Mashing up for vigilantes

I’ve been sceptical here a couple of times about the explosion in enthusiasm for APIs and mashups. My line previously has been that the revenue case is somewhat opaque: it seems to be based on a combination of two main factors:

1. Everyone is doing it. Why don’t we?

2. Getting our links out there will drive traffic to our site, and thus make more sense of whatever business model it is we’re currently signed up to.

The latter one I get, totally. The former one is just a bubble waiting to happen (or already happening, depending on your view). Take, for instance, Google Maps. Brilliant technology, brilliantly applied, the world is a far, far better place for having it. Really, it is changing the face of the planet. But Google is a business. And when someone mashes up their maps with Craigslist classifieds, what does Google get out of it, directly? What do they put in their internal powerpoints to justify it? Brand recognition? Presence? Ubiquity? Because it isn’t revenue.

The thing that sparked these thoughts was this: a map of US sex offenders which overlays data on sex offenders on Google Maps and allows you to see whether there are sex offenders living in your neighbourhood. Now, I won’t get into the wrongs and rights of this, other than to say it seems very, very wrong to these European, Guardian-reading eyes (I was kind of alarmed that the initial reaction on digg.com seemed to be “wow, kewl, there’s a sex offender living next door to me). My point is: what does Google think about it? Would Google ever build something like this itself? And how, given Google’s reach, can it possibly keep an eye on everything that’s being done with its APIs?