Mashup culture shatters crusty, stodgy old approach to business app dev

When I first launched Mashup Camp in the beginning of 2006, virtually all of the mashups that developers brought to the event were consumerish in nature. Most had to do with music, video, or maps and none were hardcore business applications geared at something as mundane as driving sales.

When I first launched Mashup Camp in the beginning of 2006, virtually all of the mashups that developers brought to the event were consumerish in nature. Most had to do with music, video, or maps and none were hardcore business applications geared at something as mundane as driving sales. But over the course of the last year and half, the mix has been changing and, if there ever was a tipping point in terms of the mashup culture shattering all notions about application development in the enterprise, then last week's Mashup Camp was it (<sidebar>Mashup Camp is finally heading to Europe. Two days of Mashup University and two days of Mashup Camp 5 will take place from Sept 10-13 2007 at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. See www.mashupcamp.com for more information</sidebar>).

When IT consulting/research outfit Third Nature's president and founder Mark Madsen first arrived at Mashup Camp, he wasn't sure what it expect. It was his first Camp and the last thing he probably imagined himself doing was competing in the Best Mashup Contest. But, by the end of the second and final day of Camp, not only did Madsen have a bona fide contest entry he called Cold Call Assistant, he had one that, by yesterday's standards, might have been labeled a killer application for any sales professional. Today, while it may still qualify as a killer app (or at least have the genes of one), it's also somewhat par for the course within the mashup culture.

Aside from the many demonstrations of existing mashups and mashup technologies, Mashup Camp (and the culture) are very much about spur of the moment of hacking. Very much like chaos, this style of app dev is probably the antithesis to the approach that enterprises and other organizations take when developing internal software. But, given the 9 hours in total it took Madsen to build an application that, five years ago, might have taken 9 months, his Cold Call Assistant is living breathing proof of how incredibly important the mashup culture will be to business agility and success.

As you will see in the video above, Madsen's Cold Call Assistant (CCA) draws upon several sources of information and functionality. As Madsen explains it, the inspiration for the application comes from the need to be able to not just make cold calls to sales leads, but to make intelligent and well-informed calls without spending an inordinate amount of time researching prospects. To address that need, CCA starts with lead data that's mined from a campaign database in salesforce.com. To easily get at this data, CCA uses Apatar's data connector for extracting data from salesforce.com. Once CCA is done presenting a list of leads for cold calling, the rest of the mashup contextually connects the rest of its componentry to whatever the selected lead is. For example, if the selected lead works for Microsoft, the "competitor list component" draws upon Google Financials for a list of the Microsoft's competitors. Then, there's a news box that draws upon Google News for any recent news about Microsoft. If the user dives into the competitor list and selects one of the competitors, the news box automatically changes to reflect news about that competitor.

If things go well on the call, then Madsen offers some additional components in hopes of booking an in-person sales call. First, it draws upon Google Maps to plot the location of the prospect's offices. Then, it draws upon AccuWeather's API to show what the forecast for that location is. Although he didn't have the functionality ready, based on the weather, Madsen was wiring the mashup to suggest a golf course (if nice weather was expected) or a restaurant (if inclement whether was expected) within 20 miles of the prospect's offices. By contest time, it was listing restaurants based, drawing them from Google's Local Search.

Two of the technologies that enabled Madsen to develop the mashup so rapidly were IBM's QED Wiki and IBM's Mashup Hub, both of which are currently in alpha (disclosure: IBM was a sponsor of Mashup Camp, and ran a separate contest called the Business Mashup Challenge, but Madsen has no affiliation with IBM). According to Madsen once the various components that he wanted to draw upon were listed as re-usable widgets in the Mashup Hub, pulling them into his mashup's layout using QED Wiki's development environment was little more than a drag and drop exercise. In his demo, he touches on the role that QED Wiki played and hypothesized that it might not have taken him 9 hours to develop CCA if he knew the tools better (he also learned how to use the tools for the first at Camp).

Finally, for Madsen's own comments about crafting his mashup which includes some candid thoughts about the various technology and API providers here are some of his personal blog entries: