Monday, December 8, 2008

death of the californian freaks?

my masterthesis deals with collaborative mappings in google earth mashups. collaborative mapping means that the production of maps is done by a collective of individuals. a "mashup" in general means to recombine (mix up) existing contents of a software or application by using its open application programming interface (api). in the context of mapping, a mashup is to combine an existing mapping application (mostly google maps) and link a database or a datasource to it. the result is a new webapplication which shows the common google maps surface and enables the user to browse the linked georeferenced information in the database-/ source.
i started a research about collaborative mapping in the web. as i soon recognized the topic is very much linked to the web2.0 debate, because mashups are often used as a proof that the new web enables its users to generate user generated content and by this becomes a grassroot democratic system (f.e. o´really). that´s why i started to look at the mashups more precisly. is offering the most actual and most completed list of all existing mashups in the net. there are 3515 mashups which are tagged by the users in application categories (f.e. photo, video, shopping, search engines, mapping). the mapping mashups are dominant, 52% of all entries are sharing a mapping-tag. this means there are 1796 mapping-mashups. by several filters (ratings, visits, used api) i got a selection of 286. i just started looking on them in detail, but i already got some facts, that mapping-mashups are not so much about collaborative mapping, collective production, grassroot democracy or user generated content as the internet-theorists (and me) expected them to be...
1. most of them are made for consuming or shopping. so, one of the most visited and highest rated ones, is the Wii seeker, where you can find the nearest and cheapest Nintendo Wii.
2. another topic is that in most of them the content isn´t user generated. mostly the content is generated from existing online sources (like news-channels or ebay) and the mash-up only georeferences it.
3. also surprising to me was, that a lot of mashups (using an open api from other applications) produce api´s which are not open to others.
i´m sure there will be many more facts like this, on my continuing research...
all in all, that leads me to the question if o´really and the californian freaks are really right? do mashups lead to user generated content and thereby to a grassroot democratic system? is the web2.0 and one of its most recommended flagships, the mashup movement, really that social and revolutionary as it is anounced to be? or is it just another tool for branding our space? (vgl. "niketown") or even more worse, do mashups serve as a kind of "democratic simualtion", because there is a certain kind of user participation, but in the end it´s only about participating in consuming?
if it is possible to show that mashups are not a proof for the anounced "social revolution" in the internet, does this declare the death of the californian freaks?

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