What’s wrong with “combination”?

This isn’t original–credit goes to James Fallows’ “Homo Conexus” in Technology Review–but when I saw it I had a little “aha!” moment.

To wit, “mashup” has always struck me as an odd term within the x2.0 environment. To me, “mashup” on its own has some negative connotations–you mash things together and wind up with a mush of mess.

That’s not what so-called “mashups” do, at least not when they’re done right. They combine information from two or more web resources to create a new resource. They do so discretely (note spelling: I suppose if they hide where the information comes from, they’re also doing it discreetly) and in an orderly fashion. You wind up with new and presumably useful, interesting, or entertaining stuff based on what you wanted.

Here’s what Fallows says, in the context of trying to do as much using “Web 2.0” services as possible:

(The single most annoying aspect of the annoyingly named Web 2.0 movement is the use of the term “mashing up” to denote what in English we call “combining.”)

I know this one’s not winnable, but I do wonder at the urge for an apparently needless neologism–more particularly one that has a third-grader feel to it. “Hey, let’s go mash up some stuff!” (Exclamation point, of course, mandatory.)

Back when I used to like Reese’s Cups, a classic combination, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have liked them as well if they were just chocolate and peanut butter mashed together.

All I can say is: This library professional plans to use web 2.0 and “library 2.0” services whenever they make sense. This library professional won’t actually wince when someone uses childish phrases or sentence structure. This library professional doesn’t have to like it, though.

Update: Maybe “mashup” does make sense. Separately, I’m seeing (a few) more examples of childish syntax/repetitive structure (made mild fun of in the preceding paragraph) becoming a hallmark of (certain high-profile) Library 2.0 advocates. I have no idea what to make of that. Nursery rhymes as the new paradigm?

16 Responses to “What’s wrong with “combination”?”

  1. Ruth Ellen says:

    USED to like Reese’s? Please… tell us your secret… How did you quit them?

  2. walt says:

    Dunno. I basically lost my taste for most candy (small quantities of dark chocolate excepted). Some years after I lost my taste for soda/pop/whatever, which was decades ago. Probably just as well: I certainly enjoy food, and I’m determined to stay within a reasonable weight range.

  3. Steve Lawson says:

    Geez, Walt. Sometimes you are no fun.

    I first heard the term “mashup” a few years before the web 2.0 sense as a term meaning an audio track where a DJ took sounds from more than one recording, usually by different artists, and created a new track. The best were seamless, and took the music somewhere totally different than any of the component tracks. (I personally like the Kleptones, ). The worst are terribly crummy.

    I’d say that the web 2.0 folks were trying to capitalize on the “cool” factor, but also the ideal of creating something greater than the sum of the parts, which, IMO, isn’t captured by a term like “web combination.” I guess I could also argue that while I might use Bloglines and del.icio.us in “combination” to find and bookmark interesting blog posts, it ain’t a “mashup” unless the two applications are trading data back and forth. So “mashup” marks it as something reasonably specific in a way that “combination” does not.

    Lastly, would you rather go to “Mashup Camp” or “Combination Camp?” Actually, I bet you object to “camp,” too. 🙂

  4. walt says:

    Steve, I never was one of the “cool kids,” and maybe that’s why some of the X2.0 terminology (including the thing itself) doesn’t agree with me. I’ve also never been much for neologisms that appear to duplicate existing words. This one isn’t a crusade by any means, just a little Saturday morning post on a disrupted weekend (computer replacement at work, email replacement at work…and I can’t get to my old email at the moment…)

    Camps? I wouldn’t go to either of those…but I don’t object to Camp for those trying to recapture their childhood… (Yes, I’m being snarky. Sorry about that.)

  5. Steve Lawson says:

    I don’t know about a “kid,” but you are cool in my book. (Of course, I am a complete dork, so you might not want to brag about that.)

    And my first and last sentences were snarky, too, but the two middle paragraphs were meant as a real answer to your title question, and why I personally think that having some special term is useful in this case.


  6. walt says:

    OK; maybe it’s a sufficient answer. I certainly don’t feel strongly about this one.

  7. Peter Murray says:

    …but it is a term of art among the NextGenLibrarian — someone who is fluent in CamelCase and when blogging (another jargon term) liberally includes references to only somewhat related webpages.


  8. walt says:

    The comment above is an example of why I still check SpamKarma’s list of “spam” (only 77 since 5 p.m. yesterday–I guess Blake’s changes are helping): It was flagged as spam, probably because of the multiple hyperlinks…

  9. John Dupuis says:

    “I have no idea what to make of that. Nursery rhymes as the new paradigm?”

    I think it’s because it sounds more evangelical, like preaching the gospel or something.

  10. Peter Murray says:

    It was flagged as spam…

    Probably because it was a snarky comment only one half step above spam. I’d say the spam filter was doing its job… 🙂

  11. Laura says:

    I frequently want to copy edit people’s blog posts (and I am contemplating a long letter to ALA Editions about one of their tomes that I’m currently reading), but I would nevertheless like to put in a word for the term “mashup.” I first heard it used to refer to music, as Steve did. As he notes, some musical mashups are great, and some are, well, mush. I think the same is true of web mashups, and that may well be part of why I like the term–it resonates for me.

    But I have, in general, far more sympathy for neologism than I do for what CS Lewis called “verbicide” in Studies in Words–murdering a word, often by inflating its meaning. “Awesome” is the classic late 20th century verbicide; “aggravating” is another. I’m on the verge of giving up on my insistence that “impact” is not a verb, but I’m not quite there yet. . . .

  12. walt says:

    Awesome, Laura! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

    OK, I’m convinced. “Mashup” has a legitimately distinct meaning in Web2.0 terms. So much for offhand Saturday morning posts…

  13. Steve Lawson says:

    Walt, just to show that I have my problems with certain words, too, I’ll just go ahead and say that if I read the word “cluetrain” again I may just throw up right on the keyboard (don’t think I have ever actually read it in print!). Something about the word “functionality” has never sat right. And it took me a while to come around to “granularity,” but just this week I was trying to convince a co-worker that it is a useful and meaningful word, not just a buzzword.

    I’m glad you wrote the original post. I guess I have a relatively high tolerance for nelogisms, so it is nice to be reminded that many people don’t, or that they have extra associations with a word that I don’t have. I remember Kris Johnson saying in her presentation for Higher Ed Blog Con that some of her faculty reacted very negatively to her library news blog simply because she called it a “blog.” If she had called it a “reverse-chronological, frequently-updated, library news website,” they probably wouldn’t have had any problem with it.

    Hmm. Other verbicides? “Deconstruct,” now used to mean “analyze” drives me bats.

  14. walt says:

    Hmm. “Cluetrain” is a bugaboo with me because it relates to a manifesto that’s been uncritically touted, with loads of universalisms in place, many of them no truer than most universalisms. [As you know, I don’t cotton to manifestos anyway.] Someone should (ahem) deconstruct it (sorry), with a high degree of (ahem) granularity, to see how many of the points really have much (cough-cough) functionality for a majority of real-world cases. Now that that’s out of the way…

    I have nothing against neologisms that actually say something new. I started out believing that “mashup” didn’t say anything new, at least as it relates to software. Now? I’m not sure.

    “Blog”/”weblog” is a nice compact term for a lightweight web content management system that typically presents items in reverse chronological order (“frequently updated” and “library news” are both aspects of some blogs, but certainly not most). As such, it’s distnctly useful. It gets messy when advocates assert that “it isn’t a blog unless [x]”, where [x] could be “it supports comments” or “it’s updated frequently” or “every post includes hyperlinks” or some other specious narrowing of the tool’s definitions.

  15. Steve Lawson says:


    *vomits on keyboard*

    No arguments from me on the usefulness/definition of “blog.” I think that some members of her faculty didn’t associate “blog” with “content management system” but with “inappropriately personal rantings of a egomaniac,” and so never even clicked through to see that her blog was professional and relevant.

  16. Laura says:

    I think it would be awesome if someone would deconstruct that manifesto with a high degree of granularity in order to ascertain its functionality for a broad spectrum of end users. . . I’d do it myself, if only that didn’t involve reading it.

    Anyway, your comment is one of the best laughs I’ve had in some time. Thanks.