Steve Walker

Some less or more well-organised thoughts

Archive for January 2008

On the usability of mp3 players

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I recently bought myself a new mp3 player. Not being a fetishist about these things it’s rather modest, but does the job of allowing me to listen to music while moving around. I have been frustrated in the past by such players’ inability (or at best clumsiness) in dealing with music which comes in formats other than the songs on albums; string quartets, operas etc do not map easily into this model. Listening sequentially to Hildegaard of Bingen, Jimi Hendrix and the overture to an atonal opera (Berg) might excite some by it’s radical aesthetic, but not me. As frustrated users are wont to, I first assumed it was something I was doing wrong. I spent some time last night trawling message boards, but finding that Jack Schofield is similarly frustrated reassured me.

It’s actually an example of how, increasingly, software and data standards buld into them representations of the world that then restrict the freedom of maneuvre for the future. There’s no technical reason for this (see Nicholas Negroponte’s vamp on restrictive approaches to digital TV formats in Being Digital (1996)). My mp3 is a relatively trivial example, but in a networked world the rules for how and what get networked become increasingly important, and to change once they have escaped into the wild. They are far too infrequently debated, not least because of the commercial interests at play and the arcane nature of many of the debates.

Written by Steve

January 16, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized