Curt Tomlinson on the Business of Mapping Mashups

By Adena Schutzberg

Curt S. Tomlinson is President of Seisan, a company he describes as being "best known for its premier development skills associated with LBS-based mapping solutions." Seisan developed the MapQuest API mashup Mapzierge, launched in March. The company has since launched two new mashups: CaddyMap - a golf course location mashup that combines all public, private and semi-private golf courses with weather forecasts; Shazou - a Firefox extension that allows a user to determine the exact geographic location of the website, with "geo-ip" and "whois" information. We asked Tomlinson about the business of mashups.

MapQuest engaged Seisan to create to be a tutorial example for the MapQuest OpenAPI. Did the application spark other work for Seisan?

We haven't had any direct requests for map-based application work,but we have received a significant amount of buzz surrounding that particular application. That is one of the reasons that we have launched CaddyMap and the Shazou product.

We have funded both of the new products as part of our new marketing effort. We have seen significant traffic at both locations, with the Shazou product having over 1,000 downloads in its first one hour of launch. Most of the mashups are being created by developers who are examining the technology and building applications to integrate other data with maps. offers golfers tools to search for courses of different types. (Click for larger image)

Are CaddyMap and Shazou "end products" alone or are they geared to help Seisen get more mashup development business?

They are not "end products" in terms of revenue generation for Seisan. These applications showcase and demonstrate how the mapping technology can be integrated with various sources of information. As a mashup it is free, but the same concepts can be extended to the enterprise where Seisan can develop for companies an improved way of visualizing and interacting with their data.

How long will the buzz about mashup go on? Is demand growing or has it peaked?

The mashup concept is not as new as the terminology. Developers have integrated products and information together for a number of years. What has occurred is the improvement on standards such as REST, SOAP, Web Services and AJAX. And, there's been much more marketing hype to promote them. Companies like Google, Yahoo and AOL are providing a number of free APIs to some of their past proprietary software; that has helped. O'Reilly has really promoted this Web 2.0 and mashup concept through books and conferences. We see the concept of mashups moving forward for quite some time. It will grow into larger companies that have the data and assets that people need and will fund. The technology for these mashups started back with XML, SOAP, Web Services and REST, which have been around since 2000. We developed a REST-based XML data feed for back in 2000 that allowed customers to create their own calls to access the status of their trading data positions.

Shazou.jpg (Japanese for "map") is a FireFox plug-in tool that maps the location of a website server. In this example, the tools will query for the location of the server. (Click for larger image)

The result of the query for's server location. (Click for larger image)

Do you see signs that mashups are moving from serving consumers (like MapZierge) to business/enterprise? What are the signs we should be looking for?

The major factor facing companies that have the data and assets to distribute via these APIs is the ability to monetize what they are providing. I think you'll see newer subscription models and services evolve as larger companies begin to see the value. The biggest problems for some of these companies are their existing business model and process. Companies such as Google can provide their APIs for free, because their business is not the API or even the data; it is the traffic to the website for ad revenue, etc.

Are mashups simply the next step in third parties customizing basic tools (like Excel of desktop GIS), or something more? Are they just an extension of what's now "a good website?"

The definition of a mashup in Web terms is the integration of at least two disparate websites into a single web-based application. The term comes from the music term for mashup in the mixing of two or more songs together into a single song. The map-based mashups are some of the most popular because they are built on an LBS/GIS technology platform which, in itself, is a growing technology market. Actually, many of the mashups would be classified as badly designed websites. I think in the future you will see that simply mixing data is not good enough to be useful; but you also have to create an interaction that is user-friendly and can extend the user's experience beyond what mashing two or more sets of data can do.

What aspects of technology are holding back further use of mashups? Are any business model issues holding it back at this point?

I wouldn't say it's as much technology as it is just simply quality data and assets that can be used for mashups that are holding it back. Some of the best data and digital assets are still not offered via Web-accessible APIs because much of that data is purchased at a premium. It's delivered on CD, DVD, and the companies have not developed a method to monetize their assets via a Web-accessible API. Technology still needs improvement in areas such as delivering high-end digital content- HDTV video and interactive 3D environments. Even at today's network speeds and computer performance, these applications still push the technology limits.

Published Friday, July 28th, 2006

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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