Mashups are built on trust, but I am paranoid, so what to do?


By their very nature Mashups are built on trust..

  • You have to trust the API providers to keep that API up and running. Anyone that has done Twitter mashups know how much keeping an API up and running is worth.
  • You have to trust the API providers to keep the API (somewhat) stable and to not remove features that you are depending on, or add features you really dont want. An example of this is all the mashups built on Google Maps, and we all know that there are way too many of those. Have the developers of those mashups really thought about what happens when Google puts ads on the Maps (and they will, they have already started in parts of the US)? I dont think so, the developers just trust Google to keep on going. If you have a commercial site using Google Maps you probably do not want ads for your competitors on those maps.
  • If your mashup becomes a success you have to trust the API providers you are depending on not to change their terms of service so that your mashup suddenly becomes an illegal use of the API. Also, you have to trust the API provider not to use the fact that you are depending on their API for your business against you in a business negotiation.
  • If you use web scraping you have to trust the site you scrape not to change to often (or at least trust your own ability to roll with the punches and update your scraping so it works with the new version of the site as well) etc. That is a lot of trust, and when mashups move from toys into real applications this becomes an issue.

All these things makes me a bit nervous, as I am a bit paranoid (note: this has not been clinically proven, I still think that THEY are out to get me). So how to mix a healthy bit of paranoia into my mashup building and get something good out of it all? What I do is that I always try to be aware of that I might have to switch API provider. Are you building a Twitter mashup? Why not also take a look at Jaiku’s API, or Pownce’s API (or Plurk or FriendFeed etc etc). You dont have to build your mashup so you can switch API provider in a matter of minutes, just be aware what else is out there so that you see the commonalities and don’t use to many features unique to one provider. This is the approach I am currently using when I am building mashups, at least I know that if shit hits the fan I can always go with somebody else. It will hurt a bit and take some effot, but I am not dead in the water. For the Google Maps example this would mean looking at Yahoo Maps and see what features the Yahoo Maps API have in common with the Google Maps API, and just use those common features. This can also come in handy if you hit the maximum number of requests on Google Maps, then it would be nice switch to Yahoo Maps automatically.

The risk with all this is of course to spend to much time preparing for something that won’t happen. It is the same situation as developers spending so much time making their code perfectly scalable and optimized that they acctually never ship anything in time. So dont go too far, but be aware of the situation. Trust is nice, but trusting several API providers to always do a good job and to not be evil in order for you to survive is quite risky.

Is Google more evil than Wal-Mart, Microsoft and Darth Vader combined (or are they as good as ice cream)?


Googles famous motto is “don’t be evil”, but in reality it is more like an information Pacman and should have the motto “must eat all data”. There is no doubt that Google is the current leader on the internet and one of the companies that really enables the Web 2.0 explosion. At the same time it is also one of the most feared companies, and is more and more being viewed as an evil empire. This is just what happened to Microsoft in the 90s. So is Google acctually more evil than Wal-Mart, Microsoft and Darth Vader?

To be clear this is not another FOG (=Fear Of Google) post, there are more than enough of those out there in the blogosphere, it is more some thoughs about why Google is starting to get the Mr Evil image.

More evil than Wal-Mart?
Wal-Mart relies on huge scale advantages and is famous for killing of small mom-and-pop stores in the cities it invades. The Web 2.0 space has very few mom-and-pop stores, the corresponding would instead be the 2 geek startup that hacked something cool looking together in 2 months using Ruby on Rails and then gets a lot of buzz. These minor startups are very vulnerable to what the Mountain View gigant does. The addition of MyMaps to Google Maps picked of quite a few startups, as did Google Analytics. So I think that small startups that does not really have a full fledged application, but more just a hyped feature (as is the case for most Web 2.0 startups) do right in fearing Google. For them Google is the same as Wal-Mart.

More evil than Microsoft?
Microsoft ruled the desktop, Microsoft ruled the OS, Microsoft ruled the office. This is still true, but the grip is weakening more and more, and Google is the main enemy. When Microsoft was the big bad wolf that dominated every part of business it entered. It was (and is) a real threat to any big and small business. Guess what, the same is now true for Google. To not be aware of what Google does is foolish for anybody in the Internet or Computer industry. With it’s massive userbase and bottom less bank accounts it can enter and dominate almost any market it sets it’s mind to. So that would make Google the same as Microsoft version 1999.

More evil than Darth Vader?
I have never met the Google founders, but I very much doubt that they have a constant asthma attack like good old Mr Skywalker Senior has. Anyway Darth Vader is one of the coolest villans ever, to I do think that comparing Google with him is a bit unfair to both parties. Darth Vader has cool TIE-fighters, Google has a replica of SpaceShipOne in the reception of the Googleplex, but the similarities pretty much end there. Still, comparing Google to Darth Vader makes for a good subject for the post, please forgive me for that.

As good as ice-cream?
So far Google has just been compared to evil things, so let’s compare them to something good instead, like ice-cream! Acctually Google has some advantages over ice-cream – almost everything is free at Google, while most ice-cream shops insist on getting my money. Google is dominating the way they are because they are providing great products that people want. We all use Google Search, and personally I am a total Google Desktop junkie and also use Google Analytics, Speradsheets, Docs etc. So as long as they are not more evil than Wal-Mart and Microsoft combined, and as long as there are not a better alternative I will stay a loyal Google user.

The key thing is of course how Google are going to use all the data they collect, the risk is that they will really invade privacy. But hey, they are fighting Paypal with Google Checkout, so how evil can they really be?