Observations and arguments.

Feeding the Beast

Statistics compiled from iTunes,
the work computer:

Total Songs: 5879 (20.31 GB)
Need Ratings: 2732 (9.29 GB)
Never Played: 180 (.82 GB)
Played Just Once: 1094 (3.8 GB)

The Played Just Once number is meaningful in that on any particular day I may get up from my desk several times without pausing iTunes. So that for a song to register (particularly one with which I am unfamiliar, e.g. those contributed by workmates), multiple listens are required.

Ratings are important within my listening habits; most of my playlists are Smart, and rating is almost always included among the determining criteria. (Unless it is a smart playlist of songs that need rating.)

Most music listeners, I have discovered, do not use ratings to help organize their music. They might wonder more specifically about the 3,000+ songs that I *have* made time to rate.

Of course, I am in the position of having to rate songs distributed across four separate computers. Moving songs from one machine to another is relatively simple, as Title, Artist, Album, Genre, Comment, and even Album Artwork is embedded within the MP3/AAC and travels from one iTunes database to another seamlessly.

Rating, however, is an attribute that resides in the master iTunes XML data file, so a song moved to another computer must be re-rated.

(Which would be less of a problem if my rating systems were the same on every computer on which I maintain an iTunes database–Although the distinctions are neither sharp enough nor the conversion process interesting enough to cover in depth.)

But the work computer is not merely a subset of the home iTunes database(s). Rather it functions as the portal for an increasing amount of new music, which in turn is fed back home.

For the first couple of years of working in an iTunes-centric environment (and certainly prior to April 2004), the primary influx of music came from those coworkers in my immediate vicinity. An ad hoc swapping system developed, as we offered each other the opportunity to rip CDs we’d each brought in from home. When iTunes 4 was announced in April of ’04, the greatest influx of music came not from the new $.99/track Music Store, but from the newfound ability to listen to the shared music on the local network.

And while the collective taste was weighted heavily away from traditional and towards electronica, one could often find a new or familiar album of interest amid the collection of a coworker six seats over, or even in the next room. Depending on the level of social interaction I had with that workmate, I could then ask her/him to drop me the album via a shared network volume, allowing me to add it to my own collection. In some cases the request was itself an excuse to initiate social interaction (e.g. “I was listening to your copy of the Jesus Christ Superstar original cast album. Doesn’t that rock?”).

But of course the technology that allowed for music streaming on a local area network can make it possible to download the MP3 or AAC files themselves. Enterprising programmers have seized upon this porthole ever since, creating tools with which one can acquire shared iTunes tracks without even needing to engage in the social interaction of asking for them.

(Each successive update to iTunes has attempted to disable these and other “helper” programs, but most of the attention has been focused on killing the Windows-based utilities. For whatever reason, Mac tools for downloading shared iTunes tracks have managed to survive.)

Now, imagine that one were to have such a tool in an environment such as my workplace, that features some dozens of computers running iTunes at any one time (this effect would of course be multiplied in a college dorm environment). The need to establish and maintain social relationships as part of the currency of filesharing is removed, and one is free to download shared tracks anonymously. Said downloading would be free of many of the vagaries of P2P networks, with a stable LAN connection and a pre-screening process by your workmates, who presumably wouldn’t keep poorly encoded music in their iTunes Libraries.

Of course over time using this tool one could identify trends in P2PLAN downloading, as a scan of multiple users on the network would reveal improbable clusters of duplicated tracks (in the libraries of downloaders who do not take advantage of iTunes’ ability to share merely a controlled subset of one’s complete library).

But most significantly this would allow a user to expand one’s music library at an extremely rapid pace (e.g., 2GB in a week) without cost or emotional investment.

Now should the RIAA’s representatives or allies raise a hackle at such behavior, I would remind anyone so hackled that the ongoing clusters of RIAA’s lawsuits have not targeted those who download but rather those hosting the files for downloading.

In this case, those sharing their music through iTunes are engaging in what Apple has established with the RIAA as non-infringing activity. It is the hypothetical downloader in this scenario (read: don’t look at me) who is prying open iTunes’ sharing feature to get stuff for free.

So then is it the creators of the downloading utility that should be targeted as “bad”? This is of course tied into the current Grokster Supreme Court case, in which corporate media is attempting to shut down technologies that are used for copyright infringing activities, regardless of whether the technology has a legitimate application.

Which legitimate application I use at home when juggling music between three computers on a network. For a track I have bought and downloaded from the iTunes Music Store I have been granted the rights to host that file on up to five computers, but there is no straightforward way to transfer that file from one machine to another.

Using one of these utilities to transfer the song seamlessly across the network to another of my iTunes databases makes this non-infringing activity a breeze. In fact, it only highlights the absence of such a feature in iTunes itself.

One of the many ways iTunes makes it inconvenient for me to enjoy the music I purchase, even when I am not infringing anyone’s copyrights.

* * * Quick Blessings Count * * *


I am neither a Dave Matthews fan nor a Windows user. Which is good because apparently the current DMB disc cannot be ripped on Windows machines. Upon insertion, a program attempts to install that will allow you to copy rights-protected Windows Media 9 files of the CD’s content to your hard drive. But that means they won’t play in iTunes and won’t transfer to an iPod.

Mac-using Dave Matthews fans have no such problem.

So, I’m just saying if I were a Dave Matthews fan, that would be blessing number 2.


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