Mashup litmus test for Web 2.0 start-ups

Social music darling Last.fm announced this week that they are going to start a video service any minute now. Some folks apparently couldn’t wait and just developed their own mashups in the mean time.

Take Lasttube for example. It’s a great web-based video player combining Last.fm and Youtube, glued together with Yahoo Pipes and Adobe Flex 2. It’s been whipped up by one lone programmer in Colombia of all places, who by his own account only needed one day to complete this project, including coding, testing, googling and lunch time.”

If mashup programmers can do stuff like this in no time – what does that mean for start-ups like Last.fm? For one thing, they really have to try harder.

Lasttube isn’t the only mashup that combines Last.fm and Youtube. Last.tv compiles a video playlist based on your or someone else’s music profile in a dedicated web player, and Tim Bormans has done the same thing with a very minimalistic interface.

Granted, all of these mashups have their shortcomings. They are based on Youtube music videos which tend to get removed every now and then and usually don’t feature the best audio or video quality. Last.fm has announced to stream videos with audio encoded at 128 kbps, twice the bitrate of Youtube. Still, these mashups have upped the bar for Last.fm.

The same goes for many Web 2.0 start-ups that have popped up during the last few months. People have been questioning the commercial viability of mashups for quite some time now. Is it possible to make money, build businesses with someone else’s data feeds?

Maybe that question was wrong from the beginning. Instead, we should have used mashups as a kind of litmus test for commercial web offerings and asked: Is there really a business model for a start-up if someone else could achieve the same thing with a quick mashup?

We’ve seen tons of startups lately that essentially aren’t anything but glorified mashups. Social network aggregators, video and web annotation tools, media conversion platforms: They’re all based on remixing data feeds. Some of these might actually be quite useful – but are they really worth business plans, VC money and acquisition talks? Or are they just tools that someone in some remote place of the world could develop in a day out of boredom?

I talked about this with Pasha Sadri of Yahoo Pipes a couple of weeks ago, asking him whether Pipes will make some startups obsolete by offering DIY mashup tools to end users. He argued that Pipes doesn’t interfere with the current models of monetization. After all, you can just as well build your own web platform based on Pipes and then find a way to make money off of it.

That’s true, but so could the next guy. And he’ll most likely be quicker than you.

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