While some of the mashups appearing on the web are very interesting, there are quite a few examples of people doing creative things with Google Maps. I’m left wondering if these ideas can ever morph into true business offerings. Can you make money by piggy-backing on another webservice. You’re adding value, so from a strictly theoretical point of view it should work out. But, what if the underlying webservice isn’t so cooperative? How can you offer any terms of service if you don’t control the whole software stack? How can you guarantee that you’ll be there tomorrow if you can’t guarantee that the underlying webservices will be there. While cool things can be done with Google Maps would you want to base your business on Google Maps being free, open, and available tomorrow? I don’t currently know of any commercial mashup offerings, I’d be curious to know if there are some out there that I’m not aware of.
A lot of the whole Web 2.0 system seems to be of the impression that the future will be built on these types of services. However, the coupling between these systems still appears too strong to make this viable to me. As an example, there was a neat trick where someone had combined crime reports in the chicago area with google maps to give a visual display of crime, a very useful service for people in chicago. What happens if Google decides to start charging for it’s mapping service? The overlaying service could pass the cost on to the user. But what happens if Google maps disappears altogether? There isn’t really a replacement service available to plugin. The overlaying service doesn’t have the capability to handle the mapping portion of the requests either. The service would have to shut down. Not a good risk to take from a business standpoint.
It would appear that for Web 2.0 to truly take off there needs to be a much larger infrastructure of underlying services with capability of easily swapping the services in and out. There are all sorts of web based productivity applications sprouting up these days. A lot of them are cute, but not really going to displace Microsoft products on the majority of desktops. However, if they were able to mature and make good on the promise of being easily swapped out then things could change. This would allow true competition for the best calendaring application, the best email app, and the best spam filters. The user would have the ability to mash these all together as a suite. Then the competition could truly push the products to the level needed to take on Microsoft or probably a more realistic near term goal of just being a sustainable business.