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Lately the course of events I have been following on the Internet has demonstrated that the technological tail has been wagging the dog, the dog being content. In other words, what is written and shown is becoming increasingly influenced by the high-tech ways of showing it. One of the best illustrations of this increasing influence is this cartoon by blogger Hugh MacLeod, who announced that he was leaving the social networking site Twitter because it was "too easy," and because it was distracting him from the content ("art! ideas! poetry!…") that he sought back in 2005. Twitter, about which I wrote previously, is a child of the mashup phenomenon. What's that? Keep reading.
I'm assuming that there are Coffeeblog readers, perhaps the majority, who are unfamiliar with the technology behind mashups, and that it is worth explaining because it is having such a powerful influence on communiation in the 21st century. So what is a mashup? Wiktionary defines it:
(computing slang) A derivative work consisting of two pieces of (generally digital) media conjoined together in some interesting way, such as a video clip with a different soundtrack applied for humorous effect
I think that definition is already obsolete because nowadays mashups consist of many more than a mere two pieces of media. It can be hundreds or thousands. Also, the example of the humorous video clip is misleading because most mashups now have the purpose of pulling data together, with humor being a random phenomenon. The data that tend to be pulled together are mostly personal opinions, news items, and weblog entries (blogposts) which are combinations of just about anything. And that's exactly what Twitter does: pulling together thousands of short clips (140 characters maximum) from Twitter members and sources all over the Internet, many with links to click on for greater depth for those who are interested.
So now for the technological part. (Mom, are you still reading this? Hey, the Coffeeblog is a nobitic blog.) I'll start with newsfeeds. Any website, particularly a blog, can have its content machine-processed into a coded file called an XML file which can be read by other machines and reprocessed into a different format with the same content, that is, text, images, video, sound files, and sometimes more. There are websites (I use one called Feedburner) which will do this free for members. Once the XML file is available on the Internet, other websites can pick it up, dice it, and slice it. Often only shreds of the XML files are reprocessed into "new" websites, which actually are mashups. Once the machine programming has been completed by humans, the whole process becomes automatic.
Now for some examples. The moment that I put this Coffeeblog item on the Internet, its XML newsfeed is picked up by a website called Twitterfeed which translates it into XML that Twitter can understand. Twitter then picks up that feed and automatically puts a little blogpost under my Twitter name which contains a clickable link to this Coffeeblog item. Any of my Twitter friends who see this can go right to the Coffeeblog if they want, knowing that there's something new, interesting, enlightening, and delightfully entertaining for them to read. No emails (like the one I send to you, Mom) or checking every few hours or minutes to see if there's something new on the Coffeeblog. (That last sentence was the random humor to which I referred two paragraphs ago.)
But wait, there's more. (The preceding sentence was a mashup of actual communication and late-night television infomercial cliches, inserted for the sake of random humor.) Yes, there's more. You see, my Twitter generates another XML newsfeed which is picked up by yet another website called Friendfeed, which lists all kinds of stuff from me and my Friendfeed feed friends. If I send a photo or video to Flickr, that goes on Friendfeed. If I share an interesting newsfeed that I discover on Google Reader, that goes onto Friendfeed. If I buy an interesting new book and add it to a website called Library Thing, that goes on Friendfeed.
So where will this all end? The human brain can only handle a relatively puny amount of information, and sorting out the mish-mosh is beyond daunting and overwhelming. Merely trying to keep up with the latest tech changes is challenging enough. Friendfeed just went online a few months ago, and video on Flickr is almost brand-new. I just wrote about the idea purveyed in the New York Times that blogging is already killing the bloggers with stress. No, we don't know where this will all end. Setting priorities, of course, is a huge challenge, as Hugh MacLeod's cartoon suggests.
But wait. There's, dare I say it… more. Does anyone out there remember Marshall McLuhan? Us old-timers remember his 1964 dictum "The medium is the message." Since then, McLuhan has reportedly been named the patron saint of Wired Magazine. Taken literally, McLuhan's dictum implies that the mashup is its own content . MacLeod suggests the same thing in the last panel of his cartoon, where his entire content is "Twitter! Twitter! Twitter! Twitter!"
Fortunately, it's still a free Internet, except where it isn't, and I can post any Coffeeblog content I want. So. Back to the art, ideas, and poetry. (Well, I haven't done poetry yet, but I like to think the word "fershlugginer" is poetic in itself.)Permanent Link to This Entry | | Technorati Tag: Mashup blog comments powered by Disqus Comments (View)
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