is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
So I headed off to Walmart.com’s music section, the best kept secret for free and generally high quality album cover scans, and found the stuff I was looking for. Once there, I thought I might as well try and add artwork for some of the other songs in my library, too, especially some of the tracks I play most often. Not all of my music, thankfully, can be found at Wal-Mart, so I had to consult various other online sources for cover scans, jumping back and forth between two or three of them. Before I knew it, two hours had passed and I had added artwork to some three hundred tracks.
Music libraries bring out this level of fussiness in people. It doesn’t matter much whether a library is composed of vinyl albums or digital downloads, because people want to finesse them regardless of the media that carries the music. The intensely personal nature of music fandom leads some people to want to shape their collections in very particular ways, to take a completist’s approach to information that, in the long run, matters very little, except that it matters tremendously to them
I know I⁏m encroaching on “High Fidelity” territory here, but I mention this because I’ve noticed it more and more since recently buying my new iPod. Now that I have its ability to assign star ratings to tracks when on the road, I’ve been able to rate tons of songs that I had never bothered with before. As a result, I’ve been investing this database with hours of customization that I’ll lose forever unless I carefully protect (and regularly back up) my iTunes library and its XML meta data. In a world where just about any music can be downloaded anywhere, meta information is one of the few things that has absolutely unique intrinsic value.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Apple does a great job of recognizing how important that meta data is. For one thing, it’s hidden away in the Music folder of my Macintosh, so I’m not sure that, even if you’re diligent about backing up all of your documents, you’d remember to back that one up.
That data is also disappointingly difficult to transport. All of the ratings and album art I’ve added to my database are stranded on my PowerBook — my principal music library. I have a different iTunes music library at the office — it’s similar to the one on my laptop, though for specific reasons, it has many songs that I don’t have at home, and is missing many that I do. If I had identical music libraries, it would be easy to reap the benefits of the customization I have on my PowerBook while at work, but that’s unfortunately not the case.
It would be terrific if someone very sharp would write a piece of software that would allow me to take the two music libraries and, synchronizing over a local network, apply any ratings and/or art on my laptop’s iTunes library with my office machine’s iTunes library. Of course, that’s not the kind of software innovation that will make anyone a million dollars, but for people like me who like to waste their time finessing their collections, it would be a real boon.+