Standards versus conventions

Alf Eaton looked inside a Magnatune MP3 file to see what metadata is really contained there, and concluded that the media players indeed can show all of it: artist, title, date, and in the comment field, the text "" I checked and Alf's right: additional info about licensing and purchasing doesn't seem to be present.

Let's assume that the ID3 spec spelled out, in precise detail, how a company like Magnatune would embed its licensing and purchasing hooks into an MP3 -- in some more specific way that just dumping extra text into the comment field. From the perspective of the spec writers, it's case closed. Black and white. Either you conform to the spec or you don't. Done deal.

Except here's what these specs never talk about. In QuickTime/Mac, to access this metadata, I use the Get Movie Properties function ("Movie Properties" for a music track?), and then look inside Annotations. In RealOne/Mac, it's Window->Clip Info. In iTunes, File->Get Info. (In MediaPlayer/Mac, it's...never mind, can't seem to get that one to work at all.) At least the platform convention, Apple+I-key, invokes these differently-presented "get info" functions in a standard way.

Meanwhile over on Windows, another set of behaviors. Quicktime: Get Movie Properties->Annotations (Control-I). Real: File->Clip Properties->View Clip Info (Control-I). WinMedia: File->Properties->Content. WinMedia seems to lack an accelerator key. Arguably it's not needed, since WinMedia runs the metadata as a CNN-style crawl. But then, arguably, it is needed, because a License or Buy option would require a context for interaction, like a dialog box.

So here's the point, and I see the same thing in other metadata standardization efforts such as the RSS/Atom fiasco. Technologists focus on formats and APIs, because that's what we know. How users will interact with the formats and APIs is left as an exercise for the implementer. But of course that's where the rubber meets the road. So syndication still lacks a well-known mechanism for one-click subscribe. Online music lacks a well-known mechanism for one-click licensing or purchasing.

This is a crucial kind of standardization that tends to fall through the cracks. The IETF, W3C, and OASIS don't deal with such matters. Who could, and who should?

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