on to something (as usual). However, I believe that the open source community--empowered by aggressive services providers like Yahoo!, Google and Amazon will probably get there first. Here’s a link to Ray’s blog posting on the subject. Or you can join the discussion about the future of Live Clipboard.