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I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Mashups schmashups

I had hoped that by now people would have stopped talking about mashups as one of the great Web 2.0 things, but they’re still doing it. John Markoff wrote today in the New York Times that
The classic example of the Web 2.0 era is the “mash-up” — for example, connecting a rental-housing Web site with Google Maps to create a new, more useful service that automatically shows the location of each rental listing.
The current Wikipedia definition of a mashup is “a website or web application that seamlessly combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience.” But most mashups, including the canonical example above, are nothing but the use of a mapping engine to graphically display locations. Just as I told Blogger.com that Markoff’s sentence above was a quote, so that it would be displayed in a suitable way, location data is often usefully displayed in map format, and that’s all there is to it. That there is also content included from another source (such as the locations of streets) is incidental: if the mapping engine used a snapshot of street information, instead of pulling it from a database, in most cases it would be just as useful.

When people supposely use Google Maps to map those rental listings, they’re not actually using the Google Maps that many of us know and love. They're using the API that Google chose to make available to programmers at large. There is no actual “mashup” of two websites. Instead there is the use of a mapping utility that is “called” (as we programmers would say). This is really no different from, say, a web page counter utility that shows at the bottom of your web page how many people have looked at it, e.g. . You don’t think of a site that has a page counter as “Web 2.0”, do you?

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