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Jukebox Challenge

For Christmas I burned music CD?s for friends and family. I also was able to experience firsthand the maddening challenges of maintaining an MP3 collection and the usability problems of Music Match Software.

Now that I have started to download mp3?s like crazy, I have realized what a bother it can be. Most of these problems are in fact database and system management problems, hardly unique to music collections.

The first problem is backup; how do you have a backup system for your mp3?s without spoiling the paths of your current music library? Okay, it?s possible to set up schedules for backing up, but that implies the existence of ?current? folder as well as ?archived? folders. But Music Match doesn?t really ?find? your mp3?s. Instead you need to tell what path to use. Music Match provided an impressive way to back up a large number of mp3?s, but then it assumes that you will continue to add mp3?s to the same directory. In fact, you will be relegating the files to another ?archives? folder, spoiling the path of playlists. To add more than one MP3 directory to your path, you need to manually select all that need to go into the music catalog. Uggh!

The second problem is transliterated names. Many of the selections by singers from China, India and Russia have English transliterations, but there are wide inconsistencies in spelling these transliterations in English. As a result, one can have problems finding tracks by the great Egyptian diva, Om Kulthoum when you look under Um Kalsoum (real example). This may not be a big problem when most big Chinese singers use names such as ? Sammi Cheng? or ?Vivian Chow.? But what happens when the Asian market outshines our own, and such singers no longer cater to Western audiences? The solution is some sort of ?alias matching? application that can do fuzzy associations between different versions of the same name.

The third problem is interface, one which I discovered with music match. I don?t consider music match to be a bad program; it is just extremely complicated. The interface consists of several different windows, and there are different ways to play the same song. Also, apparently a lot of mp3?s are inadequately labeled, leaving you many tracks under the name ?Miscellaneous? ?Artist? or ?Various Artists.? And the documentation, though quite adequate, seems to dwarf and even minimize the main application window.

Another interface-related problem is that the program can only handle one playlist or burn operation at a time. I am constantly trying to compare what?s on different playlists, and the only way to do so is close one playlist to open the other. By itself, it wouldn?t be awful, except that the music player can only use the current playlist, so if you are making new playlists, you are constantly interrupting the music playing in the background.

They have a separate interface for the playlist and the cd burner. Although the CD burner lists times for each song, oddly enough the playlist doesn?t do this. Although you can remove songs from the CD burner file list, you are not in fact modifying the playlist itself, only the list of burnable songs.

With that said, let me say that Music Match seems to be one of the best products on the market today, which only shows you how hard the task it is trying to solve has become. I won?t even begin to touch the issue of digital rights management, something Music Match thankfully doesn?t try to incorporate into their program. But that is the future, and it is only natural that music companies would force software jukeboxes to incorporate DRM.

Lawrence Lessig wrote an interesting piece for Slashdot. http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/12/21/155221&mode=thread

Here?s an interesting response to the article about the copyright controversy.

“When something like “happy birthday to you” or “gone with the wind” becomes so much a part of our culture, how can we justify leaving its reins in the hands of the person who happened to put the words together – for an entire lifetime? The author synthesized it from the intellectual beams and trusses of our culture, and our culture then assimilates it. We whistle its tunes and quote its catchphrases, but we can’t use it to build larger monuments in the commons. With current trends, none of our descendants will, either – but even with a 75 year copyright, our children’s children will be grown before that right would become available to them. I’ll be dead before I can write variations on “Just another brick in the wall”, share a copy of the out-of-production “Swing Kids”, or put on a production of “Phantom of the Opera” in my neighborhood. “

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