Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

I have been thinking a lot about web2.0 mash-ups like Housing Maps since I was on a panel with Paul Rademacher. Particularly I have been trying to make sense of mash-ups in the context of the Model of Attraction. It was not difficult to use these models as a lens to better understand what is going on in these mash-ups. The irony is I needed to do a tiny mash-up of my own to better understand what is going on.

Let us use the Housing Maps as our sole example. Housing Maps takes the housing listing information from Craigslist and displays them by location as a layer in the Google Maps. Paul had built the tool in his spare time as the result of showing up at the same location to rent twice. The visual representation of the listings on a map helped him keep from doing this again. The visual representation also helps others better discern proximity and location (next to a freeway is why it is cheap, or near playground for junior, etc.).

The interpretation of this mash-up and other web2.0 developments require using a slight mash-up of the Model of Attractions's receptors (the receptors are intellectual (cognitive), perceptual (sensory), mechanical, and physical). One uses the receptors as a whole to design and develop information/media access for people in different contexts, with different devices, varying needs, and in different contextual needs. In the case of understanding the Housing Maps we know what the mechanical receptor is, it is a desktop/laptop computer as that is what the interface requires to use the tool. Housing Maps implicitly requires full visual capabilities, and the means to control a pointing device (mouse, etc) for the physical receptors.

The two receptors we will look at are the Intellectual Receptor and the Perceptual Receptors. The Intellectual Receptor is used in the design and development phases to understand how a person thinks about the information/media by understanding vocabulary, information structures, complexity of conveyance (what level and style of writing are used to convey the ideas), level of detail used, the amount of explanation given, use of metaphors, etc. The Perceptual Receptors are used to understand what sensory elements are understood by the people using the information/media. The sensory elements are comprised of visual, auditory, motion/animation, touch (haptic), etc.

The Housing Maps requires understanding the limitations of the resources being used prior to Paul's remixing. The information that Paul was using was Craigslist to find a new place to live. Craigslist is a rich information source that has a large variety of things for sale or giving as well as social connective communities (personals pages). Paul was using the housing section in the San Francisco Bay Area as his information source. The housing entries have descriptions of the properties for rent/let/buy, much like the old classified real estate ads in the newspapers (remember those) but with a little more detail and often including photos of the property. One element that many of the properties include is a location variable (address).

While the Craigslist information is rich and robust and a fantastic resource, Craigslist has a simple interface. This interface, much like that of a classified ad is about providing the information and using the space efficiently. The reality is no mater what is done to the visual appearance of Craigslist the information in text form and the photos are just those simple elements. A map included in each of the entries would be a little more helpful, but it is still rather limiting as it does not give an idea of what is really on the market and where all of the properties of interest are located (in the given parameters of the person's query). We have the Intellectual Receptors largely sated. The Perceptual Receptors (what does the page look like how does a person interact with the information (passively/actively)) could use a little more tweaking, but within the context of the static HTML page the information interface offers little opportunity for improvement.

The missing element in the Craigslist information is not data that is missing (except where locative data is not included in the Craigslist entry). The missing element is in the Perceptual Receptor which then augments the Intellectual Receptor. The contextual framework for locative information is missing from the interface. The array of information provided in the Craigslist interface needs another vector to view the information (Craigslist limits by price, rough geographical area, type of property arrangement (rent/lease/sublet/buy/share/own), animals, and keywords). This vector is a more fine grained view of the location information and put into a context that helps make sense of the information easily. The context is a map, which works well for displaying location-based information.

The Google map is used for the visual representation layer, which provides the context to the location information. The Google map is an open interface that is available to use for the display of location relevant information from external data sources. The interface if very helpful for this type of information and it is freely available for those with the skill sets needed to parse and feed the information into the Google maps interface.

The web2.0 mash-ups extract information from one source and display that information in a different interface. Tools like Bloglines do this with feeds and display the information in an interface separate from the website's interface from which the information was posted by the content creator/owner.

These mash-ups serve to provide the person consuming the information a tool that works for their needs. In a "come to me web" this is very important. The content provider/owner would have to invest many resources to provide a broad array of interfaces to search each person and each person's needs and desires for information. Additionally, as it is with nearly everything on the web the interface that aggregates information from a broad variety of information sources provides a richer set of information for the person to use and analyze for their own needs. Not only are the Intellectual Receptors augmented by the network effect of the information, but offering the personal consuming the information a means/lens (for their Perceptual Receptor needs) to view the information/media in means that adds value for their need is required for people to better embrace the web as a source of information that is a layer woven into their life rather than technology tools that augment their lives.