Mashup goes un-Camp

Slightly against the spirit of a true unconference, the Mashup Camp scheduled for next month in Mountain View has gone commercial. From an email that I received late last week from David Berlind, one of the organizers:

If you’re a Mashup Camp veteran, the you know that Mashup Camp and Mashup University have traditionally been free events to attend and Doug and I have worked hard to keep them that way. However, given the number of no-shows as well as the number of non-sponsoring solution providers that come to Camp to commercially engage the mashup community, Doug and I are instituting a tiered fee structure that our research with you indicates is very fair.

Although the fee is nominal ($35) for developers, I don’t actually develop much code so have listed myself as an “observer” at past events: I attend primarily to learn and contribute ideas, and to blog about the experience. David and I exchanged some email, and he said that it was cool for me to attend at the developer price as long as I wasn’t there representing a corporate entity trying to sell something to the developers (as if I’d pick people with no money as a target market 🙂 ). Non-sponsoring private companies pay $495, and $995 for VCs and public companies.

Something doesn’t quite jive with the literal content of his letter, however: the two Mashup Camps that I attended last year were sponsored by deep-pocketed companies like Google and Yahoo, and I’m unaware of any great financial shortfall in running the unconferences (unless David and Doug want to start taking all-expense-paid trips to Tahiti). Furthermore, the no-show rate seemed to be well within expected parameters: keep in mind that there’s no-shows at paid conferences, too, and the loss of $35 isn’t exactly going to incent a developer to travel across the country if something better comes up. I’ve been involved in a number of Camp events here in Toronto, and yes, there are no-shows, which means that there’s some extra food at the end of the day; deal with it, or maybe stop pretending that there’s not tons of food thrown away at corporate facilities in Silicon Valley every day. I’ve also found the ratios of developers:non-developers pretty good at Mashup Camp in the past, so I don’t think that this is strictly to discourage non-developers.

It appears that they’re really doing this to encourage sponsorship of the event: I’m sure that the companies that do kick in some money might be a bit peeved that other companies could just show up for free and schmooze around with the developers, dangling job offers. Basically, the $495/995 amounts to an entrance fee to a talent fair, since many of the developers are attending Mashup Camp — at least in part — to showcase their talents in front of exactly those people from commercial organizations who might want to hire them.

Personally, I don’t think that this is the right way to go about it: I’d prefer to see a consistently low pricing structure (or free) but restrictions on the number of non-developers allowed. Sure, someone could lie and say they were a developer when they’re really a recruiter for Google, but it’s just as easy for someone to do that now, and just sign up for the $35 package. If you’re going to call something a Camp, it really should follow unconference guidelines to some degree, which traditionally includes free (or nearly so) admission, and completely participant-driven content that’s not determined in advance. If you’re going to run a commercial conference, then it’s unreasonable to expect people to pay $500 or $1000 for an event that doesn’t even have an agenda published: in other words, you can’t really do a commercial unconference event since many companies could find it difficult to justify the cost based on a complete lack of information about content in advance.

That being said, I found the two Mashup Camps that I attended last year were great, and I’ve already signed up for the one in July. And I’m not just saying that because I ran into David today at Enterprise 2.0

Next Mashup Camp scheduled

Mashup Camp 4 is scheduled for July 18-19, back in Silicon Valley. I’m at the BPM Think Tank in San Francisco the following week, so I’ll just stay out there for the duration and enjoy the weekend between in San Francisco.

Message to David Berlind: we really need to talk about a Mashup Camp in Toronto. We have a huge community here of unconference organizers and attendees, and have had 2 BarCamps, 12 DemoCamps, 3 EnterpriseCamps and a host of other “camps”, including the recent TransitCamp. Just don’t do it in February.

Skipping Mashup Camp 3

I’ve decided not to attend Mashup Camp 3 in Boston next week, in part because I just got back from a month vacation and have a ton of things to do (like this weekend’s Enterprise Camp here in Toronto), and in part because I missed the window for cheap flights and I’m not willing to pay $900 to fly from Toronto to Boston — the problem with being an independent is that you really scrutinize that extra $600 in airfare when it comes out of your own pocket!

Have fun without me this time.

Wrapping up Mashup Camp 2

David Berlind is wrapping up the whole conference now, and we’re all anxiously awaiting the announcement of the “best mashup” winners. He made a few comments on the wiki and how it will continue to evolve, especially over the next few days while people finish up the last few notes and also continue the discussions in the forums that are linked to each session page. I’ll probably link my blog posts about each of the sessions to the specific session page when I get a chance. If you’re interested in any of the sessions, check out what’s on the wiki pages, including the links to external references and any of the presentation materials (and, in at least one case, an audio recording of the session).

On the first count, there was a tie between WeatherBonk and another mashup that I hadn’t even seen with 26 nickels each, followed by a flurry of people rushing forward with their nickels at the last minute resulting in…. a tie with 28 nickels each. David then made us go to each side of the room to indicate our support, resulting in a slight edge for the winner, WeatherBonk. Handing out of prizes ensued, and we finished the day — and the conference — on that note.

Next Mashup Camp will be on the east coast, I think later this year.

That’s it for Mashup Camp; regular blogging will resume shortly.

Mashup Camp 2 Day 2: Speed geeking

Decision time. I have one wooden nickel to spend, and five mashups that I really like:

  • ChunkLove, a gift registry finder that was created when the author’s sister complained that she had a number of friends getting married and no way to track all the different stores where they were registered for gifts. You enter a first/last name and city, and ChunkLove searches a number of pre-set registries (Pottery Barn, Bloomingdales, etc.) to see if that person exists in their registry. Right now, you can then click on each of the stores to link through to the name search results, but the plan for the future is to bring the search results back to the main ChunkLove page so that you can identify which Jane Smith it is whose wedding that you’re attending, for example. Only Amazon has APIs to get the search results, so the rest of them are accessed via scraping — the author was looking for a “more interesting” Ruby project to do, so took on the scraping task as well as all the other mashup essentials. He has other plans to use wedding date to narrow the search further, and aggregate the content (i.e., the actual items listed in the registry) so that you could see, for example, if Jane had asked for the same item on more than one site, and if it were already purchased on one of the sites.
  • TrPPR was whipped up by Cameron Jones in 4-5 hours starting at 11 last night, after he was inspired by all the other speed geekers’ offerings yesterday. It’s a mashup of NPR data with Microsoft maps that allows you to select a driving route by its endpoints, then see all the NPR radio coverage that you will have along the route. He scrapes the XML data from the NPR site, then uses PHP to calculate coverage radii. He then overlays the tower locations and coverage areas on the map route, and provides links from each tower to the corresponding radio station so that you can make a donation to support public radio.
  • PhoTiger by Chris Radcliff matches your Flickr photos with your Eventful events to automatically add tags, including geolocation tags, to the photos and change their titles based on the event data. Since the photo data uploaded to Flickr includes when the photo was taken, PhoTiger can match that against where you were at that time according to your Eventful calendar. It displays the photos matching each event and allows you to select/deselect appropriate photos, deselect any of the suggested tags, and select whether to override the photo name to match the event name. This mashup has actually evolved since yesterday to add the geolocation tags and photo titles, which says a lot about what Chris does in his spare time.
  • MileGuru, which aggregates all your frequent flyer and frequent stayer (hotel) points and other data into a single place. Since I saw the mashup yesterday, Chad integrated in mapping, so that all of your travel route details show up plotted on a Google map. He’s promised to get me on the beta as soon as it opens, in part so that I can beat up the Air Canada section, and I can abandon that Excel spreadsheet that I’m using to track this now. He’s currently using Google AdSense on the site to generate some revenue (or at least, it will when he releases this publicly), but he also plans to place targetted ads based on your frequent flyer content, that is, where you’ve been travelling lately.
  • WeatherBonk is a mashup that I first saw at the first Mashup Camp in February, and I checked out how it has advanced in the last several months. The author spent about four months creating the “Bonk” mashup framework, mostly on top of the Google APIs, and can now create new vertical mashups much more easily, such as GolfBonk and SkiBonk. WeatherBonk shows a map of the San Francisco area with temperature bubbles directly on the map (there’s a lot of variation in the Bay area, and you can really see it here), plus a ton of webcams accessible directly from their location on the map. You can overlay live fog layer data, or see traffic speeds and traffic cams instead. For other geographic areas, you can plot a route on the map and see the expected weather conditions along the route in case you want to adjust your departure date. You can also look at historical temperature data for many other international locations.

WeatherBonk is definitely the most sophisticated, but then, he’s been working on it since before Mashup Camp 1. From a pure consumer “oh my god, I want to use that” standpoint, my nickel goes to MileGuru.

Mashup Camp 2 Day 2: Mashups for prototyping

“We can just hack that together” has been the rallying cry for mashups for a long time already, before the word “mashup” ever hit the scene, and Cameron Jones led us in the last breakout session of the conference to look at how mashups can be used for prototyping applications. He’s doing Ph.D. research on mashups, so was able to give a bit of a theoretical view on horizontal versus vertical prototyping; it’s really interesting to listen to someone who spends many hours each day thinking about this stuff, as opposed to most of us who only think about it occasionally (except here at Mashup Camp). He’s looked at mashups as a general design pattern, including non-web mashups, and we discussed how the current range of freely-available and open source APIs and platforms makes mashups incredibly attractive as a way to build stuff fast.

I’m particularly interested in mashups for prototyping in two enterprise contexts: end-user computing, and actual IT prototyping.

In the first intance, I’m seeing that mashups could become the next generation of end-user computing as long as mashup applications can be assembled with a minimum of programming by a fairly non-technical user within an enterprise. In many back-office departments that I work with, there are a couple of people who create local applications like complex reports in Crystal Reports, databases using Microsoft Access, and a host of other mini apps that aren’t sanctioned or supported by IT. Think of this in the context of the mashup mentality that Joe Ortega is trying to build inside eBay. When you think about it, aren’t DDE/OLE and macros/VBA just the precursors of mashup mentality, although for desktop rather than web applications? If you give the same type of tools to people in an organization, but now web-based, there could be some pretty powerful end-user computing applications created and — because they’re on the web — easily shared.

In the second instance, actual prototyping that will be turned into a “real” industrial-strength application later, mashups could be used to create rapid iterations of a prototype that allow for user evaluation and feedback. The prototypes might not be high fidelity, but a mashup could actually be a functional prototype rather than one of those non-functional mockups that are too often used by IT now to try to elicit user feedback. The danger, of course, is that since the mashup is functional and it’s ready now, the users may want to use it even if IT is planning a fully-architected, hardened version of the application to be rolled out several months hence, and the mashup could become a de facto standard that is difficult to replace later. Depending on your opinion about the current state of IT development, that could be a good or bad thing.

There’s a third use case for mashups as prototypes, and that is for external mashup developers to create new functionality on top of an existing web service or application that later causes the web service/API provider to roll that new functionality into their core product. I haven’t thought too much about that one, but consider that the mashup developers become both market research and unpaid prototype developers in exchange for their free use of the underlying APIs.

Mashup Camp 2 Day 2: Internal mashups

Tom Ortega from eBay led a discussion on internal mashups (mashups within closed corporate walls). Like me, he sees mashups and SOA as two ends of the same spectrum, so there were a lot of things that they’re doing internally that are somewhere in between the hair-on-fire mashups that we’re seeing here at camp, and the takes-forever-to-over-architect SOA implementations that are happening in corporations everywhere today. Tom wasn’t talking about eBay’s APIs for mashups that are also being promoted elsewhere at camp; he’s an internal guy developing stuff for their own internal use, nothing to do with the eBay developer program.

To be truthful, a lot of what Tom is talking about is way more SOA/web services/composite applications than mashups, using for the front end, and Java for the middle and back tiers, where Flex is making SOAP web services calls. I asked Tom why he called these mashups instead of composite applications, and he said that the intention is to create a library of web services and other tools, then unleash them on the organization at large to create/assemble whatever they want with them. Definitely a mashup mentality, if not fully lightweight mashup integration methods, which is a great first step to bringing mashups to the enterprise.

The wiki page isn’t there yet, but will probably be here along with a link to Tom’s slides.

Mashup Camp 2 Day 2: Google Maps and Google Calendar mashup

I used the “law of two feet” (also known as “quietly slipping out the back door when you’re bored”) and am now in a session showing a mashup between Google Maps and Google Calendar. I’m probably the only geek on the face of the earth who hasn’t tried out Google Calendar, and I’d better try it out if I’m going to do something like this for my own uses, such as scheduling my wine-tasting club’s events.

Patrick Chanezon of Google is giving the demo of this mashup that he created, and walking through any parts of the code that people are interested in. He just finished it this morning and it’s a bit rough, but pretty cool. You can paste in the URL of your Google calendar, select the number of months out to look, and generate a map of all the events in the calendar for which geocoding was successful. Although it’s not baked into this mashup, you could do all the other cool things in the Google Maps popups, such as creating tabs that have links to the event URL, microformatted date/time to add to personal calendars, and other information.

He’s editing one of the source files on his Mac right now using vi, which I find hilariously endearing. Reminds me of my TECO days, which are alarming easy to recall with that PDP-11 sitting next door in the Computer History Museum exhibits.

Patrick talks about the mashup on his blog here, and you can try out the mashup here. There’s no link to the session on the Mashup Camp page yet, I’ll update this entry with it later. He’ll also be publishing the code in a couple of weeks, likely linked from his blog or the Mashup Camp wiki page, so check back later if you’re interested.