In addition to a hysterical design concept, graphpaper.com has a cool post by Chris Fahey on the concept of ownership in the media world.
Slightly restated and abstracted, the point might be that impending total internet connectivity might provide an opportunity for content owners to reclaim some degree of control, because local files will be rendered as irrelevant as the CD was five to ten years back. To put it another way, if CDs were typewriters and MP3s were Microsoft Word documents, Imeem and Last.fm and other streaming services could become the Google Docs of music -- a powerful, compelling online interface to the content that makes you forget that you don't actually control the files containing it.
Down in the comments, Fahey suggests that a heretofore unforeseen level of innovation is called for.
Offering cool ways to just browse a dumb database, which iTunes is and which last.fm largely is, too, wonâ€™t be enough.
I'm not so sure I agree with that, simply because I can't ever say I've seen it done. The closest I've seen online is the AllMusic Guide, which is great, but also offers database services for the music industry and as a result contains very little by way of user interaction and tends to be a little clinical at times since it's often used as a means of professional verification by people active within the industry. What's more, a brief (as in, one night when I happened to log on during a testing period) foray into audio has been largely abandoned -- which is a travesty, if you ask me -- and they've still never recovered from the absurd interface they skinned the site with six or seven years back, which typically requires half a dozen clicks, each with a page reload, to get to the information you want.
The closest I've seen in a local application is the CoverFlow function in iTunes, but at the end of the day that's all glitz and very little substance. Smart Playlists are the closest thing we've seen to a functional evolution, but in iTunes the query logic is fantastically dumbed down. Even in other more advanced incarnations, such as the Media Views available in Winamp, the available metadata fields are limited and populating them takes more time than most people have. That is, instead of having to manually add "Greenwich Village Folk" to the comment field of every qualifying MP3 in my collection, I'd like an application that can query AllMusic and connect Bob Dylan to Phil Ochs without requiring each user to separately tag every individual file -- especially since musicians are just people, and their relationships are constantly changing just like anybody else's (who is the lead singer of Van Halen this week?).
I am also not so sure about the title he gave the post: "R.I.P.: Owning Music (1880-2008)." I think he's on the right track, and a few of the bleeding-edge industry players are as well, but it's a little premature to pronounce media ownership dead when the alternative he's so excited about doesn't yet exist.
But let's get back on topic -- back in 2001 or so, I was naive enough to write off the iPod simply because I was expecting that the next generation of portable media player would be a "thin client" that would connect over the internet to my home music collection instead of redundantly carrying the files along with it on a hard drive. So far we still haven't really departed from that model.
As Fahey points out, Rhapsody was a step in the right direction, and indeed I was very excited about it in the early days. The deal breaker for me was that a lot of the music I wanted -- and already had on my hard drive -- was not present on Rhapsody, and even though they used a desktop application for delivery, they didn't allow you to mix local MP3s with Rhapsody streams in the program's playlists. This meant that every listening session had to consist exclusively of either Rhapsody streams (via their player) or local files (via Winamp). I didn't think this was a cognitively coherent way to approach music, and it was enough of an annoyance to send me back to Kazaa.
My anti-Pod ideal music player from ages ago was essentially a "big jukebox in the sky" with minimal local hardware and an awesome and personalized music library stored remotely. I was mostly trying to keep my pants pockets light, but Fahey is essentially extending that same concept to all interactions with music.
The sad thing, I think, is that I'm still waiting after all these years for something even remotely approaching the "jukebox in the sky". I'm a bit closer with the media server I am running out of Winamp, but there's still a long way to go.
If only somebody made a well-designed portable music player with internet connectivity...
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