Blown To Bits

Creepy Mashups

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008 by Ken Ledeen

Bits changed everything. We are so familiar with the transformation that most of us barely remember the old way. Before bits, only people could transform information, re-arrange it so that it served a different purpose. The phonebook listed names in alphabetical order. Want to know the name that belonged to a number and you were out of luck. Want to know the phone number of the person who lives at a particular address – out of luck again. Not so now that bits have arrived. Digital information can be rearranged and repurposed. Type a phone number into Google and bingo, the name appears.

For the most part the ability to manipulate data is wonderful. Sometimes, though, it’s a bit creepy.

We’ve written about the difference between information that is available and information that is accessible. I came across a mashup the other day – the combination of a couple of existing components – that definitely fell into the creepy category. Federal Elections Commission data has been available for years, and the tools to search that database have been getting better and better. Combine FEC data and Google maps and you get Fundrace. Take a look at http://fundrace.huffingtonpost.com

Just like the phonebook example, rearranging the data and presenting it in new ways transformed the experience. No need to search just by name any more. Want to see who your neighbors are supporting – just look at the map. How about searching by employer? Color coding by candidate, dots that correspond to the size of the donation Рpretty soon data become information, and what once seemed to be a relatively private activity becomes public and accessible.

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