This type represents any content that has an autio-trach, such as music, a podcast, etc.
Recent comments on the iPad made me realise something: Apple is very slowly moving away from a generic file system to microcontent silo’s. I am not sure about the how and when, but I recognise the following steps.
I think it all started with the Address Book application. This standard address book already existed during the NeXT-period. This application allows a user to manage contact information about persons. For each person (or business) the application creates a card. These cards are stored in a data silo (AddressBook.data). This data silo is a closed one, i.e. I am not able to look into it, but through the AddressBook application. As other applications also like to use address information, Apple created an API in order to get access (and change) this data. So what one sees here is a closed data structure, which is only accessible through Apple created and authorised API’s. Note that in NeXTstep this silo was more open, i.e. one could see the individual cards as separate files.
With the introduction of MacOSX a more structured approach towards file organisation was chosen. We saw the introduction of standard folders for Pictures, Movies, Music and Documents. This approach is also inherited from NeXTstep, but has been extended to more file types. Naturally the corresponding application such as iTunes and iPhoto stored their data in these folders.
However there is no guarantee that users did indeed store their corresponding data in these folders. When starting iTunes for the first time, it asked the user if it should consolidate all the music files of the users. This implied that all the files iTunes could find would be copied into the iTunes music folders. And there is still a preference for making a copy of music files when importing. And iPhoto has taken a similar approach to images. In addition iTunes and iPhoto force a detailed folder structure.
In the beginning we only had open silo’s. Users could still access the individual files through the Finder. A drawback of this is that users can corrupt the database. So for iPhoto Apple closed this hole (I am not sure at what version of the app this happened). They hid the photo file structure in a package, which is not easily accessible. In the file browser a user will see just a single file for the entire library.
With the closing of the images folder structure a real data silo has been created. As images are no longer easy to access through the browser, another access method is required. For their applications, such as Pages, Apple introduced the Media Browser. Through this Media Browser window users can access the data silos of iPhoto and iTunes and the Movies folder.
Unfortunately this is only a limited access to the images and music. It could be extended to the whole pictures and music folders. Also the usage of this media browser approach seems to be limited to applications created by Apple. As a solution to this Karelia introduced the iMedia Browser. With this iMedia browser one can access the entire pictures and music folder.
The number of microcontent types which have a corresponding data silo is slowly growing. The iMedia Browser added the microcontent type links. This window pane maps the bookmark folders of various web browsers. Also iTunes added a whole series of subcategories for ‘music’ (audiobooks, movies, iTunes U, applications), which diluted the idea of the music folder. However with time the iTunes app enlarged the coverage of this data silo to other MicroContent types. I am not sure whether this is a good thing though.
In addition to these Apple data silo’s, we have also application specific silo’s. Thus an application such as MacGourmet has it’s own database for recipes, which is not sharable with other recipe applications.
With the advent of the iPhoneOs we see another closing step. No longer a file browser is available to the users. There are only application specific data silo’s. No longer the user can mess with the files. If an application would like to use another data silo, it has to go through Apple defined API’s. This access method might entail a privacy risk, which need to be closed. This security risk also exists under MacOSX, but seems less relevant because less application are installed.
It seems that Apple has created some other data silo’s, but it is unclear which without access to the developer tools. Hardcore users are able to access the folders and files on the iPhone. The usage and access to this folders is deemed illegal by Apple.
The iPad seems to extend the idea of data silo’s to any document type. The idea seems to be that each application has it’s own silo. Naturally the iPad knows the standard MicroContent types as pictures and music. But we also see YouTube Video’s and iBooks. This is a fairly logical extension. However they also use the idea for more generic document types, such as presentations. The application suite iWork for the iPad also supports a media browser, so there is a method to mix MicroContent types.
For users I guess this is all a good development. Things will become much easier. I hope however that an extra method, such as tags, of organising files will introduced. I have doubts whether the current approach is sufficient when there are lots of files (or should I say MicroContent Items?).
I created a profile on blip.fm. It took me a long time to figure out how it worked. I hoped it would detect which songs I listened to in iTunes. I did set up audioscrobbler after all. So it is much easier to just look at my last.fm page.
So what does blip.fm add. Basically it just allows to add a microblog comment to each song that is played. I already record some of these things on various microblogs, so this does not add much.
So what is left, is the social component, the DJ. I wonder whether this adds something over last.fm. So I can’t be enthusiastic at the moment about this service.
I created an account for the MyStrands service. They have an associated application that goes with it.
The service works around music. The application allows you start and stop music from the iTunes library. If the track is recognised the app shows recommended tracks. When the application starts it upload the iTunes library. I guess this is for the recommendations, however these only come after one has played something.
On the site a list of recently played tracks are shown. Also a list of recommended artists and tracks are shown. strangely it asks me whether I know artists that are already in my iTunes library. It should have known that. You can indicate whether you know tracks and artists.
As an aggregating service you can also view top tracks, artists, etc. And there are the standard community features. And finally there are Parties, which I have not chequed out.
Drawbacks are that I can not listen to recommended music, just teasers. And why RealMedia?
I am afraid that I stick with Last.fm, I do not see any advantages and see more drawbacks.
John Gruber blogs about ringtones and is amazed that it is such a big business and ripoff as well. I always thought as ringtones as just short audio pieces. However I do not really have experience with it, although I did see the ridiculous high prices.
Now I wonder how open this all is. Can I create a ringtone myself? Can I download it then to a phone? Which phones are then supported? What does this eco-system look like? And if it is open, why do people pay so much?
A nice discussion on the question whether tagging is a disruptive innovation. If I look at myself, I do not find it disruptive, yet? I am still struggling in using it. I like to use it, but have not yet find the right workflow. I am investigating whether I can extend tagging to the files in my filesystem.
The question of disruption is interesting. Are there other themes in the MicroContent world worthy of disruption. If I think about audio, video and images, I do see a disruption. For digital images it is all clear, the old camera passed away already. Sharing, printing and taking images is now done in a totally different way. And I guess the same is now how happening for audio. And we are just waiting for it to happen in the video market.
I just discover this new acronym, DLNA. It stands for Digital Living Network Alliance. It is all about scharing audio, video and images through a local network. This sounds very MicroContent-like. The idea is that a DLNA-server can publish these MicroContent types towards DLNA-clients. And that is how I discovered. The latest upgrade of the Playstation 3 sofware, version 1.8, contains a DLNA-client.
So I started right away looking for a server that would publish these MicroContent types on my Mac to the world. And there does not seem to be much. I found TwonkyMedia by Twonky Vision. It seems to work reasonably, I can not see all file types, but that seems to be a problem of the PS3. STill have to investigate a bit further. Installation is very simple and configuration does not seem necessary.
I wonder whether DLNA can be extended to other MicroContent types?
I had a look at the Audio MicroContent Client Application Songbird. This application falls in the category of iTunes. It seems like a pretty complete application and introduces some interesting new features.
The most prominent one is the integration with a web-browser. One can use the application to browse web-sites. This sounds weird until one browses pages which include MP3 links. The application detects these links and shows them as a list of audio Items. Clicking on one item start playing the corresponding audio file.
So think as these audio files as attachments to web-pages. One can not call them microformats as the files themselves are not embedded in the web-page. And think of the web-page as a List, as a Playlist. In this way the web-page becomes some kind of metadata related to the playlist.
I thinks this approach is interesting and introduces some new conceptual ground. And natutally the integration with the web in a standard way makes it very interesting.
And they are only on version 0.2 and it seems to work well. I will check it in some more detail in the future.
By the way I *hate* the interface, very unMac-like. For me a reason not to use the app.
[Inspiration Read/Write Web]
The iLike add-on adds itself to iTunes as a drawer (under MacOSX). It does not work as a real drawer as it is impossible to close totally. The drawer presents songs related to the song that is currently playing. By clicking on a song a user can hear a sample or see detailed information on the artist/song. There is also a list of related songs that one can download. These seem to be songs by relatively unknown (new) artists. The quality of the recommendations seem OK, although a bit straightforward.
I like to see recommendations. However I am not sure about this approach. The user must watch the screen to see the recommendations appear. I much prefer a Pandora or Last.fm approach. I like listening to the recommendations.
When we talk about MicroContent we usually assume the PC as the environment for interacting with it. Naturally this is slowly moving into MP3-players with audio and video, and also on mobile phones. Naturally also the television in the living must be seen as such an environment. And with the browser on the Wii my interest in this environment has started, again.
The last time I looked at this environment in combination with the Internet was many years ago with a web-browser on the Sega Saturn, on Philips CDi, the WebTV terminal and other devices. I never got enthusiastic about this and stopped pursuing it. And I must say the web-browser on the Wii does help. The Web on a television screen is still a lousy combination. The lack of resolution, screen space and viewing distance make reading a standard web-page very hard. This can only be solved by creating television screen specific style sheets. I have no idea whether any advances have been made here. Aren't there any special pages for web-tv?
After playing a bit with the web-browser on the Wii, I see some possibilities of MicroContent on TV's. The first MicroContent Types that come to mind are news in the form of blogs, video (naturally), audio, images and weather. This can be in the form of dedicated applications or services. Just look at the Wii weather channel. And I am anxiously awaiting the dedicated news channel. Naturally also a standard web-browser could be used, but there must be large change in page design to make it suitable for a television screen. I looked for a while at the last.tv service on a Wii and that works pretty well. This service streams video clips from Youtube based on your last.fm profile. And this works on a television screen. One can imagine similar services for images (slide shows) and audio. A did not see a text-based service yet that works well on television screens (however think teletext here).
A problem with MicroContent is that one needs a way to select Items, whether they be movies, audio tracks, DVD's, streams, channels, games or whatever. Probably Items will be made accessible with very hierarchical folder/file browsers such as FrontRow or MediaCentral. The Wii by the way has an approach to this that is not very scalable.
One might see other file browser approaches with an increase in television resolution. With HD-ready (1280x760) and HD (1920x1080) resolution we have something that compares to computer screens, which allows much more detail even at larger viewing distances.
A television has never been seen as computer systems. Televisions only had analogue tuners incorporated or could be used as screens for DVD players or video recorders. In the future a television will become more like a computer, which is now added with add-ons such as a game consoles. These should be networked televisions that must be able to pull MicroContent from PC's in the home or from the Internet using wireless naturally. It should incorporate streaming and downloading MicroContent to the television. I have the impression that the consumer electronics companies do not make much progress here. Only consoles, such as Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox seem to open televisions to Internet. Or we have to wait for Microsoft and Apple to create interconnecting boxes. So there is still a hardware gap to fill.
Then we need an operating system for the TV, such as the Wii interface or FrontRow. This operating system must be intelligent enough to pull MicroContent from all kinds of places. And finally we need services, which can be RSS-feeds connected to the browser, specific hybrid apps or generic web-browser apps.
All in all this still a large spectrum to be filled in. Time for the television to open up and no longer be a closed garden.
I have been playing a bit with lyrics of the music I play. The metadata in iTunes have a field that allow to store data. The ID3v2 tagging system of MP3's allows to store these lyrics.
Unfortunately when you rip a CD, download it or buy it from the ITMS one does not get these lyrics. This implies that one has retreive these from the Internet, via a search engine. I came across a widget, Harmonic, that retrieves the lyrics of songs that are playing and paste them automatically into the right iTunes field. It works pretty well, but I have to do the search by hand quite often (European issue?).
This brings me to two things. We really need a lyrics aggregation service with a good API. I have the impression that the data is out there, but is not aggregated. And probably a microformat to go with it. And why do we not get all this information when we get something from Internet. Publisher should pay attention to the metadata of music. (there is a similar problem with CD covers).
And why are the lyrics so hidden. I would like to see the lyrics moving by while the music is playing. I assume that this is partly due to the use of MP3 and other formats that do not allow this. And the applications do not allow this either.