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Making Money With Mashups

I'm back from this week's Mashup Camp in Mountain View, CA, and I came away impressed with both the event and my first real "unconference" experience. The 300 or so (mostly) developers attending were not only passionate and engaged, they drove much of the content, and at least 14 whipped up entries for the climax of the event, the Best Mashup Contest.
I'm back from Mashup Camp in Mountain View, CA, and I came away impressed with both the event and my first real "unconference" experience. The 300 or so (mostly) developers attending were not only passionate and engaged, they drove much of the content, and at least 14 whipped up entries for the climax of the event, the Best Mashup Contest.

So what's an unconference? The basic definition is that it's participant driven, but can you imagine telling your boss you're going to a conference that has nothing on the agenda? That's where things stood (by design) on Tuesday morning, but at least a score of "campers" lined up after the morning keynote to present their ideas for discussion topics. Within 15 minutes, they nearly filled the schedule, and the remaining open slots were filled with discussions (not sales pitches) proposed by event-sponsors including IBM, AOL Developer Network, Google, JackBe, wetpaint, Yahoo Developer Network and Zembly.I felt like a fish out of water attending some of the geekier discussions (I'm a journalist, not a developer, Jim), but most stuck to important, high-level topics like persistence, mobility, the link to cloud computing and how to take mashups to the enterprise. Omar Abdelwahed's chat on the e-commerce potential of mashups made it into this story.

Speaking of e-commerce, the camp crowd was keenly interested in the panel on "Making Money with Mashups." Taylor McKnight, a partner at The Hype Machine, shared mashup lessons learned in co-founding SCHED*, Chime.TV and Podbop. His take was that the market is still maturing, with some service providers (those fueling mashups with public APIs) still in startup mode and others having clear profit motives. "Companies like Eventful just want to get their name out there at this point, while the Amazon types just want the referral links," he said.

Venture capitalists Jeff Clavier, Founder and Managing Partner of SoftTech VC, advised would-be mashup entrepreneurs to start businesses on the cheap (with personal or family money) and establish the concept and some level of audience before seeking VC support to take it to the next level. He observed that Flikr, as an example, did not come up with a particularly unique or technically innovative idea, but it was acquired for millions on the strength of the audience and community it established.

Business models are, indeed, the hard part, agreed panelist Yobie Benjamin, founder and CEO of TrueCarbon.org. His environmental site acts as a broker for carbon credits, and he says major airlines are approaching the firm to help meet tough new European carbon-offset requirements.

Mashup Camp 6 concluded with the Mashup Camp 6 Best Mashup Contest, which was won by Dean Mao, who collected a $2,000 prize for his context-sensitive Firefox "Empowerment Addon" that brings annotation functionality to Web pages and natural-language parsing to bodies of text. The mashup uses the Open Calais extraction Web service, the Yahoo BOSS mashup framework and WetPaint "Injection" embedding technologies.

The winner of a "SpeedGeeking" contest was Andres Ferrate, founder or Cartosoft and creator of Mapdango, which mashes Google Maps with content from Web sources including Panoramio, Flikr, Wikipedia, Eventful, WeatherBug and Google Local.

Panelist Hart Rossman quipped at one point, "you probably wouldn't want a mashup for your bank account," yet I'm certain we're going to see mashup development approaches mushroom, even in the enterprise.I'm back from this week's Mashup Camp in Mountain View, CA, and I came away impressed with both the event and my first real "unconference" experience. The 300 or so (mostly) developers attending were not only passionate and engaged, they drove much of the content, and at least 14 whipped up entries for the climax of the event, the Best Mashup Contest.