January 18, 2007 11:09 AM PST
At Mashup Camp, geeks plot future of Web
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Alan Taylor is living in the Wild West of Web development, and he has the scars to prove it.
In his spare time, Taylor builds mashups--Web applications that combine content from more than one source and have caught on as Web providers from Amazon.com to Microsoft make their data programmatically available to outsiders.
But while he is breaking new ground on the Internet, he is also pushing legal and business boundaries. His Amazon Light application--a stripped-down site for buying and renting goods through Amazon--attracted two cease-and-desist orders a couple of years back, one from Amazon and another from Google.
"I do lots of different development, but the mashups are the most fun just because there's so much potential," said Taylor, one of about 200 developers and techies attending Mashup Camp here this week. "The biggest barriers have been artificial barriers, legal barriers."
Taylor, who holds a day job as a senior Web developer at Boston.com, survived the legal threats without much trouble, but his experience points to the relative immaturity of mashups, which advocates believe represent the Web's cutting edge.
Many popular mashup applications involve plotting information, such as a calendar entry, on a mapping Web site. But Taylor and others at the third Mashup Camp are looking to push far beyond maps. Hype Machine, for example, tracks discussions of music on blogs, aggregates that information and allows people to listen to mentioned songs.
Because Mashup Camp is considered an "unconference," discussion topics were proposed by attendees and scheduled on the first day of the two-day event. Perhaps as a reflection of their enthusiasm, participants were able to decide on the conference content within 20 minutes.
The semi-structured format is particularly well-suited to mashups, which many attendees likened to a grassroots cultural movement.
Large software vendors catering to corporate software developers or independent software vendors have spent years establishing a suite of Web services standards and infrastructure software while advocating a modular design, called a service-oriented architecture, or SOA.
Mashups, by contrast, tend to focus on speed and simplicity, wiring together different Web sites using quick and lightweight methods.
"This is taking the SOA idea and applying it to the mess that is the real world," said Chris Radcliff, a Web developer at Eventful, which aggregates and publishes event listings. "You can grab pieces from here and there. It makes it a lot more informal, which increases adoption."
Established technology providers, which sell to businesses, are courting mashup developers, some of whom may be working at start-ups or just working on their own. Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Yahoo, Autodesk and AOL are among the sponsors of this year's event.
IBM, for example, has a tool called QEDwiki, which is designed to let businesspeople pull together data from different sources, such as weather information and product shipping information, to create a perhaps temporary application.
Joe Keller, the former Java Web services marketing vice president at Sun Microsystems, attended the event to foster a network, or "ecosystem," of leading-edge developers.
"My ecosystem has changed," said Keller, chief marketing officer at mashup tool company Kapow Technologies. "You see SOAs and Web services struggling to get critical mass, and this lightweight programming model is already hitting critical mass."
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