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Friday, 20 February 2009

Clipping mashups and UI re-use

We’ve spotted an interesting post from Mashup Patterns author Michael Ogrinz on “clipping mashups” – techniques that extract, manipulate and reuse UI from web sites and web applications. These represent a useful, tactical approach to harvesting functionality from existing resources you may not control. It caught my eye, as this is one of the integration patterns supported by the Corizon Enterprise Mashup Platform

This mashup approach is more than a back door into hard-to-access assets. It’s an example of an important kind of reuse at the UI level that is essential for effective mashup building. Michael is spot on when he says: 

“Of course, if the … app already exposed an API, you could accomplish all of this by duplicating its interface and wiring all this up manually; but who wants to bother doing that?”

It’s a valid point. Application UI is valuable and it requires knowledge and effort to replicate. It embodies knowledge about the functional domain in question, about usability and it takes tremendous effort to write and test the code that puts that all into action. None of that is work you want to have to think about as a mashup builder. Rather, you want to be able to get the UI as a building block for your new application. 

So how do you do that? Standard data feeds, web services and networked APIs don’t help, as all this capability is ’above’ them. But two types of approach are available:

  • Service providers provide reusable UI (aka gadgets) that you can use in your mashup, Google Maps being the prime example. You don’t need to worry about building a mapping UI, you just add what you need to one somebody else wrote.
  • You use a clipping approach to effectively create gadgets, where none existed before, from somebody else’s UI.

The popularity of both is testament to the need for providers of "mashables" to deliver UI as well as just data, so that mashers can work free from the problems of UI implementation. 

The same ideas are needed in the enterprise context. For mashups to be effective, service providers and applications have to provide re-usable, mashable UI related to their functional domains, with the control, security and management capabilities required by the enterprise. 

However, for the enterprise, much of the tangible business case for mashups comes from supporting users as they work through processes and for that, the mashup needs to weave the mashable components into a seamless, process based application. That’s not possible with stand alone widgets or clippings – you need re-usable UI that the mashup builder can manipulate and combine as required. That’s why Corizon created UI services  as a kind of composable, self describing widget delivered in a controlled way and enterprise quality.

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