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Digital Bookmark Mods
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Enhanced Podcasting and Presentations (Even Without iTunes)

One really cool thing about mp4 files is that they're not in a proprietary format; rather, they're based upon a published and well-known specification. Thus, any player that conforms to that spec should be able to play the file you just created. This is great for us, because it means we're not stuck with iTunes if we don't want to be. Instead, we can choose to listen to and view content in a more versatile player such as QuickTime, if the situation calls for it. Watching a montage, reviewing a presentation, or checking out a high-resolution enhanced podcast are a few examples of where QuickTime outshines iTunes. Until iTunes improves its viewing options, you can get a handy AppleScript that opens the current selection in QuickTime here.

Distributing Your Digital Media Mods

Apple's ChapterTool is simple and elegant, and it's allowed us to cover most everything you can do (for now) so far as digital bookmarking and creating enhanced podcasts goes. But what about distributing the mods you've made? You see, bookmarking is a lot like indexing; it's something that could be mechanical, but it's likely to turn out a lot better if you put some thought into it.

For example, there's no other way to bookmark an audio book into its chapters or sections without listening to it and making notes of where breaks occur. Trust me, this is a chore you wouldn't want to wish upon anyone--so why not share the fruit of your labor whenever you do have to take the time and drudge through it?

Or for another example, suppose you took some really cool pictures of at that last Coldplay concert you went to, and being the artistic genius you are, you've weaved together a sweet little montage for their entire X & Y album. "But wait a minute," you say. "I can't distribute those modified files, because that would violate DRM, and if I bought the tracks from the iTMS, someone else couldn't even play them anyway." Well, I concede your analysis so far, but what if you didn't distribute the actual audio files themselves? Instead, what if you cleverly decided to distribute only your XML and image files that you used to produce your fanciful little craft. Guess what? It would work, and you'd be able to stay legal.

Ideally, here's what would happen. You'd be perusing your music library in iTunes and say, "Hey, I really like this song. I wonder if someone has prepared any cool mods for it? I sure would like to see a cool slideshow." Then you'd take a look on some page that aggregates everyone's mods, find your song, and pick one of the mods that fits your bill, and "install" the mod (more to come in a moment on an "install" tool). Mods would, of course, be published with a descriptive summary and come in a standardized format.

In fact, this whole concept could actually be pretty simple if we all agreed to play by the same rules when creating our mods. Here are a few commandments that can keep us all on the same page and able to easily share:

  • Thou shalt use iTunes (at least for now) to organize your media.
    • iTunes organizes media in a specific standardized way and can be easily located by the "install" tool.
  • Thou shalt download the ChapterTool and place it somewhere in your path.
    • Apple's license agreement forbids anyone else to embed it in their software, so you really do have to get it yourself or else face the wrath of Steve.
    • Copy it somewhere like /usr/bin/ and type which ChapterTool in Terminal to verify it's in your path.
  • Thou shalt name your XML file mod.xml and package your XML file and additional content in as a gzipped tarball. Place it in a publicly accessible location such as your iDisk to share it.
    • The install tool needs to have content that's packaged in a single standardized way to successfully unpack and install it.
    • In Terminal, go into the folder containing your content and type tar czvf [yourPackageName].tar.gz * to package it all up. Do not package the containing folder itself. (Recall that double-clicking on a tarball does create a containing folder by default, but untarring via the command line does not. Our script will be untarring command-line style.)
    • Until something more industrial picks up, just publish your mod with a link to the package and a description.
  • Thou shalt place this AppleScript in your ~/Library/iTunes/Scripts folder (creating that directory necessary) and use it to fetch other people's mods.
    • This script is the previously alluded to "install" tool. Making it accessible from within iTunes facilitates the whole workflow once everything is set up. Note that it copies your original tracks to the safe location ~/Music/preModdedTracks just in case bad stuff were to happen. It wouldn't be too hard to work up an additional AppleScript that reverted the modded track back to the original if you wanted that flexibility.
  • Thou shalt place a README file in the package to identify yourself, revisions to the package, etc.
    • Self-explanatory. Good for the PR, tracking changes, pointing to other mods you've done, and so forth. Why not pat yourself on the back?

Clearly, a much more industrial-strength solution would be desirable. An app to package and upload mods you want to share to some central repository semi-automatically, and a tailored mechanism involving RSS or Atom for subscribing to other people's mods, would be a good start. But since we don't have that kind of momentum (yet anyway), let's just be pragmatic, hack things the old-fashioned way, and simply use the discussion area below to share our mods. If things get hot, I'm sure someone will work up more robust solution, and if they don't, then I will.

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