Mix and match, cut and paste or simply steal: that's the spirit of the Web in the throes of a quiet but messy revolution propelled by the rise of the 'mash-up'.
The term originally meant a mish-mash of ready-made musical influences. A mash-minded DJ might fuse Britney Spears and Extreme Noise Terror, say, in a twisted bid to concoct music that sounds familiar but different.
Now the same post-modern picture applies to the Web in an extension of mainstream 'personalisation' offered by the likes of Google, which lets you tinker with the look of a search engine's home page so you feel comfortable and ready to go. I've toyed with personalisation a lot and found glitches always crop up. As a result, I usually boomerang back to my trusty Web-mail home page, festooned with a sprinkling of headlines.
But now, for at least five minutes, I have gone over to DIY mash-up site www.netvibes.com, which enables me to compile a profusion of content in a handy collage. So far, along with my Web mail, the collage features top Time magazine stories, the weather and default items such as 'Colorful', which displays attractive pictures, including what resembles a Catherine wheel crossed with a supernova. Pretty.
Alas, all those vibrant pixels are stopping the page coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. Feeling ruthless, I click the target-like cross on the corner of Colorful's window and ... pouf! The program permanently fades from view. Good.
But it's a case of 'missing you already', because now the page looks plain. Anyway, you get the picture - mashing means you can change the scenery on a whim or as much as your desire for efficiency dictates and, in theory, save heaps of time wasted roaming the Web.
'Wait!' you may say. 'There's already a way of shaping your clickstream - it's called bookmarks/favourites.'
True, but the pick-and-plonk nature of mashing simplifies matters by placing everything right in front
of you. Accessing a site tacked onto your mash-up page is as easy as reaching for the stapler on your desk. The downside is that, unless you are a coder, you will struggle to transplant all the content you fancy. Just as BitTorrent isn't useful for much other than downloading Desperate Housewives, user-friendly mash-up sites usually narrow your options to predictable fare such as CNN. If you want to jazz up your mash in a truly personal way that reflects your culture and DNA, you may struggle.
Even so, across the Web, mashing is on the rise and allows enough leeway to make life interesting. Mash-up fans merge everything from celebrity-stalking sites to online pedometers for running enthusiasts and, above all, maps. Reportedly, the first mash-up married Google maps with information from the Chicago Police Department so you could tell who had mugged whom in the city and where.
Next came HousingMaps, which took rental properties listed on the US classifieds website Craigslist.org and plotted them on a Google map. Now, inevitably, the mash-up landscape is getting messy. Just look at Bashr, the recently kaput site that merged elements of three popular services - Wikipedia, Flickr and Del.icio.us.
I never understood the purpose of Bashing. Maybe searching its three sources represented a good method of brainstorming. Personally, thanks to the exhaustively documented information glut, I feel jazzed and distracted enough.