Magazine article Online

Mashups as DIY Tools

Magazine article Online

Mashups as DIY Tools

Article excerpt

The world of mashups is only just beginning. Librarians and information professionals need to be involved and active in using, sharing, creating, and helping others find the tools they need for personal and professional uses.

Content, as every information professional knows, is not only critical to our work but also growing exponentially. Thanks to the web's daily increases in news, blogs, wikis, encyclopedias, databases, audio (music, talk, documentaries, lectures, conference presentations, congressional hearings), video (YouTube, videocasts), graphics, and photos, we are inundated with data. With more Web 2.0 tools appearing daily, this data explosion is just the tip of the iceberg. Tools for entiy, use, reuse, distribution, and redistribution are making possible things that previously were just too expensive, too difficult, or too infeasible to even consider.

When Chris Sherman, executive editor of and president of Searchwise, spoke at WebSearch University in September 2007 about search engine developments and Uends, he identified two areas dominating search today-personalization and blended search results. Personalization allows end users, searchers, students, and professionals to use existing search engine tools to create their own, individualized, specialized search tools and portal pages. Examples include Google Custom Search (, iGoogle (, MyYahoo! (, MyAsk (, and Yahoo! Search Builder (


More exciting is the movement toward blended search results. The results combine not only text but also audio, video, maps, news, news photos, and graphics together in a single place for review and examination. They allow data to be interpreted differently than when it is presented as straight text. Ask (, in particular, is trying to understand how end users are not only looking for information, but also, more importantly, how they are looking for answers to solve problems.

Mainstream news sites for publications such as The Washington Post (, The New York Times (, and The Wall Street Journal ( have embraced the blended approach. You will find a combination of content on these sites that includes stories, blog posts, maps, comments, color graphics, charts, interactive graphs, photos, videos, and podcasts. This blending has the advantage of grabbing content that lives in separate databases and integrating it to produce a very useful, complete package of information.


Blended content is not limited to search engine results and news sites. It's also happening with mashups, which combine data from more than one source to create a new tool, resource, widget, and-ultimately-a new experience. Blending data from myriad sources allows for an explosion of innovation-new ways to look at the data and develop fun, useful, creative, even life-altering resources for end users. Take a look at ( This is a mashup of crime data from the Chicago police department and Google Maps. Want to live in a certain area? Check the ZIP code to see what crimes are reported in that neighborhood. Not convinced about the value of mashups? Take a look at KatrinaShelter (, a mashup of Google Maps and a list of private homes and shelters set up after Hurricane Katrina to help displaced persons find a place to live.

Mashups were first introduced to the web in February 2005. In late 2004, Paul Rademacher, the former DreamWorks Animation programmer, spent hours driving around Silicon Valley, Calif., with a handful of craigslist rental listings and a map trying to find an apartment. Increasingly frustrated, Rademacher thought there had to be a better way to find an apartment. He came up with an absolutely brilliant idea: "Why not put all of the craigslist listings on a single map? …

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