Q&A: IBM's Rod Smith touts coming 'mashups'

Mashups combine content from multiple sources into Web-based user apps

IBM today is announcing a new framework next Wednesday that uses Web services and wiki technology to allow companies to build "mashups." Mashups are applications that combine content from more than one source into Web-based user applications using technologies like Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX), PHP scripting language and syndicated feeds. IBM's Enterprise Mashup blends external information such as news feeds, weather reports, maps and traffic conditions with enterprise content and services to quickly create new enterprise applications, according to Rod Smith, IBM's vice president of emerging Internet technologies.

Smith recently spoke with Computerworld about the new initiative. Excerpts from that interview follow:

What are the business drivers behind IBM's Enterprise Mashup? As the Internet keeps evolving, we keep hear how customers want to leverage it to build these informational applications. They are very timely and topical. When a weather storm is coming up the coast, how will that affect your business? One customer said a major factor in their business is the weather -- so do they put plants out (to display for sales) or do they put generators out? It was probably the second most important variable in their business next to employees. They asked if we have a real-time weather service. We did a prototype for them based on their requirements that showed a set of stores that could use the Mashup. You could use a Google map to click on a store to see weather conditions and also show inventory. You need to be able to monitor things on a timely basis to make business decisions.

Folks say these things would be really helpful, but they don't have any way to build them now. Applications like that have been too costly to build from an IT perspective.

How does it work? It is like wiring the Web. It is more of an assembler. We started looking at Web-based data sources like weather, traffic and some that show building permits. With [the Mashup] inside a browser, you could see a palette of these Web components, and you just drag them on a wiki page. They automatically get the information and show it to you then and there. You've actually assembled it. It is not like a traditional application development.

What is the technology behind this? Web services. You wouldn't have this whole area of mashups if you didn't have [service-oriented architecture] as a backbone. Then there is Web 2.0 technology like AJAX and syndication feeds. Someone can point to an RSS feed, and we will get it and put it in a format where they can put in one their [Web] pages. Underneath, we use some PHP technology and open-source wiki technology. It is immediate satisfaction as opposed to normal application development.

When will IBM's Enterprise Mashup be available? As enterprise customers look at what is happening in the open-source world of mashup camps, they are describing these types of applications. Through their guidance, we will decide how we will incorporate this into future products.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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