Stanford, meet the lightnet. Apple, get a clue.

I'm continuing to enjoy the Stanford lectures I mentioned the other day, but the iTunes lock-in really bugs me. So today I liberated three of the feeds, in a modest effort to nudge Stanford in the direction of the lightnet.

It was an ironically circular exercise. I started at, which is just a web placeholder for the JavaScript code that launches iTunes and points it at the special Stanford area of the iTunes Music Store. Then I subscribed to some of the Stanford feeds in iTunes. Capturing the URLs of those feeds was way harder than it should be, because iTunes displays them but won't let you copy them.

Those feed URLs are, of course, extremely nasty-looking, e.g.:

You'd have to nuts to write something like that down. Well, I guess I am, because I did. My reasons were partly selfish. I want to be able to get directly to the audio URLs contained in those feeds so I can automate conversion to MP3. Why? I like to listen to long lectures while running, and my iPod isn't the preferred device in that situation. My Creative MUVO is lighter, and when I drop it or get it wet I don't have to worry so much.

More broadly, I want these freely available lectures to be able to spark the sort of web discourse that I'm sure Stanford intends them to. URLs are the currency of that discourse. If I want to refer you to Robert Dunbar's global warming talk I should be able to link you directly to it. Discussion about the talk should be discoverable on the web by way of that URL.

Here's what shouldn't have to happen, but currently does:

I heard an interesting talk about global warming by Stanford's Robert Dunbar. I wonder what you think about it? To listen, make sure you have iTunes installed, and then go to in a browser. From there, click the link to open iTunes. Then click on Faculty Lectures. Then scan the list for "Is Global Warming Real" or "Robert Dunbar".

So anyway, after laboriously capturing those feed URLs and posting them to, I turned around and subscribed to them in ... wait for it ... iTunes. It's a decent podcatcher, after all, and I'm technology-agnostic. I'll use anything for its strengths, while working around its weaknesses. The workaround, in this case, was simply to expose the feed URLs, and through them, the individual lecture URLs, to public discourse: linking, tagging, blogging, playlisting.

That is the kind of intellectual activity that Stanford wants to encourage, isn't it?

Update: Glenn Cole points out that you can, indeed, capture the URL of a track in the iTunes Music Store using CTRL-Click -> Copy iTunes Music Store URL. So, as Glenn says, the situation isn't quite as dire as I suggested. But it's still heavily Apple-centric. Note, for example, that in the Podcasts area of iTunes, the equivalent Copy operation will capture neither a feed URL nor the URL of an enclosed item. That's why I had to manually transcribe those Stanford feed URLs. If you were designing a podcatcher without an axe to grind, it would never even occur to you to make feed URLs uncopyable and not (easily) reusable.

Former URL: