Desktop: Two great tastes, better together

By DAVID SHAMAH
July 12, 2006 11:33

If food is a metaphor for life, then what goes for the kitchen goes for the Internet. And with that, we come to one of the strangest but utterly sensible phenomena in recent Internet history - the "mashup.

3 minute read.



computer cartoon 88

computer cartoon 88. (photo credit: )

Pizza and anchovies? Chocolate and peanut butter? Pickles and ice cream? These are just some of the inventive combinations human beings have come up with to titillate their palates. It's amazing what some people will eat, and even more amazing that they don't "ralph" (http://www.yourdictionary.com/ahd/r/r0030700.html) when they do eat it! On the other hand, some combinations seem a match made in heaven. Spaghetti and meatballs, bread and butter, cream cheese and lox on a bagel - all these have a venerable peerage and have stood the test of time. And they make sense - just looking at a plain old sliced bagel, you realize that "something" belongs on its pocked surface. If food is a metaphor for life, then what goes for the kitchen goes for the Internet. And with that, we come to one of the strangest but utterly sensible phenomena in recent Internet history - the "mashup." You see, today's World Wide Web is full of useful information search tools that were just a wild dream in some geek's head only a few years ago. Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/), on its own, saves users hours or even days of research on places around the world. Imagine having to use "old tech" to track down directions to a restaurant on the other side of the world, or tracking down a local map for a village in South America you need to check out. But Google Maps is just one example of the vast store of data available nowadays to Web surfers. There are weather services, like http://www.weather.com, that can give you the minutiae of temperature and humidity in far flung locales; http://flickr.com, which lets you store photos on-line and tag them with a label that puts them into context for others; and http://del.icio.us, which besides letting you share favorite Web locations with others, shows how useful those new domain suffixes (the ones they added after .com, .net, and .org) can be. Now, what if you were to merge the goodness of Google Maps, the visionariness of Flickr, the coolness of Weather.com, and the bodaciousness of Del.icio.us - and throw in some Webcams as well? You'd get a site like http://www.weatherbonk.com, which mashes together a bunch of data sources to give you real time access to weather information anywhere in the world, with photos and Web cams thrown into the bargain as well. Weatherbonk links you to Del.icio.us tags for weather stations listed by Weather.com, as well as interesting Web cams (such as the Kotel Cam), and, in classic mashup style, a weather forecast for a route you determine - automatically generated when you click your origin and destination points on the map! All that data, combining together in some incestuous hillbilly family soap opera type thing. Mashups! Even mashier than Weatherbonk is Streampad (http://www.streampad.com), which lets you play your music - and any other Streampad member's music - on your computer (or home stereo, if you've got a cool device like the Apple Airport Express, http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/). When you sign up and add your music library, you can access it through a Web browser on any other computer when you log into your account. But there are other ways to do that; the cool part about Streampad is getting access to other people's stuff. Click on the "Friends" link and make some by adding them to your friend list. If they accept, you'll be able to hear their music on your computer/stereo system as well. If a user finds something good on a Web site somewhere and tags it with Del.icio.us, it'll show up on their lists - and yours, if they're your friend. You can locate your friends on a Google map and information about some music comes from another invaluable Web database, Amazon.com. If you like music, you'll love the http://www.musicportl.com mashup, which gathers information from every possible source on your favorite music artists. The Jefferson Airplane page I checked out has a Wikipedia entry about the group, Del.icio.us tags relating to their music, images of their album covers (linked to the album sales page at Amazon.com), Flickr photos related to the band, search links for their songs at Yahoo Music and Pitchfork Media, and every blog the site's authors could find. I could go on and on and tell you about the Goocam site (http://www.butterfat.net/goocam/, a list of publicly accessible Web cams), or the BBC news map (http://www.benedictoneill.com/content/newsmap/, where and what news is happening in the UK) or Digglicious (http://www.digglicious.com/, where Del.icio.us and http://digg.com join to create links to favorites by popularity). But I won't - instead, you can check out the wonderful world of mashups at http://www.programmableweb.com/, which has made its mission discovering and documenting this new, strange Web hybrid. Mash on! Ds@newzgeek.com


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