Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Aggregators and Mashups

As my overarching schedule suggests, October will be focused on playing with Second Life and other Web 2.0 applications. Of course, I've actually been playing with apps all along, such as this blog, social bookmark apps delicious and diigo, microblogging with Twitter, and just yesterday, starting up Facebook.

So, I'll also be mixing this month of exploration with more research.

I've been looking at aggregators and mashups lately. I at first saw little difference between the two, but I found a definition at Academic Commons that suggests aggregators are a sub category of mashups:

1. Mashups by integration are the ones that capture our imagination because they involve true "crossing." Data from one resource becomes the input for processing by another. Geotags from Flickr, for example, can serve as the grist for a Google Map. Mashups by integration typically require considerable time and expertise to develop. They are the domain of developers who know how to work with an application programming interface (API). These are the mashups that make it onto the "Programmable Web" mashup blog (or into the roster for a NERCOMP SIG).

2. Mashups by aggregation, on the other hand, simply juxtapose information from disparate sources. One should think here of applications such as MyYahoo, NetVibes , PageFlakes, iGoogle, and others. Individual users assemble collections of "feeds" whose contents then live side by side within the aggregator. Even if the "feeds" are otherwise unaware of one another, the act of juxtaposition is already a creative one. Mashups by integration require little expertise to create.

Seems to me also that aggregators are of two categories--those for personal use, such as iGoogle, and those for publication, which might be used in a course. I consequently plan to play around with NetVibes and PageFlakes to see what I can wrestle from them. A good example of what I'm talking about is an aggregation that Mark Marino at USC has put together for his writing course using PageFlakes: http://www.pageflakes.com/markcmarino/23536077.

Mashups by integration seem to need more expertise to create, something I probably will not be able to gather this semester. However, there are some intriguing uses of mashups. For example, twittervision and flickrvision combine Google maps and Twitter/Flickr to show what users are posting all over the world. At one level, real time wasters, but on another, a fascinating way to get a sense of what people are doing and thinking at any given time. I was watching twittervision when AIG was crashing and burning, and it was really intriguing to see the rising concern being expressed all over the world. In fact, most mashups in my quick perusal focus on images, video and maps. I could see, and hope to explore sometime soon, the use of mashups in a film class, where one could bring photos, clips and locations to one place after typing in a movie title from imdb.com.

Another mashup that looks intriguing, and might be something to pursue with student projects, especially if the manipulation of media images is valued, is Remix America, where users can put together mashups of videos to comment on current events with tools provided by the service.

Here's an example:


Seems like this could be a lot of fun for students and a way to build multimedia literacy.

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