Monday, February 18, 2008

The Mashup Is Dead

Today I want to rant about a few things I hate. They include:

  • The Word "Mashup"
  • Proclamations of the form: "A Thing is Dead; Long Live that Thing"
  • People Who Insist on Continuing to Use the Word Mashup
  • The Term "Web 2.0"

I know it's heresy. Mashups and Web 2.0 are what's hot, right? I myself am considered to be a "mashup creator" working with Web 2.0 concepts.

But that era is behind us. The term "Mashup" made sense when coders were actually lifting data from places it was hard to lift from and putting it into contexts that were hard to access. This, my friends, is no longer the state of affairs on the Internet.

Today, we are working with a world of data that wants to be free and is published via countless, well documented API's. In the cases where API's are still not available (or whorishly published in hopes of becoming universally adopted), advanced tools and protocols are available to automate what used to be hard.

We must remember that the word "mashup" hails back to music, originally; a talented music editor might string together pieces of previously recorded music to create something new. This was an artform in itself, and implied a kind of subversion. A repurposing of content, often done without the permission or knowledge of the original creator.

Well, the days of this kind of thing on the Internet are, thanks to everybody's efforts to open things up, largely over. In a world where open source software is widely accepted, where it makes sense for companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Amazon (and gee, every other damn company out there) to publish API's that encourage their data to be woven into the fabric of the net, there is no need for the coy sense of subversion that comes from the word "Mashup."

What we've got now, folks, is DATA! Great flowing rivers of it! Software that helps us use it! Ruby on Rails, Asterisk, MySQL, PGSQL, Apache, Freeswitch, Flex! Where it's not open source, it's at least free! Everything has an API and the things that don't are falling away.

The next person that says to me with a straight face that they "make mashups" is going to get sucker-punched. The word has lost its meaning, so let's move on.

That said, explaining to a layperson what it is we "creative coders" do, sometimes you, well, have to resort to saying, "I make mashups." But do us all a favor, try to explain what that really means today. Let's move to a world where we can think about data, about tools (which is really just code-as-data), and imagining what we can do with it all.

Mashup was a good word for perhaps 2003-2007, but it implies limitations and barriers that simply no longer exist. We can do better.

What would YOU call the innovations that are possible with all the data and tools we have today?


Anonymous said...


your hopelessly optimistic about the openness and availability of all of these api's. for a tiny segment of internet toys you might be right be in the larger world and in corporations they are still a huge barrier.

Dave Troy said...

Back up. What I said was that there are many, many widely available API's, and that where there aren't, there are tools that make consuming non-API-enabled data easy.

I've been writing tools to scrape and systematize data since the early days of the Internet, and my point is that it is nowhere near the feat that it once was.

My point is that by putting the emphasis on the "act" of mashing up (and the technical prowess required to marshal data into a usable form) is not the essential point. That's like praising the act of computing itself. It's the *output* that matters.

Once we have finished worshipping the act of data-gathering itself, we can begin to contemplate the potential meaning and use of that data.

Jim said...

great point and you are miles in front of what's next
you have literally captured the global zeitgeist with your brilliant
aps_watching twitter thoughts & flickr pics and video fly randomly from across the planet was
as compelling as human nature itself
_i will show everyone i know_a grand vision you have sir_and for that you have my respect and compliments

Kingsley.Idehen said...


Amen! For the most part. The emerging "Linked Data Web" (foundation layer of broader Semantic Web vision) ushers in a period of Open Data Access on the Web, where the Data behind Web pages is available in structured form -- enabling a global ability to "Mesh" rather than "Mash" web accessible Data.


Matt said...


I fundamentally disagree with you. In the enterprise there is a massive amount of unaccessible data. The biggest HR system on this earth is run by the US army, it is known as IPERMS and has only queries and 2-4 web services. Not exactly what I call a heavy lifting API. I do agree that the word Mashup is stupid and needs to be renamed and better defined however to say that the internet is "just data" does not account for the enterprise at all NOR does it account for all of the data that is behind the API revolution.

Nolybab Praetorius said...

I agree that Mashup is dead, but from a much more technical perspective. I call the next evolving trend 'SMasuhps'. The S stands for Server-less, Scalable, and Social...

thanks :)

Anonymous said...

I hate the term "mashup" too. The way I've seen it used is by digital media artists who, like the original music term, pick something existing and entangle it with another existing but separate thing.

What I don't like about the term "mashup" is how is associated with "cool", being "with it", "in" etc.

Frankly, what isn't a mashup? Our ideas float around all the time and we combine things in ways to create different things and that has been going on for centuries. It's called influence.

I hate the term "mashup".