Mash-Ups and Google Maps

Wikipedia defines mashups as “a digital media document containing any or all of text, graphics, audio, video and animation drawn from pre-existing, third-party sources, to create a new derivative work”. Basically a mashup is created when an Internet user takes content from at least different places and combines them to create something new. If you are interested in learning more about the technical side of creating a mashup (a topic that is beyond my expertise) the Information Science Institute at the University of Southern California has released a paper entitled “Building Mashups by Example” it presents a straight forward Mashup building approach that alleviates most of the problems users experience when creating mashups by building problem areas into a unified interactive framework that requires no widgets and allows users with no programming background to easily create mashups by example.

There are many examples of mashups on the web, TweetDeck is one example of a simple mashup; it is an iphone app that displays a user’s Twitter and Facebook feed in one place. One of the most popular types of mashups combines maps with search locator services; Google Maps is one example of this type of service. While users do not contribute to the creation of the maps, they enrich them by adding information, such as locations and descriptions to make the maps more useful and interesting. For me personally contributing to a service like Google Maps will probably be the closest I come to creating a mashup because my programming skills are non-existent. I tried to use Map Builder to make my own map but ran into problems with the API key (I’m not giving up and hope to post one later on this week).

Unlike Map Builder, Google Map Maker was very user friendly! After signing into the application with my Google account information I was provided with easy step by step instructions about how I could enrich maps by adding a place, road or trail, editing a place, or reviewing edits. To play with the Map Maker features I choose to add more information to a map of my neighbourhood by adding the lane name. I live in cottage country and only the access road is labeled in Google maps, I always find giving direction difficult because I need to explain that it’s the fourth lane on the right and then a second left etc. and guests always get lost. I was surprised to find that when I zoomed in on the map of my block other neighbours had already added the name of their lane to the map.

At first it was not clear how to edit a street name, I went into road attributes and when I could not find an option I decided to correct the speed limit from 40 km/hr to 5 km/hr; an edit that is now under review. After doing this I went into the “help” home and found instructions for adding a road name unfortunately when I followed the steps I was given the error message “You cannot edit this feature because it is currently pending and requires approval. Failed to modify this feature” opps –because I had submitted the other edit about speed limit I won’t be able to add the street name until that edit is approved. Although I wasn’t able to add street names like I intended using Google Map Maker provided a great user experience that was almost idiot proof haha somehow I still managed to mess it up! Once my speed edit has been approved I will definitely be returning to the map maker to add street names –no one will be getting lost on the way to the cottage this summer!


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Non-Text User-Generated Content

The internet may have initially been created for exchanging raw data between researchers, but in 2013 we’re using the internet to share a lot more than scientific information. Text, images, music, and videos for better or worse the internet has become a mainstream place for ordinary people to distribute user-generated content (UGC).

In Week Five’s lesson we learned that non-text content on the Internet, which includes anything that users put or support online that isn’t in textual format, has been growing exponentially over the last few years.  Laura Olin, President Obama’s social media strategist, suggests that non-text content can often be a very powerful to  convey a message; when speaking to NMR about the success of Obama’s social media campaign Olin explained that “images will beat just text or video embeds almost every time.”

As noted in our “lecture” this week these image are often tagged  with user generated keywords to create easier access to the content. A popular site for sharing tagged photos is Flickr, the site has aggregated its user tags to determine the most popular tags of all time. The size of the text indicates the poplularity of the tags I find it interesting that the two largest tags are “iphoneography” and “instagramapp”, both of these tags note photographs taken on smart phone thus demonstrating the connection between advances in technology and the creation of UGC. From this it would appear that the photos most often tagged and disseminated on Flickr are uploaded directly from user devices and are meant to be shared socially. I wonder how these tags will evolve in the future.

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Web 2.0 and Data Collection

Web 2.0, it may be a buzz word for innovations in web platforms but according to Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc., it is also a real tangible phenomenon that is changing the way we interact with the internet. Although the use of the term “Web 2.0” to coin this evolution of the internet is new to me, the actual web platform it describes is something I have been fully immersed in for years without even realizing it!

Take last Thursday night as an example, I was sitting in the living room with three other people between us we had two versions of the original iPad, a Mac book, an iPad mini, and several iPhones; our goal was to consort our applications and magazines subscriptions to share what we could with each other for free. It was pretty amazing, wirelessly we were able to display information from our screens onto my flat screen television and from there we decided whether or not we wanted particular apps from each other. At the time this type of sharing seemed almost too good to be true – through the app store we were sharing access to apps on different devices for free. I had to ask myself why Apple would let us do this when in the past it has been so very difficult to share music from iTunes. After learning more about Web 2.0 I have my answer, it is because the company has more to gain from learning about how each of us uses and shares their applications than it has to loose.

You see with Web 2.0 users add value to applications and online services. By compiling user data companies are able to improve on their applications in real time and the more people who use them the better they become. The ability for us to share resources is partnered with the ability of those providers to track our use, which when aggregated properly can result in competitive advantages about how to better deliver services and achieve greater returns. This type of collective activity also greatly benefits the user; we are now part of the collaborative process, and I for one love when Apple provides updates to fix annoying glitches in their apps.

Tracking user data and applying it to services is not new, Air Miles has been doing it for years using postal codes and shoppers’ data to identify purchasing trends. But what Web 2.0 brings to the table is a new platform to collect data on an even border scheme which means companies will stand to generate an even greater profit. Web 2.0 is all about harnessing the collective intelligence of users in a latent fashion that does not require the extra work for the user or even their informed consent. The subversive fashion of data collection means that many (if not most) users have no idea that this is taking place. For example an app that asks to use your current location, although it has no bearing on its function, is gathering that information for other reasons. In fact O’Reilly notes that the most successful Web 2.0 applications have created inclusive defaulted settings for aggregating user data which is automatically collected as a side effect of ordinary use.

So what does this mean for the average user? Are you uncomfortable with the reality that many sites and applications are tracking your use OR do you find that these capabilities are a reason to become a more avid user; as it ultimately results in a better experience?

For those who cannot see the forest for the trees take a moment to check the policies of your favourite application providers, you may need to limit your internet usage. Are you on Facebook? I would argue that it is one of the most intrusive examples of collecting data as it tracks personal use, comments, and associates it with explicit user identifiers –an issue that I believe will be compounded with their new Facebook Graph Search.

And for those who appreciate the beauty of Web 2.0, who are excited by the opportunity to be co-creators of web content and are willing to trade data for better services; where should the line be drawn on data collection? And what kind of privacy standards should be guaranteed for protecting the identity/privacy of users? I personally do not mind that my data is being tracked by providers to improve their services but I hope when the information extracted it is washed from personal identifiers and is held in a secure space. On the other hand, if data collection is taking place on applications where my name or even picture is being associated with that information I become uncomfortable. I also do not like the idea of companies being able to sell this information to third parties for profit and wonder about the ethical implications that arise when user data that is generated in an open collaborative fashion becomes proprietary and unavailable to those who contributed to its existence.

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I’d like to welcome you to my Social Software and Libraries blog for LIS 9763; each week I’ll be posting reflections on class lectures and readings but for now feel free to get to know me by checking out the “about” tab.

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