Building a business on a mashup

Rachael King
15 Nov 2006
00:00

Meet Tim Hibbard. It's 11:45 p.m. on a Wednesday night and Hibbard is currently near the intersection of Jacob and Ranch Streets in Lawrence, Kan. It's a cool 50 degrees outside. He's not moving around now, but he's traveled a total of 28.42 miles today. And no, I'm not stalking him.

Conveniently for Hibbard's would-be stalkers, though, he carries his cell phone with him at all times and he's decided to let the global positioning system on his phone constantly broadcast his whereabouts to his Web site.

Hibbard has mashed his location information onto a Google map, along with other information, such as the speed at which he is traveling. That information gets updated every 30 seconds, so his family and friends pretty much always know where he is and can send him a text message by clicking on the map.

They can also tell how cold it is in his neck of the woods because Hibbard has mashed in information from a live weather network called WeatherBug.

Marketing Mashup

The fact that Hibbard's site offers driving directions to his location at every moment of his day might lead a casual observer to wonder if he suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. But that doesn't seem to be the case. He is a software architect at a small company called EnGraph in Lawrence, Kan. EnGraph sells GPS tracking software to organizations with fleets of vehicles. In August, 2005, Hibbard bought a new GPS device and decided to experiment with putting the data on Google Maps. 'The initial project took about an hour,' he says. Over the past year, Hibbard has added more features and the site has become a marketing tool for EnGraph. 'It's led to a lot of interest in projects,' he says. He's even sold a version of his mashup to a company in Rhode Island.

Remarkably, this page on Hibbard's site is the fourth most popular mashup of all time (5,552 visitors), according to ProgrammableWeb.com, a Web site that catalogs mashups. Of course, 'of all time' is a relative term. Web mashups only came into being in early 2005 when Paul Rademacher created HousingMaps.com, a combination of Google Maps with real estate listings from Craigslist.

Today, ProgrammableWeb.com lists 1,189 mashups but that's only a fraction of the mashups out there, says John Musser, founder of ProgrammableWeb.com. On average about 2.84 new mashups get added to Musser's site each day. 'This fall, there's been a big uptick,' says Musser, adding, 'The trend from where I sit seems to be accelerating.'

The Frucall Idea

What remains to be seen, however, is if any of these mashups will morph beyond the hobbyist, gee-ma-look-what-I-can-do realm into actual, revenue-producing businesses. A few entrepreneurs are trying, though. On Oct. 16, a company called Frucall began offering an early version of its free service that helps consumers decide whether they're going to get the best deal in a store or online.

When shoppers find a product in a store, they simply call a toll-free phone number and enter in the bar code information from the product. Frucall wades through hundreds of thousands of shops online to find the best deal on that product.

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