IT intelligence: Mashups

Robin Fisk looks at mashups, the ninth of his 10 technologies to watch.

John Peel, the famous BBC radio broadcaster, once said that he would have been happy to have been a hippy, but couldn't bring himself to say "man" at the end of every sentence. I feel the same way about the latest pop music terminology on the web - 'mashup'.

A mashup is a piece of music made entirely of parts of other, pre-existing songs, such as the vocal of one song on the backing music of another. A web mashup is the creation of a web page that combines the data from multiple sources into one single integrated tool. For example, a web page that plots a charity's major donors on a Google Maps UK map.

Whereas web portals such as iGoogle present information from various sources side by side, mashups blend the information into a new form. One example of this is - a web mashup that overlays properties for sale in the UK on Google Maps.

Until now, web mashups have been difficult to develop and have required significant web knowledge. However, tools from Microsoft and Yahoo! claim to make it much easier for non-programmers to achieve this.

Microsoft's Popfly is an online service that provides you with tools to build and share mashups using its Silverlight tools. I used Popfly to create a simple mashup that displays my Facebook images in a Silverlight photosphere. Similarly, Yahoo!'s Pipes lets you create mashups by aggregating information using a graphical design tool.

Can charities benefit from this technology? Consumers are growing used to such sophistication online, and it's now easier than ever to provide. For example, a charity could publish event information superimposed onto maps, with links to the online booking form. Really useful mashups might not be quite as simple as the tutorials imply, but the results should be worth the effort.

- Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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