Monday December 11th 2017

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Bangers and mashups*: digital pancakes and culinary metaphors

What’s short and yellow and also known as a web application hybrid? Yes, you’ve got it- a mashup! Also known as remixes or meshes, a mashup is “a web page or application that uses and combines data, presentation or functionality from two or more sources to create new services”. In other words, a mash up is the digital equivalent of a pancake; flour, eggs and milk are pretty good on their own, but combined they make something even better…

So why mash up? To start with, lots of useful data is being produced and displayed online. Crime data, weather data, voting data; while this data on its own is obviously useful, it can sometimes be a little dry, out of context and hard to understand. Mashups, however, can transform this (slightly boring) data by adding back the context, making it more meaningful and valuable. An example of this would be plotting crime data on a map of your town; crime data can be hard to interpret, but when you can look at a local map and see where crimes are being committed, it immediately makes more sense.

What do mashups have to do with libraries? Well, libraries also have a lot of data. Catalog data is a big one, but circulation data and research data are other examples that might be found in a library. Catalog data in particular is extremely rich- but also hard to interpret at times (sorry, catalogers…) So library mashups try and provide alternative display features and extract even more value from our tools. Some of the most popular or useful mashups for SALALM include the following:

Catalog mashups
Repository 66.org is a map which plots repositories round the world. It allows direct searching of repositories, as well as information on growth and platform used. MapFast is from OCLC and it makes local subject headings visible. It enables searching of books in Worldcat or Google Books by location, as well as revealing nearby locations. Integrating tagging, bookcovers or a recommendation system into the catalog are also mashups- as well as adding catalog data to external search programs, such as Bookburro, which enables users to search for library books from Amazon’s webpage. Finally, using the analogy of a car dashboard, Brown University, amongst others, is trying to make their circulation and usage data more visible by displaying check outs and statistics on digital signage.

Photos
Mashups can also display other library artifacts such as digital photos, or objects. Flickr Photomap enables you to plot flickr photos on a map. So if a library had digitized images or taken photos of holdings they could be accessed by map as well as through the catalog. Similarly, Historypin enables communities to plot historic photos on a map of the world; another great pace to make local collections come to life. Finally Google mapmaker enables you to make your own map- whether it’s a literary map, a government document map or a historic events map.

Research
Mashups are also being developed for a wide variety of interesting research tools. Need to find a church or Mass in Spain? Try misas.org; you’ll never miss Mass again. Want to compare gas prices in Brazil? Try Preco dos Combustiveis. Trendsmap plots tweets from round the world, while Bing and Twitter have signed a deal to enable Bing Social, which will plot tweets by location down to a fine detail.

This just a snapshot of what is available- search the Programable Web to find other awesome mashups!

Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder

*Sausage and mashed potato for the non-British amongst us!

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