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Saving your Data: Files vs. Database

Providing the user with a personal database to save their digital data is a core feature of The Mashup App.

Until recently, database technology was rarely used in consumer devices and was problematic to use on home computers. The desktop metaphor of using files and folders was originally created in the 1970s as a way to introduce office worker to the strange new world of computers. Using files to save data and folders to group files worked well for computer users when we had a small number of files, used only one computer, and had large computer screens. But this metaphor started to break down once we started to save 1000s of photos and music files at home and had to deal with 1000s of PDF and office documents at work.

In an attempt to solve this problem, computer researchers determined that the best general solution to this problem was to use database technology to manage data rather than just use files and folders. But software companies could not wait until all the operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and Mac where rewritten to use databases instead of files and folders. So they decided to create applications which used database technology to help specifically manage files such as photos or music. An application such as iTunes is a great example of a music manager and it uses database technology internally. Unfortunately, those applications do not allow you to mix different types of data such as music with photos and manage them as a group of related data.

Another shortcoming of files and folders is that they use simple names. How many Document.doc files have you seen? How many documents are stored in your "My Documents" folder? Probably too many.

So a major problem with files and folders is that they do not adequately describe the data inside of them. So to help us remember the data inside our files, operating systems started to allow users to color-code their files and provide keywords as a memory aid. Other techniques used included seeing a thumbnail of the content and performing searches on our files and folders. Those technique were helpful but most users still have a tough time managing and finding their data.

On the web, the companies creating blogging software and photo sharing sites also realized this problem and started to allow authors to use keywords to both describe the content and also group related data. These keywords were called tags because it was used for both searching and grouping.

On the web, users do not have to think about the mechanics of opening files and navigating through a hierarchy of folders because the desktop metaphor has been largely abandoned and database technology is used by most sites to manage content. But just like the music and photo manager applications on the desktop, these specialized web sites can not manage different types of data. Likewise, most web sites use simple labels to describe and group content in the form of tags.

The Mashup App liberates our digital data from the desktop metaphor of files and folders by allowing us to save our digital data into an advanced personal database. Categories allow you to group-- or mashup-- related data. Unlike files and folders which use simple names, The Mashup App allows you to provide meaningful descriptions for your data. The category view allows you to search your personal database by description, URL, location, or time. As a memory aid, you can also sequentially browse your personal database.

With The Mashup App, we get the benefits of files and folders and the benefits of database technology allowing us to both save and group web and PDF content, images and pictures, audio and video content, and even new types of data such as location and time.

And as an added benefit, we get the benefits of mobility because our personal databases are stored on our devices.


In the next few blog posts, we will look at the specifics of the personal database technology used by The Mashup App.

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