Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mish Mash and They’re Making a Splash….

A new challenge for marketers is the rise of mashups – technology which allows users to aggregate their own collection of content and services from a range of different sources to create a unique, personalised internet environment.


The thinking behind this technology is not new. Over a decade ago, internet pioneer Sun Microsystems were marketing a technology called iPlanet Portal Server, a derivative of the earlier Netscape Compass Server brought to market through the Sun / Netscape Iplanet Alliance. This technology created a framework to aggregate a range of content, applications and services across an enterprise and to then present those services through a flexible, customisable interface. This was achieved by creating some common application frameworks and a mechanisms to connect to many systems located anywhere on the enterprise network. This technology slowly evolved to the internet portals (usually prefaced with the term 'my' – remember, albeit that the content available through those portals was limited to content authored for inclusion by the portal provider.


Fast forward to today and this technology has expanded from across the enterprise to across the internet. Today, mashup technologies allow us to connect content and services from just about anywhere on the internet. The most well known of these technologies come in the form of 'community sites' like Facebook, Myspace and Bebo. These sites allow users to add applications and content to their own profile and to share these with their peers, or social network. The interoperability extends to anything on the internet which complies with the relevant internet standards for the content types. Technologies such as AJAX, RSS, XML and others provide flexibility and interoperability and the platform for services to be aggregated.


A new generation of mashups is targeting the convenience and customisability drivers for users. Positioned as a personalised home page (not unlike the old portals) services such as, and even the Microsoft Live Services are vying for the crown of being the default gateway for your internet activities.


With the high levels of functionality the combinations of these services and the content and services available to be accessed, there are new challenges for marketers. In social networking sites, content and services are distributed by reference. Visitors to my home page who like an object they see there can add it to their site with a click (or two). A user may get exposed to a product or service without ever visiting the web site of the producer or seeing any other content.


Marketers need to think about how they are going to manage the messaging to their target audiences when they don't have control over the frameworks through which their content and services are being delivered. Furthermore, it is likely that the content produced will sit with competing content from rival marketers. Brand A may well be situated right next to competing Brand B as users change and update their mashups.


The trick is going to be to make sure that the content and services developed for distribution through mashups and community sites stands up in its own right; that it communicates the brand, message and proposition independently. There is a lot of merit in including a mashup component in digital marketing. Since the user has control of their mashup framework, the inclusion of an object in a users page is tantamount endorsement and we know that peer reference and endorsement are powerful marketing tools. A well distributed mashup object can be a powerful marketing tool.




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