Panlibus Blog

Archive for June 6th, 2006

So what’s a mashup, anyway?

Mashing up the Library competition logo

Yesterday, we were amongst those talking about the Mashing up the Library competition, the open and inclusive nature of which is generating a good level of interest in the library world and beyond.

Some of the responses that I’ve received in public and in private have questioned the meaning of the term, ‘mashup’, and enquired as to the nature of ‘acceptable’ entries.

Before exploring the term in a little more detail, I’d just like to stress that we’re deliberately not restricting the nature and scope of entries; we want to see good ideas that take information in some way related to libraries or their resources, and make it available in interesting ways. The idea might be very simple, or it might be quite involved. Both are welcome, both are of value, and neither is more likely to win than the other.

  • An entry might do interesting things with data about new books in a library, as Ed Vielmetti did in Ann Arbor;
  • An entry might use data from a source such as our Directory, combined with mapping from Google, Microsoft, Ask, or wherever, to help you find the library closest to you that has a copy of a book you want;
  • An entry might ‘just’ make something fun and engaging, as Richard Wallis did with Google Earth;
  • An entry might use a tool like Greasemonkey to modify the BBC‘s Book at Bedtime page, adding the list of libraries that hold a copy. Or work with the BBC to integrate it properly…;
  • An entry might take data about libraries which hold a particular book and compare it with data from LibraryThing about readers who own the same book;
  • An entry might access the locations listed in library catalogue records, to build maps showing where books were set, where they were written, etc;
  • An entry might extract data about items held in neighbouring libraries, identifying duplicate entries that are rarely borrowed;
  • An entry might extract information about related items, allowing users to express preferences as to whether they prefer Harry Potter books, videos, dvds, audio books, etc;
  • An entry might take book jackets from a source such as Amazon (within the bounds of their terms and conditions, of course) and use Greasemonkey or equivalent to ‘enrich’ library catalogue pages with the images;
  • An entry might further enrich a library catalogue page with user comments, pricing and availability data from online bookstores, or even holdings data for neighbouring libraries;
  • An entry might produce a widget (whether blog, Konfabulator, or Apple, or a differently named equivalent such as a Microsoft gadget) to automatically poll – or allow user querying of – libraries with items related to a topic or context.

All of these, and more, are both possible and within scope, and there’s a forum over on the TDN in which these and other ideas can be discussed.

As for the meaning of ‘mashup’, Wikipedia is pretty close with

“A mashup is a website or web application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service.

Content used in mashups is typically sourced from a third party via a public interface or API. Other methods of sourcing content for mashups include Web feeds (e.g. RSS or Atom) and JavaScript.

Much the way blogs revolutionised online publishing, mashups are revolutionizing web development by allowing anyone to combine existing data from sources like eBay, Amazon.com, Google, Windows Live and Yahoo! in innovative ways. The greater availability of simple and lightweight API’s have made mashups relatively easy to design. They require minimal technical knowledge and thus custom mashups are sometimes created by unlikely innovators, combining available public data in new and creative ways.”

The only thing I’d really seek to clarify there is “…to create a completely new service.” It doesn’t have to. It could simply improve an existing service.

And I very much look forward to all of you “combining available … data in new and creative ways.”

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