Dapper – Web Mashup Development For All?

I’ve never been a fan of the mystique that you sometime find with Web developers, who like to keep the secret art of development within their own closed community and sometimes belittle small scale development work. “Real programmers don’t use Pascal” was their war cry in the 1980s.

I enjoy pointing out to admin staff that when they develop a spreadsheet, that they are developers. And it’s good when the spreadsheet applications makes it easy to do this.

So I was very interested when I discovered Dapper recently. I’ve looked at the video introduction and played with some of the demo applications (“Dapplications”). Magg, the Movie Aggregator, gives good example of what Dapper can do – in this example video clips from a variety of services (Yahoo Video, Google Video, etc.) are integrated into a seamless, attractive looking interface. But hang on a moment, the seamless access to distributed resource was one of the aims of the JISC’s DNER (Distributed National Electronic Resource) , which was later rebranded as the JISC Information Environment.

So has the solution arrived? Does Dapper provide the easy-to-use integration environment for the masses? To be honest, I don’t know. So here’s a challenge for blog readers: see who can create the coolest example with the least effort. And, before anyone asks, the prize – the plaudits of your peers. What more could you ask for :-)

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  1. “for the masses?”

    No. I like to think I’m not completely clueless when it comes to computers, but I don’t (entirely) get it. I await to see what great demos your smarter readers can come up with.
    Can we extend the invitation to Pipes, which I’m still scratching my head about too?

  2. I think Dapper is an awesome if slightly unpolished application but it doesn’t work with every site, at least not in my hands. Pipes is a little more polished but the hard work has arguably already been done in so far as it remixes existing feeds (from Dapper, for example). Tony Hirst at the OU (who is on the blogroll here) has some examples though, as Alan intimates, possibly not a compelling one yet. Scott Wilson (CETIS) has also been debating the use of Pipes in an educational context on his blog.
    Being semi-playful again, one use for it might be to remove all mentions of Leicester from Alan’s excellent microbiology blog 😉 You could also use it, let’s say, to filter out reference to (most) viruses if you were teaching a bacterial pathogenicity course.
    Does that raise ethical issues? I’ve certainly seen people concerned about screen-scraping of their content using Dapper. To be fair, the folk at Dapper say they are trying to generate a market for microcontent rather than encourage hijacking.
    Aren’t we actually back to Roddy’s ideas of a few days back? I should add that there’s presently a nice summary on Techcrunch that includes Dapper and Pipes along with a few other similar tools though they omit RSSbus.
    Sorry if this is more of a blog entry than a comment.

  3. The rather obvious thought strikes me belatedly (as ever) that there may not need to be a compelling Dapper/Pipes application in an educational context for them still to be useful. You need to leave space for the readers (students and others) to make their own links and, indeed, contributions. Like blog comments.

  4. Hi AJ – yes, it would be great to see some compelling lightweight applications developed using Yahoo Pipes too. Can I suggest that such examples should make use of resources from our community (perhaps JISc services, library services, etc.) rather than yet another mashup from a Google Vidoes, etc.

  5. Hi Peter – on the ethical issue the obvious thought that strikes me is that if you want to hijack Alan’s microbiology resources, you can just go to his Web site and copy them, leaving out his name and organisation. Dapper doesn’t raise any fundamental new issues in this regard.
    And yes, it was Roddy’s comments which made me revisit the Dapper Web site, which I first came across in December.
    I notice a couple of other related blogs:
    Mashups for Non-Programmers – an experiement gone slightly awry
    and, as you mention, Tony Hirst from the Open University on Let’s Get Wiring – Yahoo Pipes. I should acknowledge Tony Hirst, BTW, he’s alerted me to a number of interesting technologies – including Gabbly, which I discussed on Friday.

  6. Hi Peter – you mentioned RSSBus (which is new to me) and I recently came across Web2RSS. It seems, then, that creating RSS from structured databases to unstructured Web pages is getting much easier. And, as you say, TechCrunch has an article on 5 Ways to Mix, Rip, and Mash Your Data which mentions some additional development environments. Interesting times, I think. Now have we motivated the developers?

  7. So I need to tag everything on my blog with Leicester now so it won’t show up in filtered mashups Peter? 😉

    I’d be very interested to see this, purely for educational purposes. So who’s going to do the screencast and post it to YouTube and who’s doing the slideshow demo for Slideshare? :-)

  8. Further to my comment about RSS creators I’ve just noticed that DigiCMD contains a posting on Feedscrapers and other ways to “re-use” content which includes a list of several freely-available RSS generation tools (including some which are new to me).

    Note that the DigiCMD blog may be of particular interest to librarians – the blog provides “Thoughts and actions of Guus van den Brekel, Coordinator of Electronic Services, Central Medical Library (CMB). The CMB is a medical library in the north of the Netherlands, part of the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and one of the libraries of the University of Gronin”.

  9. Thanks, Brian. xfruits.com is another useful site in terms of providing a range of RSS-centric conversions.

    Alan incidentally has a nice article on using RSS in VLEs at ftp://www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/TeachingGuides/elearn/cs3.pdf . The only thing I would add is the use of Grazr as a display tool as Tony Hirst is doing. There is, naturally, a pipe in the pipeline…

  10. It took nearly a year for this article to be published, so it was way out of date in this fast moving field when it eventually appeared. For this reason, be kind to me!

  11. Nice article! Have you tried Feedity ( http://www.feedity.com )? IMHO, its much simpler (for the masses).

  12. I generally use feedity.com for all custom rss feeds…. much straight forward.

  13. Dapper is now a year older, and I just finished a review to see if it has matured. Unfortunately, it hasn’t. An earlier reviewer said it was not polished, and I agree.

    If they ever do clean up their usability, it will be a killer application.

    Read my review here.


    Kelly A. Shaw
    Serena Software



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