by: David Jennings

I had an idea today for a bit of software and/or web-based service that would combine the features of cataloguing all your personal media collection (CD, DVD, digital files of various formats) and linking each item to the commentary (reviews, interviews, fan comments) that may enrich your experience of the song, album or film. This would combine the database functions of software like Media Catalog Studio with the facilities for sharing and 'social tagging' of resources offered by and Flickr.

It would enable you to compile your own 'boxed set' for your favourite albums, artists and films: the core media content that you've acquired through normal retail channels, plus the 'extras' that you and others have compiled to go with it.

Consider two sets of consumer habits, their characteristics and implications.

Firstly, many fans will be collecting material of all kinds relating to, say, Elvis, Talking Heads, Quentin Tarantino or more obscure artists: videos of old broadcast interviews, press clippings of reviews, DVDs, bookmarks of online audio/video clips, MP3 files, and so on. There's a significant amount of churn in these items: the press clippings get left in an attic; the video cassettes or vinyl are often bereft of anything to play them on in a modern living room; audio cassettes get lost, chewed or decayed; and today's sound file formats are unlikely to remain current beyond this decade. A lot gets lost by becoming functionally inaccessible to the people who collected it.

Secondly, some of us, professionally or as amateurs, share some of the things we have collected publicly. Over two years, I collected and edited nearly 300 web resources on film directors and other cinema themes. Although this site has a facility for anyone to suggest or add a new link, it's mainly a one-way publishing process. More recently I used a private collection of hundreds of online resources related to Stephin Merritt's music as the basis for the 69 Love Songs site. As this is a wiki, others can edit and update it.

Both these latter endeavours were built on individual efforts, first of collection and then of publication. What services like and Furl do is aggregate the labour of lots of collectors. This makes it possible to publish a fairly comprehensive set of resources based on only modest efforts by a distributed group of people who are only vaguely aware that they are collaborating with each other (though it has to be said that, so far, the collections for Madonna and the Beatles are very modest so far).

Flickr has the advantage that the photos that are shared via its site are uploaded by the people who took them and own the copyrights — so they grant themselves permission to publish the photos. I could not do the same with a Stephin Merritt radio interview I may have recorded (not quite legally), or an old Rolling Stone interview with Neil Young. Links to online resources are less problematic, though an increasing number require some registration to view. So I'd like the new media collection service to distinguish between 'private' material for my own personal use, and public domain resources that I can easily share with other people.

What this service would mean is that people like me would not have to go to any great lengths to build album-focused information resources like the 69 Love Songs site. These resources would just accumulate and evolve over time in the public domain. An extra handy feature would be to build in something like the PubSub functionality that would enable fans to track new online resources related to their favourite album/artist and add these to the 'social boxed set'.

These socially-generated resources could provide part of the information and promotional role that sites like All Music offer, and would enable the music industry potentially to get more return from its promotional budget for press and radio interviews etc (each interview would reach more of its target audience).

I'm sure someone else must have already had this idea and may be working to develop it — or perhaps they already have. Otherwise, remember where you read it first. And I'm available to do user prototyping and usability work on developing the idea further…

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