Mashup of the Day and other thoughts

KQED Quest is the Mashup of the Day on the Programmable Web site, the authoritative directory of mashups and Web 2.0 APIs (application programming interface). Two other Ideum design sites appear in the directory as well: The American Image: The Photographs of John Collier Jr. and Recycle Torrance. As the Programmable Web shows, we are not alone in experimenting with mashups, the number continues to rise and recently surpassed 1,500 mashups.

While we’re on the topic, a few thoughts to share about mashup design. What draws us to mashups is the ability rapidly and cost effectively develop complex user-experiences. A few years ago we developed a custom mapping program in Adobe Flash for the Traditions of the Sun: Chaco Culture website, developing this as a mashup would have saved hundreds of hours in programming time. (The mashup services were simply not available when we created the site.) In addition, using a well-known service such as Google Maps also means that users are more likely to be familiar with them. Visitors know how to pan and zoom, change from map to satellite view, and so on. Not having to develop an entire user-interface from scratch is a major plus. Again, reducing further development time.

With sites like Flickr, the attraction is the ability to store, manage and share content. For the American Image project, having a ready-made database with a built in content-management system, allowed us to focus on other aspects of the project. The fact that we could also connect with the Flickr community has turned out to be a factor in the success of the project. So far, more people have seen John Collier Jr.’s work on Flickr then on the American Image site itself.

While this all is very positive, there are some drawbacks. You have to include the service site’s branding, there is a bit of learning curve in mashup development at first, and there can be technical limitations and obstacles in using an API as opposed to developing something from scratch. One major issue we ran into repeatedly with the KQED Quest mashups was Javascript implementation across various browsers: IE 6 and 7 and Apple’s Safari were all problematic at different times.

I’ll be posting more about mashups in the coming weeks, as I begin prepare for two half-day workshops for the Museums and the Web conference. I’ll be teaching: Museum Mashups and Real Science 2.0 Interacting with scientific imagery and live data at the conference which is held April in San Francisco.

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