An introduction to mashups
Duane Mernll (firstname.lastname@example.org), Writer, Freelance
08 Aug 2006
Updated 16 Oct 2006
Mashups are an exciting genre of interactive Web applications that draw upon content retrieved
from external data sources to create entirely new and innovative services. They are a hallmark of
the second generation of Web applications informally known as Web 2.0. This introductory article
explores what it means to be a mashup, the different classes of popular mashups constructed
today, and the enabling technologies that mashup developers leverage to create their applications.
Additionally, you’ll see many of the emerging technical and social challenges that mashup developers
A new breed of Web-based data integration applications is sprouting up all across the Internet.
Colloquially termed mashups, their popularity stems from the emphasis on interactive user
participation and the monster-of-Frankenstein-like manner in which they aggregate and stitch
together third-party data. The sprouting metaphor is a reasonable one; a mashup Web site is
characterized by the way in which it spreads roots across the Web, drawing upon content and
functionality retrieved from data sources that lay outside of its organizational boundaries.
This vague data-integration definition of a mashup certainly isn’t a rigorous one. A good insight as
to what makes a mashup is to look at the etymology of the term: it was borrowed from the pop
music scene, where a mashup is a new song that is mixed from the vocal and instrumental tracks
from two different source songs (usually belonging to different genres). Like these “bastard pop”
songs, a mashup is an unusual or innovative composition of content (often from unrelated data
sources), made for human (rather than computerized) consumption.
So, what might a mashup look like?
The ChicagoCrime.org Web site is a great intuitive example of what’s called a mapping mashup.
One of the first mashups to gain widespread popularity in the press, the Web site mashes crime
data from the Chicago Police Department’s online database with cartography from Google Maps.
Users can interact with the mashup site, such as instructing it to graphically display a map containing
pushpins that reveal the details of all recent burglary crimes in South Chicago. The concept and the
presentation are simple, and the composition of crime and map data is visually powerful.
In Mashup genres, you’ll survey the popular genres of mashups, including mapping mashups.
Related technologies overviews the technology landscape that relates to the construction and
operation of mashups. Technical challenges and Social challenges present the eminent technical and
social challenges, respectively, affecting mashups.
In this section, I give a brief survey of the prominent mashup genres.