Creative students mix and mash Web sites

A “mash-up” mixes different Web site components to create a new capability.

by Mike Enright

Some University students have spent this semester learning about one of the hottest new technologies in computer programming and using it to create innovative solutions to real world problems.

As part of a class project, the students in Jamshid Vayghan’s software engineering course used mash-up application technology to develop novel online services, such as a Web site that compares textbook prices or one that provides personalized traffic reports.

Mash-ups are Web sites or applications that take functions or information from other sites and put it all together into one integrated system.

“The term ‘mash-up’ came from rap music,” Vayghan said. “They took all these different pieces of the music and they kind of mixed them together and created a mash-up. So the mash-up is simply that: how you can mix and mash different components to create a new capability.”

Vayghan, who also works for IBM, said he crafted the project to give his students a taste of how the knowledge they gain in the classroom can be useful once they get out into the real world.

“The learning will stay with you if you apply it to something that is real,” he said. “I think notions like this one are going to help them to think out of the box and try to see how they can put the new technology into use. You can’t find this type of thing in any textbook.”

One mash-up that fits the bill for real-world usefulness is that of computer science graduate student Charles Braxmeier.

His site, “Rush Hour,” which he created with classmate Sergio Perez, provides traffic reports for anywhere in the United State when the user enters a ZIP code and the number of surrounding miles.

“What I was trying to do is create a site where you could get up in the morning and see what’s ahead of you on the roads, what the traffic conditions are going to be like, what’s the weather,” Braxmeier said. “The basic stuff you want to know in the morning before you go anywhere.”

He said he got the idea from his sister, who travels frequently for her job and often needs to know the quickest and easiest route.

In addition to traffic and weather, the page also shows some of the day’s headlines.

“The idea was if you’re commuting and have to go pretty far, what do you want to see when you first get up if you have three or four minutes before you head out the door?” Braxmeier said.

Fellow classmates Mike Frawley and Abe Hovey have an equally relevant mash-up.

The two created a site that compares textbook prices between the University bookstore, and eBay, and others could be easily added, they said.

“I wanted to make something that would actually be useful Ö make a tool people, specifically students, might use,” Frawley said.

Talks are in the works with University technology officials about potentially integrating Frawley and Hovey’s site into the school’s online book-search system, Vayghan said.

Another site students could soon be seeing is the mash-up made by computer science seniors Matt Borowske and Matt Jacobi.

Their application combines Facebook and another site to allow people to easily turn their Facebook pictures into slide shows.

“Our project was not so much useful as fun,” Borowske said. “We wanted to do something with the Facebook Web site because everybody we know and everybody in college uses it.”