The Mashup App on iTunes

Subscribe to RSS Feed
Blog Archive

Entries in desktop metaphor (4)


Just The Important Parts: Documents vs. Snippets

The Mashup App allows you to save into your personal database entire web and PDF documents, images, and complete audio and video content. The Mashup App also allows you to save into your personal database just the important parts of web, PDF, video, and audio content. And who decides what's important to you? You decide what is important and not the publisher.

Irrespective of the type of data, for example a document or movie, everyone recognizes that some parts of the content are more important than other parts. In fact many people wish they could just delete annoying ads or fast forward through the boring parts and get to the action. For the producer of the content, all of the content is valuable. But each consumer will assign their own value or lack of value to each segment of the content. This publisher-centric view of the content's importance is enshrined in both the desktop metaphor and on the web. On our computer desktop, we have to deal with files and the documents that they contain. You cannot extract the important parts of a document or a video or audio file and have those snippets and segments remained linked to their original sources. The best you can do is create a new file wholly separate and divorced from its original context. Without the broader context, a snippet by itself will eventually limit your memory of it and will dramatically limit sharing because of the inability to verify the broader context of the snippet. This can lead to allegations of taking a "statement out of context" and ultimately leads to a decrease in the value of the snippet.

On the web, we have an even worse problem because many types of web data types are read only and we cannot easily make a copy for our personal use. If you want to print a web page you will still get irrelevant ads and you generally have no way to just get the important parts that you want to memorialize. And if your browser allows you to save the content of a web page, the images are normally not saved on your computer but remain on the web. So you will have a partial solution at best. Audio, video, and even PDF documents are rapidly becoming read only content with no ability for the user to save a copy. This is all to the benefit of publishers and search engines who want to create scarcity and force you to continually perform the same searches and visit the same web pages. In the current web, the best most users can do is save a link to a web page and hope that the web page is not deleted.

The Mashup App solves many of these problems by providing a personal database in which you can save your digital data: the whole content or just selective parts. Each data item in your personal database knows from where it originated whether it is a local file or a remote web site. In this example, the user extracts a video segment from a 1 hour video:

The Mashup App allows you to save references to entire movies or just important clips. You can customize the poster image and provide a memorable description. 

You can group related subsets into one or more descriptive categories. In this example, a user has extracted and grouped only 2 audio clips from a 63 minute audio podcast:

The Mashup App allows you to save into your personal database a reference to the entire audio content or to a snippet of the audio content. In either case, you can group your audio content into a descriptive category-- perhaps with other types of related data.


In addition to audio and video content, The Mashup App allows you to extract just the important parts of web and PDF content:

The Mashup App allows you to manage very large PDF documents. You can group related pages together into descriptive categories and save them into your personal database. 

The user can edit their data and in case of web content, the user can delete ads and other irrelevant sections using The Mashup App's web editing tools:

The Mashup App provides web editing tools allowing the user to annotate important areas and delete irrelevant parts including images and ads.

In the following example, The Mashup App user decides to delete some irrelevant parts:


And after deleting the non-essential parts, the user can then highlight the parts that are important:

In addition to saving web content into your personal database, The Mashup App allows you to edit and annotate web content by highlighting important sections and deleting irrelevant parts such as ads.


Grouping Your Data: Folders vs. Categories

The Mashup App allows users to group data into one or more categories. 

In a previous blog post, we talked about the computer desktop metaphor and mentioned some of the shortcomings of file and folder names. We described how file and folder names as well as tags are not very helpful in reminding us of the details of the data stored in the file. We also looked at how The Mashup App allows the user to provide a meaningful and memorable description of their data.

In this blog post, we will look at the shortcomings of desktop folders.
In the desktop metaphor, folders were designed to group related files together and thereby exclude unrelated files much like a real-world folder does. But because file and folder names were not very informative, the concept of nested folders was needed to further isolate files into more manageable groups. Nowadays, most users use a limited set of folders and shun deeply nested folders for many reasons. One reason is that it is hard for many users to manage the multiple windows in which the folders popup into. Another reason is that open windows many not be restored to their previous state after their computer is restated. Several researchers have documented that many people have behavioral issues with organization (that is, they are messy) and that the brain was not designed to process deep hierarchies. The brain excels at grouping related items together better than it does at creating hierarchies of abstract and concrete items.


Another significant shortcoming of the desktop metaphor of files and folders is that a file can only be placed into a single folder. To minimize this problem, file and folder shortcuts and links can be used but the fact is that most computer users do not use these features.

And lastly, there is no way to document the reason why certain files were grouped together in a folder. If a desktop user has a small number of files and folders, then it is easy to remember the purpose of the folder. And if the purpose of a folder was forgotten, then the computer user can simply open the folder and read the file names or perhaps open each file and try to deduce the reason for grouping those specific files. 

All of these impediments are dramatically compounded when many users share the same computer files and with the passage of time.


The Mashup App solves these problems by allowing you to describe or categorize your data. At a basic level it is fine to think of a category as a container of data just like a folder is a container for files with the added benefit that data can be placed into multiple categories. But if you instead treat a category as a "categorization" of one or more pieces of data, then you are able to create knowledge from your individual data items. How so? Well, we need to take a step back and ponder on the nature of data, information, and knowledge as many philosophers and big thinkers have done. Most of us instinctively consider data to be just random stuff and information to be something more worthwhile but not necessarily crucial to any one person specifically. Knowledge, most people would agree, is the highest level of information importance and has specific meaning to a person... something that a person would seek, try to comprehend, and memorize to make it their own. Knowledge is the information that you want to remember.

Since we can save the data which is important to us in our personal database-- in other words, we can save important information-- but how do we make that information into knowledge? What's missing from the data? Our thoughts and rationale are missing. Instead of locking away your connection to the data, you should provide a context to the data and a commentary about it. The context of a piece of data is related data that provides a complete picture. You add, and thereby mashup, the related data to create a context. The commentary explains why data is significant to you. In The Mashup App, your commentary is called the data's categorization... or just category for short.

In this example, a user has grouped several pieces of related data. This data was accumulated over several years and documents their knowledge about the subject:

 You can aggregated-- or mashup-- different types of data into a descriptive category. Here a web article, video clip, PDF, and image were grouped together because it was important for the user to relate them.

By describing your data you are ensuring that you do not forget it. With The Mashup App you can preserve your memories and share your knowledge about the items in your life.


Remembering Your Data: File Names and Tags vs. Descriptions

The Mashup App allows users to provide meaningful descriptions of their data using full sentences which is a tremendous improvement over the simple file and folder names we use on our desktop computers and the often ambiguous tags used on web sites.
In a previous blog post, we talked about the history of the computer desktop metaphor and mentioned some of the shortcomings of file and folders.

In the desktop metaphor, names are used more for managing and identifying files and folders rather than as an aid in remembering data contents. In the early days of computers, file names were limited to 8 letters and could only use the English language. 8 letters is a little more than 1 word. And using just 1 word to describe all of the information contained in a file is absurd. This was a barely manageable solution even when we only had a small number of files and folders.

Recently, computers have allowed the length of file names to be expanded and also support international languages. Unfortunately, even though we can use multiple words in a file name, the desktop window displaying file names usually truncates long names. So even if your computer allows you to use long file names or even a description, the nature of the desktop metaphor works against you.

On the web, most sites do not display a file's name and will allow the author to use keywords called tags to describe the content of an image, video, or other content. While tags can better describe data rather than a file name, tags also suffer from the same problem that file names do: ambiguity and a lack of context.
Here is an example of a 3 page web article from the URL:

and the printer friendly version is at this URL

The tags used to describe, group, and search for the article are mostly irrelevant because they are not descriptive and are ambiguous as are most web tags:

The editor's title is better than the set of tags but due to space requirements and the need to catch the eye of the reader, is a bit sensational:


The article itself is top-notch writing and a user of The Mashup App decided to save it to his personal database. Once saved, the user edited the article and deleted 3 irrelevant ads and then annotated the most important content using The Mashup App editing tools. The user decided to preserve the original web article title as the title of the saved data item but provided a more memorable description:

The annotations will remind the user and with whom she shares her data of the most important segments (in her opinion, of course): 


In summary, The Mashup App innovates beyond the desktop metaphor of file and folder names and allows you to provide a meaningful and memorable description for your data. Whether you want to use a one word description or prefer to use several paragraphs in multiple languages, The Mashup App has been designed to support your needs.

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.