When DJ Danger Mouse mixed The Beatles' White Album with Jay-Z's The Black Album to create the irreverent and incredibly popular The Grey Album, he created what Rolling Stone called "the ultimate remix record," incited the wrath of EMI (owner of the rights to the White Album) and bought the art of mashups--the combining of musical genres--mainstream. Now, mashups are making an appearance in another forum--enterprise applications. IBM is currently working on the prototype of an application that will enable businesses to create customized applications by combining external Internet components with internal company data.
In the past, building applications has been the sole duty of IT professionals, but mashups may change all that. "As we saw more APIs--application programming interfaces--such as programmableweb.com emerge, what started out being interesting just for hackers [became more widespread]," said Rod Smith, VP of Internet emerging technologies at IBM.
Several of the earliest large-scale mashups were used in security and government sectors. For instance, a Google map was combined with data from a city's police department to accelerate response time. Another mashup application, Jobs For Recovery, was initiated post-Hurricane Katrina. "The Louisiana Department of Commerce wanted an application made in two weeks to show jobs that were available in New Orleans, so we combined this information with Google maps so that people considering jobs in the city would know if there was a place to live nearby," states Smith.
While companies such as Jotspot and Ning have APIs and mashups for consumer-based businesses and social networking programs, IBM is the only manufacturer offering enterprise applications, according to Joe Becker of IBM's Communications Software group.
The first Mashup Camp was held in Silicon Valley in February 2006 and hosted by David Berlind, executive editor of ZDNet, and event pro Doug Gold. Engineers, developers and members of the mashup community came together for some friendly application creation competition. Topics ranged from Mashing Wikis to API Best Practices, and the significant media presence at the camp helped bring mashups into the spotlight.
"It really got people going in the enterprise," says Smith. "We all started asking the question, 'If we can build apps in two weeks, then what are we doing wrong? Why is it [generally] taking so long to create these things? And we knew there was something new here that we needed to look into more ... [so] we got started on this path with a mashup-making application." Now, apps can be made in as few as 10 minutes, requiring less time and less money.
The creation of speedy applications isn't the only benefit that mashups may offer the enterprise. It can be difficult to properly harness information that is constantly changing, so mashups may prove to be useful in this space because they can be created, then later changed or deleted. "It really opens up a whole new dialogue with the customer," says Smith.
Despite all of the perks, the growth of mashup-building apps has its risks. "I think the major risk here is that IT could lose a lot of its control," states Smith, who recommends that businesses considering mashup apps may want to consider installing policies and procedures to restrict access, since as the number of people creating applications rises, so does the chance of someone creating a virus.
Mobility is a major player in IBM's enterprise mashup application. "The Web is becoming the backbone for building applications, and the Web matured through mobility," says Smith. "Much of this data is about notification, and most workers want to be notified via a handheld device. Also, since it's all browser-based, the apps are pretty flexible from a mobile standpoint. I think it's pretty attractive, and I really think it's going to be a trend that will come from all vendors out there."
For now, though, mashups are still in the prototype phase. Smith expects to still be planning for the next "four months or so, and then we'll see how we can incorporate these things in our products." IBM is still waiting to make the call on whether the mashup application will be embedded or sold separately. "We're hoping to get more insights from our customers first," he says. For the time being, however, companies will have to wait and see if application mashups have the potential to reach the top of the charts.