Web Development Blog

Building mashups for the society (Mashup Australia) – Part II

Australia is a land of character with unique heritage and cultural identity. So when we had a chance to showcase the country’s historic images from Australian War Memorial Photo Collection, Powerhouse Museum Photo Collection, State Library of NSW Photo Collection and State Library of Queensland Photo Collection for the Mashup Australia, the first thing we thought of was how could we possibly help other Australians gain an insight, interpret, and enjoy exploring the history of the country.

A picture speaks a thousand words but a picture alone is not sufficient enough to describe everything. Therefore, when building Historic Australia, we tried to obtain as many related data as possible from other data sources and APIs. For example, for every photo with geo-location information, we display up to 3 Wikipedia entries located near by. Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia which has been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world, and is a great example of Web 2.0 service made possible by the society. Using this service, we are able to let viewers obtain more information about the location of where the photo was taken with a single mouse click. Secondly, we use Google Maps Street View API to present the current photo side by side with the historic photo. This allows viewers to have a quick overview of what has been changed over the decades (or even centuries). Whenever possible, similar photos from Flickr are displayed to enhance understanding or to simply add variety to the viewer’s experience.

This app is intended not just for researchers or history educators but for anyone who is interested in Australian history, culture and literature and appreciate the heritage of this country.

Technologies we use

Google Maps API
We use Google Maps API v2 for map integration. Some of the features that we incorporated include map type and street view. We are using Terrain map type instead of the default map type because it increases aesthetic appeal and simplify the look and feel of the map because we do not need to show road information, street numbers, etc. We also integrated Street View which provides 360° panoramic street level view of a location. This enables viewers to explore streets virtually and make the viewing experince more fun and interesting.

Flickr API
Since the Photo Collections are made available on Flickr, we use Flickr API to obtain the photos by specifying the user id of the Flickr account. Although there are other ways of obtaining photos from Flickr, we use this method because it can be applied to any Flickr account. For example, if someone or an organisation starts sharing historic photos of Australia onto Flickr, we are able to include photos from that Flickr account to our app in no time. Flickr maintains a directory of apps that use the API and it is called The App Garden. We recommend anyone to browse through The App Garden for inspirations and ideas.

Geonames Webservice for Wikipedia
In order to obtain nearby Wikipedia entries, we use GeoNames’s Wikipedia webservice. The service we are using returns a list of Wikipedia entries in XML, JSON or RSS format when you pass lat/long values of a location. The webservice is pretty powerful because you can pass other paramaeters with your request such as radius in km, total number of results or even get it to do reverse geocoding by passing an address instead of lat/long values. Geoname’s webservices are provided under creative commons attribution license.

LAMP Environment
As with the other apps we created for Mashup Australia, we use LAMP(Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). And since we are requesting a lot of data via APIs, we are using Cache Lite as our caching system to cache query results and speed up the app’s load time.

In Part I of building mashups for the society, we talked about iPhone web applications we developed that use locations of Centrelink offices and locations of Medicare offices datasets.

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If you like our apps, you can vote for us at the Mashup Australia website: Centrelink Offices Near You, Medicare Offices Near You and Historic Australia – Interactive Photos Map.