Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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ID3

635 words

Chris recently made a note or two or three on music file metadata and how its situation could be improved.

Indeed, apart from cover art and a few other metadata tags, iTunes handling of song file metadata hasn’t developed too much over the past years. In part that is because there are only limited metadata which are commonly present in files and which are commonly considered useful and worth adding to the files.

And there are other ‘metadata’ (or rather ‘tags’ as the word metadata may not be fully appropriate for all of them) such as the album cover art, lyrics or extra links which may well be cool but which will never be included unless there’s widespread support for them. Just look at album cover art: Why bother including it in your files if you don’t have a player that actually displays it and uses it? But once iTunes offered support for cover art, people started being interested in and even keen on getting cover art for their MP3 files.

I assume that the same would be true for other information like lyrics or dates: Once there is a decent interface for actually using those data, people will be interested in having them in their files. - And a lot of time will be wasted by people who are adding more metadata to their music libraries once again.

The cool thing is that – as far as I can tell after reading information on ID3 tags – all the features I can currently think of (including a ‘Mood’ field!) are already supported by the tag structure as it exists today. So, for a change, at least the planning of the structure isn’t too bad in this case (well the n-th revision of it anyway). However, many of the features that the tag structure permits simply aren’t accessible from mainstream applications such as iTunes. Potentially for the good reason that adding a UI for all those possible tags which people don’t use anyway would be horrific, I am tempted to add.

Even better – to the best of my understanding, the latest ID3 tags even allow multiple fields for each tag. Thus, in priciple, you should be able to store multiple artist (or other) information right in the tags as they exist today by just separating them with the ‘termination code’ (Unicode 9C ??). But, once again, this isn’t worth much if it isn’t supported well by software. Which it isn’t. In fact I couldn’t manage to get that character into my tags at all so far.

So my wish: Give us proper support for those multiple item entries to begin with. The step after that could be to add support for further fields such as lyrics. But as much as I’d like to have that kind of information in my files – I’m not inclined to type it all up or even browse around the web for hours just to collect it and add it to my files one by one. So, for this to work well, we’d need a server to collect and distribute the metadata.

But to me it looks unlikely to be happening: Existing services like CDDB would have a good starting point. But their data seem to be mainly typed up by dyslexics, so I’m not sure they’ll be able to deliver a reasonably high quality. On the other hand, any newly created free and public service probably won’t be used by applications like iTunes unless it has proven its worth. Finally, Apple themselves won’t be inclined to do this because they’d be more inclined to do it only for iTMS rather than for the general music loving public. And, as iTMS looks today, they aren’t particularly good at managing the small amount of metadata that are provided with the files today.

March 24, 2005, 1:07

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