Why not do more, much more, with mashups?

Mashups are today used either in widgets supplied by online service providers, or built by hand by developers for particular sites and pages. Thinking about generalizing and simplifying the usage of mashups and the creation of web widgets, came the idea of creating a dedicated online service, Patapage.

found on ffffound.comSome definitions and references

I’ll start by quoting the Wikipedia definition of mashup:

In web development, a mashup is a web page or application that combines data or functionality from two or more external sources to create a new service. The term mashup implies easy, fast integration, frequently using open APIs and data sources to produce results that were not the original reason for producing the raw source data. An example of a mashup is the use of cartographic data to add location information to real estate data, thereby creating a new and distinct web API that was not originally provided by either source.

And also that of mashup enabler:

In technology, a mashup enabler is a tool for transforming incompatible IT resources into a form that allows them to be easily combined, in order to create a mashup.

Now mashups are mostly used by developers, in particular, JavaScript developers. A nice and typical example is this one:

How to build a personal mashup page with jQuery

and the result is this:

http://enriquez.github.com

where we see the date collected and displayed. Notice that this is all done purely in JavaScript on the client, also using Yahoo Pipes service; but this requires some development and maintenance, and the server side service has to be already available; you cannot build your own service without installing and maintaining your own server. Another widely used option is to use the web service provider widget (“web widget”), where the style is more or less fixed.

Our idea

Our starting idea was… why not give even more power to site builders on the client side by relying on a unique, simple service, acting both as direct content manager and as “proxy” for other services? The fact that Ajax calls allow to add and call Java scripts on say a button click to an existing, fully loaded page, and then by making cross domain requests it becomes possible to add contents to (over) the calling page, opens a world of possibilities, which up to today has been used only by developers of both client and server side code, by low level access to such features and then lots of hand coding.

Couldn’t it be easier? Couldn’t the HTML designer be spared of (re)building specific client readers and server-side services, and focus on just integration and building a beautiful and friendly site? And even if you are a server-side developer, why not delegating web site content building to a third party, and focus on your main activity?

Why use mashups only to add RSS aggregation, pull data from social sites and multimedia contents? Why not use for any kind of dynamic contents? Why use it in blogs and not web sites? The structure of web site is more complex, and the services needed more refined, at times, but that’s no obstacle to the idea.

Also in case of hand built integrations, the graphic quality of the integration is often not at the same level of the originally designed site.

This is where we started thinking about a new online service, and then started building it up. In mashup terms, we started building friendly data sources to be called and used on button and link clicks; then we standardized even the buttons and links, so that the web builder has just to paste the button script on the page, and gets immediately fully working buttons, links and associated services.

List of widgets available in Patapage

Since we had the service up, almost every day a new possibility of a button comes up, as the sum of serving both the client side JavaScript and the server side content, or proxy to contents, opens a lot of possibilities. See in the side picture just the first suite of buttons.

More are being added, like a Delicious aggregator, Picasa integration, custom designed forms; the existing ones are being extended, like the Wiki-button will allow creations of new pages from links, like Wikipedia.

What superficially looks like a single functionality, like adding a wiki-like button (“PataWiki”), actually adds to your web page a layer of dynamically updatable content, by both the site maintainer and site visitors (if that is what is wanted). This could be a “help” page, contributed contents, a “more in depth” presentation, a “buy now” page (we’ve seen it online used this way already), a way to publish news, …

Each button / link you paste in your pages is associated with a “page id”, which the designer can set by hand: this way the same mashup / widget combination can be used across the entire site, on a single page, or shared across a specific group of pages. This is a flexibility that usual mashup on blogs don’t need, as these are basically single paged, , but is a necessary extension for using mashup effectively on web sites.

Properties of the window opened by Patapage buttons

We also developed a web based configuration of buttons and opened windows, which allows setting of style, dimension and layout. This is what you had to do by writing code and HTML by hand when displaying the contents of  mashups – before Patapage 🙂 . Of course if the designer wishes, she can customize the layout of the buttons integrating in the existing layout, as done in this example.

Patapage button-relative security Another recurring problem when adding the possibility of visitors contributing and commenting your pages is that of spam, moderation, e-mail verification and in general of security. Like for example if you enable moderation, you have both to reassure users about their contribution, manage the incoming list to be moderated, notify on approval, etc.: imagine having this by just pasting a little script on your static site instead of configuring a CMS to do that! And you should be able to do this differently for each link or button, if you wish so.

The resulting application is not only a mashup enabler as defined at the beginning, but also a tool providing mashups of all sorts ready to be used.

So we are covering the problems of layout, contents, social contributions, notifications, security… all typical problems traditionally requiring installing your own CMS. This way we are empowering links on the web pages of a site that is preserved as it is, with all its style, effectively progressively making classical CMS’s site development look like stone-age site building.

The PataHero showing off All this functionality is available in an online service, currently in beta, which we called Patapage1,

http://patapage.com

from there you can try the demo, see a video, and just enroll and try it on your site.  When out of beta, the service will be a paid one (see here for details) which will be a way of keeping it ad-free: as one of our ideals is to give as much as an unobtrusive service as possible, channeling ads would result in just the opposite. We also believe that using a commercial service is a higher guarantee for the users.

I’d be glad to read your impression of this idea – use the comments, or tweet me.

[1] Raymond Queneau has described ‘pataphysics as resting “on the truth of contradictions and exceptions.” Well.. we just liked the sound of the word.
Comments
4 Responses to “Why not do more, much more, with mashups?”
  1. susaneb says:

    Pietro, che bravo che scrivi in inglese! Ho visitato il blog di Roberto…Bicocchi? anche in inglese.

    Anyway, I found you all through PataPage which I love. Is it still Beta and free? I am about to add it as a wiget but am wondering….

    Great work, thanks,

    Susan also in Florence

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