January 18, 2007 11:09 AM PST
At Mashup Camp, geeks plot future of Web
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Larger vendors generally woo both individual developers and large Web service providers such as Amazon, Google and eBay. These sites provide application programming interfaces, or APIs, and allow outsiders to query their sites.
Meanwhile, smaller software companies are trying to build a business from the budding mashup industry, even proposing revenue-sharing arrangements from Web advertising.
Dapper, for example, is a company that formed two months ago with the premise that the mashup model has built-in problems. It has designed a service that allows developers to programmatically pull data from a Web site, such as a photo-sharing service, even if the site doesn't publish its own APIs.
At the beginning of February, the company will release a service that allows content providers to set rules for how outsiders can access their information. For example, a blog could allow others to republish information under a Creative Commons license, or a news site could charge a licensing fee.
"There's a big market failure in this whole game and it's the content providers. You have all these guys who build mashups and other applications and they always live in fear of cease-and-desist letters," said Eran Shir, co-founder of Dapper. "The idea is that we want to make this ecosystem sustainable, not just go to fun conferences in cool places."
Fear of getting cut off
During one Mashup Camp session, titled "Licensing, Commercialization and Mashups," attendees discussed licensing issues that can come up when relying on the data provided by Web services providers.
The concern, many said, is that a company like Google or Yahoo could shut off access to its data if a mashup application provider becomes competitive or consumes too many resources, such as bandwidth. Generally, an individual can write an application that uses a Web site's API without prior permission.
"If we're doing all these mashups and they become wildly popular, the unfortunate trade-off is that we get shut down and it's when we're wildly popular--that's the sucky part," Eventful developer Nate Ritter said during the licensing and commercialization session.
Integrating with third-party sites allows developers to focus on their own Web site's offering without having to build their own mapping or search function, for example. However, that also means relying on outsiders to deliver a product.
Eventful built a widget (a small application that runs independently) that allows people to tell musical acts where fans want them to tour. The widget, built using Adobe Flash, can be embedded within other applications, but MySpace.com throttled certain Flash functions, which "beheaded" Eventful's widget, said Radcliff.
That left 20,000 people with a misfiring widget, and Eventful programmers had to resolve the problem.
Radcliff said that more stability in the platform and consistent APIs would get around those sorts of difficulties. But flexibility reflects the very nature of mashups, he said.
"You can't treat anything like it's a fixed target," he said. "Luckily, these things can be fixed quickly."
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