We Need Better Mashup and Dashboard ‘Aggregators’
One thing is absolutely crystal clear to even a casual observer of today’s Web application space: there are an unprecedented number of phenomenal tools available (many of them free), but unless you want to have 25 tabs open in a browser window, it’s pretty challenging to bring them all together in a useful way and coordinate and orchestrate their use.
In the enterprise space, there’s been a long running category called composite applications. These were apps that I.T. could create that would bring together disparate business data and application functionality into a new application. Making this easier for enterprise I.T. was a key objective in the portal space, but it never gained the sort of traction everyone expected.
In the Web 2.0 area, composite applications are known as mashups and are the closest thing to a composite application (and some argue these are composite apps) and are at the core of why the internet is a platform and more and more hosted application providers are delivering API’s which enable smart developers to pull together chunks of functionality and deliver a different and completely new application (browse over 3,500 mashups here).
But what about startups, small to midsize businesses, agencies and non-profit organizations, who’d like to simply and easily aggregate all of this disparate functionality together in one spot and cannot afford a composite app/mashup development effort?
If you’ve used iGoogle, Pageflakes or NetVibes (all “startpage” offerings that allow you to choose or build ‘widgets’ or what Google calls ‘gadgets’ and lay them out on pages), you’ll have a sense of where we are with the ability to create a ‘dashboard’ with some rudimentary capability. What most offer is either basic information feeds (usually RSS) or just high level access to some of the functionalty.
A good example of this is what most of the Twitter widgets/gadgets provide. From within the widget itself a user can update his/her status or read “@” replies or direct messages. But for more sophisticated use (e.g., searching within Twitter) you have to jump out to the website itself.
These are the sort of behaviors I’ve often seen with widgets/gadgets: to do anything useful — which most people do if they’re utilizing a Web app in any meaningful way — a jump-out to the Web app is required.
For people who are technoweenies or quite sophisticated technically, it’s not much of an issue to simply use different apps. But when you’re trying to build a workflow — to ensure, for example, that you’re “in the conversation” with social media using Facebook, Twitter, a blog, and more — it’s really challenging to build a workflow that requires a user to bounce around within tabs to figure out what’s going on.
Making it easy for users is critical, which is why an attractive, composite mashup — which a workflow can be mapped to — is key. Otherwise, using 6, 12, or more Web applications in a coordinated and orchestrated fashion requires too much knowledge on the part of the user, far too much attention to be paid, and doesn’t work for most people.
So what’s the answer? I wish I knew. I’ve been experimenting with Google Sites and building pages with gadgets; trying out Pageflake and NetVibes pages; and even populating them with Widgetbox widgets. All of it is pretty basic stuff and not nearly as useful as just having a dozen or more tabs open in a Firefox browser window.
What are you seeing? Is there a new mashup tool I’m missing?
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.