Response to lesson 5: Mashups

Mashups have had my attention ever since I attended a government information workshop in October.  Two gentlemen gave a presentation on open data, and gave demonstrations of innovative mashups – though I can’t remember exactly what they were, as I’ve done some more research since then.  Here are a few of my favourites:
Sit or Squat helps you find the nearest public restroom, and even has indicators to show whether the establishment housing the washroom is open or closed.
Pizza-Rat Restaurant Health is local to Denver, but I like the premise: you can see health inspection ratings of local restaurants near you.
Layar is a mashup of a whole bunch of different stuff.  It is an augmented reality app, which takes advantage of GPS and camera functionality in smartphones to take mashups to a new level.  Seriously cool stuff!  You can point your phone at an apartment for rent and see its Craigslist ad.  I cannot stress enough how neat this is.

Mashups have a lot of potential, both in a general sense and in a specifically library-oriented light.  As people find new ways to combine sets of information, librarians and library patrons will find ways to apply them to their benefit.  From simple mashups that display library branches’ locations and hours to complex mashups that combine libraries’ new acquisitions with availability information and Amazon ratings and reviews, there is plenty of room for these innovative applications in the library’s toolkit.

But as Darlene Fichter mentions in her book chapter, we can’t just go about mashing things up willy-nilly.  We need to keep in mind the library’s policies on confidentiality that might be breached by some types of mashups, and the ever-present copyright issues that seem to pop up everywhere once we start looking.  We need to read the fine print on the APIs we want to use, and make sure that we are allowed to use them in the way we intend to.  The example of Tom Owad using open data to locate individuals with a certain book on their wishlists is downright frightening.  He didn’t harm the identified individuals in any way, but it is all too easy to imagine how someone could do something more sinister.  Books are contentious items, even now.  Although we are not responsible for keeping our patrons out of trouble, we do have a responsibility to not put them in it.

I was going to get excited about tagging in this space, because social tags have pretty incredible potential as an uncontrolled classification tool, but since we’ll be talking about that later, I’ll save my enthusiasm.

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