Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
If you've done any web developing in the past two years, you've heard of mashups. If you're interested in copyright law at all, you've also heard of mashups (most notably Google getting sued by various news sources for aggregating their content). If you haven't heard of mashups, you've probably experienced them in the likes of Facebook or MySpace. So what's the big deal?
A mashup is a big deal because it blurs the lines between content ownership and use (if you think this is all fairly normal and there are no issues here, check out the linking policy that BoingBoing created in response to previous ideas of web ownership. Can you imagine the fits these people must be having over mashups? And how that would even work in the attention economy is beyond meâ€¦). For example, if I view something shared on Facebook that is hosted by YouTube, then I'm never visiting YouTube while still experiencing their content. That means that I never see any of the advertising on the YouTube page, while still using up bandwidth and getting the same experience. So how is YouTube going to make money if I never visit? Their sponsors will never get any clicks, and the whole advertising revenue model goes down the drainâ€¦
While there are certainly some commercial aspects involved, I'm much more interested in the idea that while surfing Facebook, I can experience many different sources of content without ever leaving the site. That means that Facebook has become my portal to a significant part of my browsing experience, and that kind of hegemony scares my sense of privacy and freedom. At the same time, however, the mashups are another form of aggregation â€“ I trust Slashdot, Digg, and Google to aggregate my news, why not trust Facebook to aggregate my surfing experience?
By allowing my surfing experience to be dictated by Facebook, I can be sure of two things. First, that I will always be up to date on what my friends are publishing online. This, in a sense, is a good thing. It's a good way to stay in touch, and a good way to get to know people better (the friends game anyone?). The second thing that I can be sure of, is that I will always be up to date on what my friends are publishing online (wait, didn't you already say that?). Whereas before my digital experience was a cornucopia of experiences that intersected with my friends' experiences occasionally when something was extremely popular (star wars kid, etc.), my experience is now dictated by what my friends are experiencing. Instead of promoting diversity, the seductive ease of letting Facebook aggregate experiences for me has created a conformity of digital experiences in much the same way that democracy can encourage conformity rather than diversity.