Making the Business Case for Mashups

Once a boutique pursuit for geeks, mashups are entering the enterprise application development mainstream.
It's not that mashups will replace conventional development and integration approaches, but they may whittle down that long IT-department "to-do" list and deliver innovations in the process. This was one of the conclusions of a panel discussion held this week at Mashup Camp in Mountain View, CA, where nearly 300 developers gathered to hear about tips, techniques, case examples and trends around an increasingly popular approach to Web development.

Mashup camp image gallery
Mashup Camp Photo Gallery
(click image)

Mashups are Web applications that combine data and functionality from multiple sources into a single tool. Once a geeky boutique domain, mashups are entering the business mainstream, with leading companies including and BestBuy exposing services that let entrepreneurs launch their own stores. The BestBuy Remix API, for example, lets developers access all the product, store, stock, commerce and transactional information and capabilities delivered through the Web site.

"They are essentially opening up the brand and letting customers create their own stores," says Omar Abdelwahed, a former BestBuy employee who helped develop the API. "Those customers may never go into the store again [once they create a custom mashup site], but in the end, BestBuy ships the product."

Abdelwahed demonstrated a Shelftalkers mashup here that runs on the Google App Engine and that blends information and functionality from the BestBuy Remix and APIs (it's a demo, so think about functionality and forget about the primitive interface).

In a panel discussion, John Musser, founder of, described mashups as "the next flavor of integration skill," and he pointed to the iPhone App store and the Salesforce AppExchange as places where mashups and cloud-based apps are starting to flourish.

"In the current state of the economy, the word we hear time and time again from CIOs is 'reuse,'" added panelist Hart Rossman, vice president and CTO, Cyber Programs and Chief Security Technologist at SAIC. "By exposing data, providing APIs and letting the user community do a lot of the development work, you can drive down the cost of developing and supporting enterprise applications."

Challenging the notion that mashups will cut IT costs, panelist Dan Woods of observed that "mashups aren't doing things that are already being done by IT; they're doing things that users wanted but IT never got to. You won't get a new CRM system out of a mashup, but you will get a better CRM system that does things IT didn't have time to develop or know were needed."