Intel is planning to release a closed beta next month of a tool that allows random users to customise the content of a website without any interference from the publisher.
Intel researchers demonstrated Mashmaker last week at the company's Research at Intel Day. The application could expand a listing of rental properties, for example, with information about nearby restaurants.
The service dissects the contents of a web page and bundles it into categories. In a rental listing it recognises elements such as the property's price and address.
Mashmaker can then take the address information on other online services, such as restaurant listing site Yelp, and add a link to the restaurant overview.
The service currently relies on a server-based application where websites are loaded inside a frame. But a future version could rely on a browser plug-in, according to Rob Ennals, a senior researcher at Intel Labs in Berkeley, California.
Services that combine information from multiple sources in a single new service are known as mash-ups.
But mash-ups today rely on programmers combining information made available through XML standards such as RSS, or through application programming interfaces (APIs).
But setting up such services requires writing code, which puts the services out of reach of most users.
Intel's Mashmaker does not rely on XML or APIs. When available, XML tags provide an easy way to identify information. But users can also track down such information by looking at its structure.
A phone number, for instance, is typically jotted down in a few standard ways, and street addresses can be recognised fairly easy as well. It would be harder to pick out names of companies or people, however.
Mashmaker allows every user to create definitions of information items, and to build cross references. But it also relies on the collective wisdom of the masses by making the creations available to all other users of the application.
In the current version of the software, a user visiting a website will automatically receive suggestions for items that can be added without any coding.
Mashmaker adds the new information by adapting the original website. It stores the original website in a local cache, adds information from other sites and publishes the result on the user's screen.
Although this practice could raise copyright issues, Ennals does not expect any legal challenges because the application is not removing any advertising or breaking the website.
The project is confined to the research labs for now, and Intel has not decided whether it will be released to the public.
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