Sometimes genius lies not in creating something, but in putting things together in a new way.
That’s the guiding principle behind the mashup – the assemblage of existing pieces into a new, derivative work. In the visual art world this is as old as collage; probably older. Video is another form well-suited to being mashed up, especially for comedic effect. And by now every one is aware that there are musician/DJs who do nothing but mashups.
In the 1950s William Burroughs borrowed his “cut-up” writing technique from the Surrealist découpage of the 1920s. Burroughs’ form consisted of writing a straight linear text, cutting it into pieces and rearranging it to discover new and surprising possibilities. This was a clever trick to generate ideas that might not spring up when the conscious and ego were busy getting in the way.
On the web though, mashups usually have the reverse intent. Instead of breaking down information to create new meanings, the web mashup aggregates data points with the purpose of finding the meanings and relationships hidden within.
Ever since Google Maps opened up its code for developers to play with, the web mashup world has exploded. More recently, tools such as Yahoo Pipes have opened up the possibility for non-developers to match up multiple sets of data in revealing ways.
All of which is a preface to explain why I love everyblock.com. Without that intro, it might sound rather uninteresting that the site aggregates publicly available information such as crime stats, building permits, and restaurant reviews, connects them geographically and allows the user to subscribe to a local feed. OK, it still sounds uninteresting.
Try this. How would you like to be notified automatically that the restaurant down the block failed its latest health department inspection? Would it be valuable for you to know that your neighbor was just issued a liquor license? How about a new real estate listing down the street, or a new foreclosure auction around the corner? Would it help you to know about what crimes are reported in your neighborhood? How about automatically receiving nearby business reviews? Maybe you’d like to know whenever a new photo is geo-tagged in your area on Flickr? Or when a crew is coming to film on your block, or a street is being closed off, or when a new bike rack has been installed?
Now, map all of those together, and have them automatically delivered to you as a feed. This is the beauty of everyblock.com. It’s like the old lady with all the neighborhood gossip, except that everything is factual (and it doesn’t judge).
And it is so incredibly easy to use. Just put in your address, zip code, neighborhood name, ward number, whatever you prefer, and click “Search”. Once you’re done admiring the results, click either “Custom RSS Feeds” or “Email Alerts”, choose which info you’d like in your alerts, and you’re done.
You are now that little old lady who knows everything. Thanks Everyblock!
As of now, EveryBlock is only available in 11 cities: Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Washington DC. The team behind it consists of a mere six people, and they are not a division of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc. How about showing them some support by spreading the word?