The Monster Mashup

By Tom Peters | Tom Peters Head Shot

Lately, I've been wondering if the mashup will become one of the defining characteristics of information technology during this decade. Will we remember this era as much for the mashups as for the mass-digitization crashups? Mashups may rule, while snippets drool.

According to the Wikipedia (visited on March 4, 2006), a mashup in this sense is “…a website or web application that seamlessly combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience." For example, if you're into downhill skiing, visit Ski Bonk for the latest integrated info, which mashes up ski resort reports, weather data, maps, and other data to create its service.

I wish library and information science professionals would become more involved in the development and deployment of mashups. Heck, I wish I had the knowledge and skills to create some mashups myself.

If you're wondering about the etymology (remember etymology?) of this sense of a mashup, it seems to have evolved from the sense of musical mashups or bastard pop. Musical mashups consist of taking bits and pieces and tracks of existing musical recordings and rearranging them in new ways. Bootleg recordings were the precursors of musical mashups. As Bobby Zimmerman—you know him better by his mashup name, Bob Dylan—crooned in the song "Million Dollar Bash" on the Basement Tapes, "I took my potatoes, bound to be mashed, and I made it on over to that million dollar bash." Coincidentally, and perhaps presciently, the inner photo of the original Basement Tapes double LP album contains a mashup of the two outer photos.

Max HeadroomIn the realm of video, I reckon Max Headroom was a precursor of the visual mashup.

The e-resource mashup crowd (Do they call themselves mashers? I bet not.) is not only smushing together information resources in new and useful ways, but, as Jenny Levine told me, they are also rethinking how conferences should be conducted and are even putting into practice some of these new ideas and methods.

For example, for two days in late February a new type of in-person conference was held, oddly enough, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. MashupCamp was organized and implemented in very "unconventional" ways to try to foster quality growth in the burgeoning mashup ecosystem.

The in-person conference had no registration fee. Apparently corporate sponsors footed the bill. There was no set program. Conference registrants proposed sessions, which then were voted on by all the registrants. This conference was so unlike the typical conference that the organizers called it an "unconference."

MashupCamp was attended by approximately 300 people. Just scanning the list of registrants, I didn't spot anyone with an organizational affiliation that would lead me to believe that s/he was a trained, practicing, or professed librarian.

It may be time for our profession to seriously reconsider the value of the traditional conference, where a conference planning committee asks for conference proposals twelve to eighteen months in advance of the conference. How can library and information conferences—gatherings, happenings, bashes, mashupcamps—better aid and abet quality growth in the library and information science ecosystem? I feel the urge to utter a manifesto coming on:

  • A conference should try to actually foster and facilitate the discipline, movement, or ecosystem it represents.
  • It should be as inclusive of that community as possible. Do everything you can to get the rank and file members, as well as the leaders, of your ecosystem to attend.
  • Let the registrants and attendees help decide on the content and speakers.
  • Consider a combo conference, where people can attend in-person or online.
  • Record the conference events, and make them available via the Web.
  • Mama, don't let your conferences grow up to be cash cows.

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