Dont Let Mashups Smash Up

Opinion: Blended apps are only as strong as their weakest link or flakiest database.

It is time to throw your IT operation in the blender. Where once you would pick a single best-of-breed product and build a business around that choice, today you should be making choices on how products blend with one another.

For example, taking a blended approach to spyware may be the only approach that can eliminate this pervasive menace. As Labs Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia writes, "When evaluating anti-spyware solutions, administrators should strongly consider implementing a gateway detection and blocking solution in addition to host-based anti-spyware software." Andrew is right-on and, I think, in the forefront of advocating a blended approach to IT security.

Vendors, which often sell one choice or the other, should take heed of the need to talk about how well their products play with others rather than championing their product feature set over a competitors capabilities. After all, the bad guys devised blended threats combining viruses, worms and multiple system vulnerabilities years ago.

In addition to security, the blender approach is the one now taking hold in the application space. Blended applications, or mashups, are the hottest topic in application development. A mashup is usually a Web application built from many sources but combined into a seamless interface that provides a new user experience.

/zimages/3/28571.gifZimbra Collaboration Suite Beta 2 includes updated support for AJAX mashups. Click here to read more.

A real-estate mashup might take Google Maps, recent house sales, and education and crime data to help a home buyer choose a neighborhood. I spoke with one outsourcing company based in India that was going to build a mashup using house location, flood plain and insurance data to allow insurance companies to assign risk without having to send an individual to a location to do an evaluation.

The best mashups represent a combination of technology expertise in application interfaces, enabling software capabilities such as AJAX and business models built around blended thinking. So far, mashups have been built largely in the world of Web-based companies and startups, but soon the corporate entity that doesnt have a technology strategy for mashing its internal operations will be left mashless and maybe penniless.

And the blending approach is not only for software. Someday, some vendor will find the right combination for mashing that cell phone, e-mail, Web browser and media player into one device. Palms Treo 700w comes fairly close to this; check out Labs Senior Analyst Jason Brooks blog for a review of this new Treo.

Of course, all this blending comes with some penalties attached. If your mashed-up sales and marketing system suddenly conks out, who should you blame? Is it Salesforce.coms recently balky hosted customer relationship management offering? Or the companies that have built applications tied in to the Salesforce API? Or maybe it is simply your own Web connection sputtering along?

Your mashed-up application is only as strong as the weakest link or flakiest database. If your real-estate application requires the latest housing sales, and either that server is unavailable or the underlying data is incorrect, then youve got a mash of problems on your hands over which you have little control. And then there is the question of content rights. Do you have all the rights to the content on which your blended application is dependent?

The entire universe of corporate applications is ripe for well-blended applications. Big topics such as end-to-end data encryption too often scare off technology executives despite the inherent advantage of having to reveal that you lost a laptop with strongly encrypted data rather than a laptop with hundreds of thousands of customer names and credit histories.

Can someone build blended encryption application that utilizes several vendors but is not a nightmare of access rights and encryption keys? Id argue the first corporate mashup application was Microsoft Office, and that has proved to be a pretty good business based on blended programs.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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