What Is an Internet 'Mashup'?

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You hear this 'mashup' expression being used by techie friends of yours. They talk about "oh, that is such an awesome mashup". But what exactly does "mashup" mean?

A 'mashup' combines services from different websites into a single website. The term comes from the term 'mashed potatoes'. The intent is to give exceptional customer service to the reader by combining the best of two or more online software products.

Mashups are not new by any means. The idea of combining multiple software API services ('application programming interfaces') is decades old. In fact, your Microsoft Windows operating system is a perfect everyday example of mashup programming. But in the last several years, website mashups have become a serious business for web programmers.

Mashups are most commonly a combination of maps and search-locator services. 

Some of the more popular mapping mashups include:

  • Parkingcarma.com: a mashup that locates and maps parking spots for you at several major US cities.
  • Weatherbonk.com: see real-time weather reports overlayed on top of geographic maps.
  • Pubwalk.com: discover nightspots and late night restaurants with this nifty mashup.
  • Google Transit: for Japan and key parts of the USA, you can plan your bus and train trip using this clever mashup.

The second most common form of internet mashup is the combining of reader opinions with other lookup services.

Here are some examples of reader opinion mashups:

  • City Search: an online city guide for visitors, functioning as both yellow pages as well as reader reviews and opinions.
  • Pandora FM online radio: Pandora combines streaming music with a personal favorites database... you listen to music, while simultaneously building a profile of the kind of music you like with each song you listen to.
  • Yelp: a search service for finding restaurants, combined with thousands of reader reviews and comments on those restaurants.
  • Angie's List: a directory service of general contractors, with customer reviews and opinions on those contractors.

Facebook.com is the current "uber" mashup today

As a massive social networking site, Facebook has become a cultural phenomenon. It mashes up many different creative services into a unified social experience online. There are hundreds of applications being mashed together at Facebook...so many, in fact, that entire websites are dedicated just to reviewing and explaining Facebook mashups. Here are three examples of hundreds of Facebook mashup services:

  • Facebook "Zombies": this playful game entices people to make silly connections with other Facebook members.
  • Facebook "Music Videos": friends introduce their favorite music videos to each other.
  • Facebook "iRead": users share what books they are reading, book reviews, and find other readers with similar tastes.

Internet mashup websites have been growing since 2007

Not only are they clever ways to provide locating and review services, but mashups are also relatively easily to program. At this time, only a fraction of new mashups achieve significant popularity, but mashups are definitely here to stay. And some of these mashups are indeed very useful and practical services.