Monday, January 17, 2011

Why iTunes Needs More Personal Folksonomic Control

My first blog post of the new year. I took a few weeks off after my list of the top 10 albums of 2010. I'd like to say it was a planned break, but honestly I just ran out of steam for a while. That's alright, though, because there are some great albums coming out this week that reinvigorated me. Before I get to them, though, I wanted to write about a topic that comes up in my head every once in a while (and in fact sparked a minor debate on my Facebook wall a few days ago). So I thought I'd run it up the flagpole and see if anyone else is interested in the topic.

I think iTunes needs to allow more ability to users to customize the organization of their iTunes libraries. Specifically, I want the ability to add searchable keywords and customizable sortable categories. What most recently brought it to my mind was a band's name change. Specifically, the band Castevet have decided to change their name to CSTVT. This sparked my mind toward my iTunes library. I already have releases by the band under the name Castevet. If later releases will be released under CSTVT, should I change the name of the previous releases? Or have the band listed under two different names in my library?

Thinking back to my cataloging class in grad school, the name given in a catalog record is the name that is listed with the work itself. But there is room in records to list alternate names. There are ways around this in iTunes (Composer field, Album Artist field), but it seems unnecessary to do so when the option could easily be added.

I'm not asking for much. I'm not asking for a specific Related Artists or Alternate Name or even Record Label field. I AM asking for a Secondary Genre field, but beyond that everything else is achievable through the addition of keyword fields. There is a Comments field, but that isn't easily searchable and adding unique tags to whole albums and individual songs is unnecessarily complex.

I feel like I might be rambling, so let me simplify. I want iTunes to add fields to their song info for user-created keywords. These fields would be searchable, the same way that the Album, Song and Artist fields are searchable. But while iTunes or the song file metadata provide the info for these fields, the individual iTunes user would fill in these fields themselves. Are you ever in a bad mood and you want angry music? You could use a tag in a keyword field like "angry," then when you type "angry" into the search area any song tagged like that would show up. Working on homework and feel like you're running out of steam? Use the tag "motivational" or "inspiring." Want music to listen to but don't feel like processing lyrics? Use the tag "instrumental."

These fields would also have use beyond these tags. You could create your own hashtags to better organize your library. Despite the inconvenience, I have used some tags in the comments field. Here are some examples of what I would do with more freedom (for this to work, there would have to be a decent amount of room for keywords, not like one or two keywords per song):

-#RA: - Related Artists - Bands or artists that are related to that specific artist. For example, if I typed #RA:Nirvana into the search, Foo Fighters (which I would have tagged with this) would show up. If I typed in #RA:OperationIvy (no spaces, to make it easier to search) would bring up Tim Armstrong, Rancid, etc.

-#L: - Label. Certain record labels are known for specific sounds. This isn't relevant much for Sony or Interscope, but would be helpful, for example, with #L:SuburbanHome, #L:FatWreck, #L:Epitaph or #L:MoonSka.

-#[source] - How I heard about the band. Sometimes that's something I like to know. I think to myself, what bands are in my library that I heard about through a Punknews podcast, like Red City Radio (#PunknewsPodcast). Or because they were one of the bands featured on Alternative Press's AP&R page (#AltPress).

These may seem to be complex to some readers, but this is how my mind works. It's what makes sense to me and it's how I think. Other users think in different ways so they would come up with different systems. Part of what I like about this system is that there would be no one "right" way to do it, it's flexible for a user's needs, desires and abilities.

If anyone reading this knows anyone at Apple, can you send this along to them?

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