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Intel Moves Into Mashups

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) is expected to release its first mashup product today at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. The chipmaker is betting that its approach will stand out in a burgeoning market for mashups.

Intel's Mash Maker is a client-side browser extension that allows users to augment the Web pages they're viewing in real-time with widgets that display data drawn from other sources. This enables a person planning a party, for instance, to view the locations of their Facebook friends plotted on a map powered by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).

"The basic idea of Mash Maker is to make the Web look like you want," said Robert Ennals, a senior researcher with Intel and architect of the Mash Maker. "Mash Maker is not creating new Web sites at all; we're creating new ways of viewing the same sites."

Mashups are fast emerging as a signature feature of the Web 2.0 phenomenon in which people expect more control over their Web experience. Whereas many existing mashup applications are geared for enterprise use, or offer a stock set of premade mashups created by a handful of developers, Intel's product is built for limitless customization. It is also trainable, Ennals said, so it can generate recommendations about what applications might be most useful for certain users.

The mashup offering seems an unlikely business line for the chipmaker to pursue. Jeff Klaus, marketing manager for the Mash Maker, said it is part of Intel's larger efforts to diversify its revenue sources. Even still, Klaus said most products that graduate from Intel's research division are sent to other divisions and repurposed with some kind of connection to the company's core hardware line, but not the Mash Maker.

"This product came out of Intel Research. This is one of the few products from that division that we've brought to market," Klaus told InternetNews.com.

Intel is rolling out the browser extension with support for Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 3. The researchers have been testing the product in a closed preview for about six months. Intel developed and tested the Firefox version first, so as released today, the Internet Explorer version is less polished, but it has the same functionalities, Ennals said.

The Mash Maker can build mashups based on a semantic understanding of the information on a Web page collected using an extractor tool. The product that will be available as a free download today has mashups based on more than 1,000 sites, a list that Klaus said roughly corresponds with the most heavily trafficked destinations on the Web.

Intel is counting on the technically inclined users to continue adding new sites to the Mash Maker's library using the extractor feature. An open API will be available for developers to create new widgets or modify existing ones.

With an understanding of most of the top 1,000 Web properties, Intel's Mash Maker offers unique views of commonplace Web destinations, such as a pane displaying the top stories in CNN.com plotted out on a map, so a person could see at a glance all the articles written about a particular region in the world. Similarly, an application for the Google News home page displays images within all the articles at the top of the page, so a viewer can see a pictorial representation of all the top news stories.

Like Wikipedia, Intel expects the great majority of users to simply use the product without contributing to its development, and Klaus admits that the company does not have a business model in mind for it.

"At this point we're really trying to prove out some of the premises of how this improves the browser experience," he said, adding that they would be looking at ways to make money from the product down the road.

Using an algorithm that the researchers described as similar to how Digg delivers customized news results, Ennals said Intel's Mash Maker will recommend widgets based on their predicted relevance to the user. The product infers user preferences from browsing history and other factors, but because it lives at the client side, search histories will not travel to Intel's servers, Ennals said, seeking to allay any privacy concerns.

The Web page extractors and widgets live on Intel's servers, but not any personally identifying information. If a person is looking at a particularly sensitive site, a disabler button on the toolbar turns off the Mash Maker extension.



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