Mashups Application Widget

Published:

Abstract

Mashups are becoming increasingly popular as a fast, inexpensive alternative to building applications from scratch. Widgets have been around a long time but are being transformed with Web 2.0 technology. This paper explores the uses of mashups and widgets in Web 2.0 and how

What is a mashup?

A mashup is an interactive web application created using the technique of combining data or features of one website with another. Data and application programming interfaces (API's) from providers like Google and Yahoo can be mashed together to provide visual information that's important to the website audience. Web 2.0 technologies like AJAX-based maps, RSS feeds or blogs are commonly used in building mashups. The term is derived from the music scene where mashups are created using instrumental and/or voice tracks from two or more songs and mixed into a new song.

One of the Web's first mashups was created in 2005 by Paul Rademacher. While searching for a home he combined listings from the online classified-ad service craigslist with Google's mapping service. Choose a city and a price range, and up pops a map with pushpins showing the location and description of each rental. He called his creation housingmaps. (Tapscott and Williams, 2006). Rademacher and others that were hacking Google maps prompted Google to release the mapping API and see what kinds of innovative ideas and applications would come out of it. This willingness to share has paid off in publicity and Google is now using advertisements to profit from the use of Google Map applications.

Popular types of mashups

Mapping mashups

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Google was the first to release a free API for maps and was quickly followed by Microsoft (Virtual Earth), Yahoo (Yahoo Maps), and AOL (MapQuest). Up to the minute data about anything can be shown on a graphical web-based application that plots the location on a map with pushpins and when selected reveal the details of the data. Chicagocrime.org, for instance, combines two services - a Chicago Police Dept. crime Web site and Google Maps - and lets you type in an address to see recent crimes nearby. The site attracted 1.2 million page views in just the first two weeks after it began (Hof, 2005)

Video and photo mashups

There are many photo sharing web applications like Flickr and Shutterfly where you can store and share photographs online. The Flickr API lets users search the site's database of images and upload photos to create mashups.

We can even upload video to YouTube and add a YouTube player widget on our website without charge.

Shopping mashups

Price comparison tools for online shopping were around even before mashing. Many stores would provide data feeds so they could be included in multi-site searches for products. Today online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon have released API's to allow access to their products.

News mashups

RSS feeds are used by news organizations to distribute news headlines and story summaries. Mashups can be personalized to a readers interests. Virender Ajmani built a Web application called Recent News by Country to educate the public about current world events.

Using a combination of the Google Maps API and freely available RSS feeds, Ajmani's mashup displays a drag-able Google map with buttons for selecting world regions. Once a user has chosen his or her geographical area of interest, the program opens to a map of that region, a red flag marking each country. Clicking a flag brings up a list of that nation's most recent news stories, as well as a link to Flickr photos tagged with the country's name. Recent News by Country takes its general news from The New York Times' RSS feed, while stories about human rights violations are delivered via Human Rights Watch's RSS feed. (Satterfield, 2006).

Ajmani created other Google Map-based mashups and was able to reuse the code from one to another.

What is a widget?

Widgets are chunks of reusable code that can be copied and pasted into a website or blog. They can be functional and sometimes fun. It's a means for bringing in content from a third party site like YouTube or Flickr and not having to do updates. This is becoming a popular tool for advertisers.

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In 2007, Google started a Gadget Ads program that allowed advertisers to run widget ads in Google's AdSense network.

If consumers like the widget ad, they can save it onto their desktops or on their profile pages online on sites like Facebook and MySpace…One big advantage of the technology is that the consumer does not have to click through to a Web site…More than 48 percent of internet users in the United States—over 87 million people use widgets, according to comScore, the online measurement company. (Story 2007)

Another example of a widget is a web-base service called ChipIn. This application lets you inform people on your fundraising efforts. You create the widget by indicating what you're collecting for, how much you want to raise, an end date and how funds may be contributed. It displays a thermometer like diagram that tracks the level of contributions during the campaign. When the widget is created you can copy and paste it into the web site.

Building mashups and using widgets

Many API's are free and open to the public and most come with documentation. Some coding or Web building experience is required to build a mashup.

Mashup developers often use a technique called screen scraping to get the information they want to mash when the provider hasn't released the API. This is what Paul Rademacher

did with housingmaps. It's reverse engineering and is volatile in that there is no contract with the provider so when the provider decides to change their site it can cause the mashup to malfunction.

One of the wonderful things about widgets is that no technical skills are needed to install and use them. Anybody who can copy and paste can add widget functionality to their own blog or web site. Widgets are also coming to mobile phones. Says Craig Cumberland from Nokia “some very cool ones under development include travel related widgets, such as flight trackers, currency converters, local weather services, and the like” (Blake 2007).

Ethical concerns

It seems that even if content providers allow the use of their API's who's to say it will be used appropriately and what recourse does a provider have when another site scrapes from his application? Developers may not care about security issues.

Personal opinion

Eliminates having to build an expensive application from the beginning, why reinvent the wheel. Saves time and money.

The concept of mashups is particularly useful for non-profit organizations. Non-profits don't have a lot of money to develop code so they use mashups and widgets to enhance their websites.

References

Tapscott, D., & Williams, A. (2006). Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes

Everything. New York: Portfolio

Story, Louise (2007). Google Program Enlists Mini-Sites as Selling Tool for Advertisers. The

New York times-Technology. Retrieved January 20, 2008, from

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/19/technology/19google.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Hof, R. D. (2005). Mix, Match, and Mutate. BusinessWeek. Retrieved January 18,

2008, from

http://www.businessweek.com/@@76IH*ocQ34AvyQMA/magazine/content/05_30/b3944108_mz063.htm

Satterfield, B. (2006). Mashups: An Easy, Free Way to Create Custom Web Apps. TechSoup.

Retrieved January 18, 2008, from

http://www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/webbuilding/page5788.cfm

Rankin, R. (2007). Mashups Explained. Retrieved January 18, 2008, from

http://askbobrankin.com/what_is_a_mashup.html

Merrill, D. (2006). Mashups: The new breed of Web app. Retrieved January 12, 2008, from

http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/x-mashups.html

Blake, D. (2007). Mobile Widgets and the Internet Experience. Retrieved January 19, 2008,

from http://www.ddj.com/mobile/204801195