NOTE: Our Insiders
are downloading and testing a fantastic new version of LindowsOS which
I'll talk about next week (hint: laptops). Now something else is
weighing on my mind....
My hometown of San Diego was recently hit by devastating wildfires which
burned countless homes and acreage. The unpredictable nature of fires makes them
difficult to prevent and they often cause massive losses. On December 3rd,
another fire is actually scheduled to take place in San Diego, and
it will burn to the ground the largest collection of digital works
ever assembled. We're certain this blaze is scheduled to happen; the question is,
can we stop it in the next 2 weeks?
San Diego is home to MP3.com, the largest digital music site on the
planet. It all started 6 years ago in an extra room of my house, and it
grew into a global phenomenon. Artists from around the world -- whether
they were a famous star or the newest hobbyist -- posted their music to
MP3.com for the world to experience. At virtually any event that had at
least 100 people in attendance, I could ask the crowd if anyone had
music on MP3.com and a few shy hands would be raised. For some it was
all business, for some it was a way to share music with family, and for
others it was a place to get feedback from the community to improve
their musical ability and to connect with fans. Today, MP3.com has more
than 1 million full-length songs from more than 250,000 artists,
available for people to listen to and download. The majority of this
music cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
MP3.com wasn't always a giant music archive. It started off as a tiny
music site promoting the consumer-friendly MP3 format with just a
handful of web pages showcasing less than 20 songs. We soon created
an automated way for folks to add their own music in a self-serve manner,
and the amount of music exploded far beyond what anyone had expected. At
first, 3 bands a day were signing up, then 10, 20, 50, 100 -- until
eventually, more than 200 bands per day were adding their music to the
site. Formally unknown artists such as Emily Richards, bassic, trancecontrol, Killer Spam Comedy, and many
others used MP3.com to gain fame as independent artists, each gaining a
massive fan-base all over the world, generating millions of downloads
and selling thousands of CD's.
This initial, rich catalog of music, along with early MP3
developments like Winamp, Rio (one of the first MP3 players which the
music industry unsuccessfully sued), and MusicMatch (the first easy to
use MP3 creation program) created a globally accepted standard.
Consumers gained complete control over their own music collections, and
digital music was sent in a listener-friendly trajectory. The music
efforts making news today are standing on the shoulders of these early
Along the way, MP3.com faced ups and downs in the business realm and the
courthouse, but eventually was purchased by the largest music company in
the world, Vivendi Universal. Last week, VU announced the sale of MP3.com
to Cnet. Conspiracists have publicly said that VU's intention all along
was simply to shut down MP3.com, erasing the MP3 format and the
digital collection of artists' work; that's complete nonsense. You don't
spend nearly $400 million on property you intend to destroy. In fact,
VU deployed the technology and people from MP3.com throughout their
media empire. VU now uses a customer tracking system across its media
properties to manage email campaigns and profile music listeners in a
scientific way. They took the digital publishing engine MP3.com
perfected, and now have the most advanced digital publishing architecture
in the world. Music goes from the recording studio directly into a digital
library, where it can be sent to the CD pressing plant, music
subscription systems, publishing libraries, and much more -- all digitally
and precisely tracked. VU also took the my.mp3 subscription system and
used it as the foundation of the Pressplay, which became the recently
launched Napster 2.0 music subscription system.
Lost in all this
corporate development was the actual library of more than 1 million
songs. It simply didn't fit into any of Vivendi's corporate initiatives.
A few days ago VU sent out the announcement that the url MP3.com had
been sold and the new owner was not taking possession of the music and
band pages. This means the music will die, disappear, and vanish forever.
MP3.com is a global treasure. First off, it is the largest music site in
the world, nothing else is even close. And as I mentioned, it contains a
diversity of music found nowhere else. If you want Britney Spears, there
are lots of places to go. If you want Brittany Bauhaus, Brittany Lacy, Brittany
Frompovich, or even Lymp Brittany, MP3.com is the one place in the world you'll find
them. On December 2nd, their sites there will no longer exist.
Many web sites cease operation but can still be found, captured for
posterity, in the brilliant online library known as Archive.org,
also called the "wayback machine." Here, massive servers and storage
captures run by the visionary (and my personal friend) Brewster
Kahle periodically take snapshots of the Internet as a means of
recording history. Future generations can then look back at the
evolution of the Net, of thought, trends, digital media and much more.
It's a modern-day Smithsonian and Library of Congress, all in one.
Unfortunately, Vivendi has not given Archive.org permission to capture
the MP3.com site.
My hope is that by writing this essay, others will see that we're about
to lose a museum filled with digital antiquities that are every bit as
meaningful as their physical counterparts filling today's museums. There
is a glimmer of hope that those in charge at VU will grant permission to
Archive.org to make a copy of the band pages, music and stations before
they dissolve. Perhaps the new owners, Cnet, have rights over the content
and can allow Archive.org to take a snapshot? I hope one of these things
happens, otherwise we'll lose a major digital museum with no way to ever
recover it, and the world will be a less musical place.
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