"A mashup is a website of application that combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience.
Content used in mashups is typically sourcen from a third party via a public interface or API.
Other methods for sourcing content for mashups include Web Feeds (e.g. RSS and Atom) and JavaScript."

For a very descriptive video presentation of what mashups are really about, see "What Is A Mashup?" (5:00min) at YouTube. Or alternatively, if you are more interested about what mashups could do for your business, see "What Is A Business Mashup?"

So basically what mashups do best is provide information from different, internal or external, sources all mashed up together into one simple application and interface. Good examples are for instance Google maps, YouTube, different news feeds or other mashups brought into a website and possibly combined with some additional data to serve a beneficial function. Mashups are easy to create and highly customizable.

Dion Hinchcliffe, business strategist and enterprise architect who speaks and writes about Web 2.0 in enterprises, describes mashups and the business possibilities they may create in his Executive Guide to Mashups in the Enterprise (sponsored by enterprise mashup company JackBe) as follows:

A mashup is a web application that combines data or functionality from one or more existing source into a single integrated tool. Rather than reinventing the wheel, an all too common behavior in software development, mashups exploit services which already exist. Mashups are the fastest way to build a software application; in some cases reducing delivery time from months to minutes.
Mashups are an architectural style for building new applications rather than a specific technology. There are many forms of mashups built upon many different and sometimes competing technology standards and platforms. Nevertheless, this architectural style is highly adaptable and it is this which holds the true value of mashups for business.
Taking the approach of building web applications by combining software components from one or more sources enforces a componentization approach, and enables faster software development that can be distributed throughout a company. Because an application can be assembled, rather than built up from the ground, and because limited, or no, new code is usually required, the end user can become the developer for the applications she needs. Thus, by adopting the right platform, mashups can be used to create an ubiquitous laboratory for innovation throughout an organization. Hundreds, if not thousands of accountants, marketers, salesmen, support staff, managers, and executives, at every level of an enterprise instantly become engaged with the co-creation of enterprise software. The problems they solve on a daily basis are often unknown to the IT department, who certainly would not have the resources to remedy them in any case.
An early example of both the rise in popularity, and the evolutionary nature of mashups is given Paul Rademacher, a Google engineer, discovered he needed just one line of code to pull the Google Maps functionality on to his own web site. With just a little more ad hoc integration, he plugged in a data-feed of apartments for rent from the popular Craigslist site. The result, developed in a few short hours, was an entire application that provided a geographic map of rental properties. This new application was "built on the shoulders of giants" - namely Google and Craigslist. Paul Rademacher then released to the world, an application that was primarily "assembled" out of the parts of others and sourced live from 3rd parties on the web. It was an enormous success, from a few hours work.

So what about the serious business benefits related to mashups? Hinchcliffe goes on to describe the potential business gains in more detail and presents a list of benefits that a company may derive from a successful implementation of an enterprise mashup platform:

  • Accelerated time to market
  • Enable Self-Service IT
    • The cost of mashup production is very low, thus enabling personalized software development
  • Release the collaborative forces of innovation.
    • As accountants, marketers, salesmen, support staff, managers, and executives, at every level of an enterprise become engaged with the co-creation of enterprise software it may create an explosive source of competitive advantage
  • Meeting employees' expectations
    • Employees are beginning to expect similar information sources and applications within the workplace as what they already have on the public internet
  • Overcoming adoption fears to technology
    • Since the user is behind the software's creation, they and other end users are more likely to adopt and use it.

These claims and assumptions about gains presented by mashups may sound a bit far-fetched; probably not all accountants are all that eager to start experimenting on software development, even if it was made extremely easy. However, given the right surroundings and enough support, mashups may provide a means to optimize business processes and tasks of knowledge workers. Hinchcliffe wraps up his article in a summary concluding that:

Mashups are a rapidly growing architectural technique for building new software systems. In the enterprise context, they have the potential to create significant competitive advantage by allowing for rapid innovation of business processes through the co-creation of new systems which harness the collective intelligence of an organization. By enabling easier-to-create software-based business solutions, mashups can reduce the cost of software development, increase the adoption rates for new technology and create greater harmony between business and IT.

Organizations can nurture and support the potential of mashups by introducing an enterprise mashup platform that supports self-service IT and by leveraging their existing software assets through Service Oriented Architecture. Management also has a role to play both in ensuring IT focuses its labor appropriately and productively, and in steering the new culture of collaboration in a positive direction.

The bottom line: Mashup technology has matured rapidly and solutions now exist which address the majority of challenges facing organizations desiring to apply them to achieve the many benefits they offer.

See also

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