I just got a new book on web development: The Substance of Style, by Virginia Postrel. One of the cover blurbs describes it as an analysis of a major new phenemenon: that people care more about how stuff looks.
To me this a book about the role of looks in software development. What is the value of looks to a user? How do I manage the tradeoffs between usability and style?
In the back of mind what I’m thinking about is Apple’s natural instinct for graphics, and the way they pushed the state of the developers’ art beyond Jakob Neilsen. Given that nothing ever ever ever trumps usability, and that excessive design always always repels users, how does Apple manage the balance so much better than other developers?
for Cloudy Days is a really good playlist that just appeared in the wild. Compare it to what you could do using any XSPF-based method like XSPF Musicplayer, JW player, and EasyListener, using any all-in-one solution like Muxtape, Mixwit, Playlist.com, Myspace Music, Rhapsody, or iMeem, or using an iTunes playlist.
Here is that page within an iframe for easy inspection:
There’s a big piece of artwork splashed across the top of the page, and this playlister takes advantage of that big expanse of pixels with a landscape photo. Imagine the 640 x 450 pixels of that peaceful open landscape crammed into the 64 x 64 square for album art in any Flash widget — it wouldn’t be on the same level.
Underneath the art is a long text annotation about the playlist, 265 words in all:
This past weekend reminded me why I love the winter months coming up ahead; however, here in California there’s not really a true winter season. To me winter is just a reminder of those calendars in elementary school with the image of the snowman and leaves being swirled up with a bunch of lines symbolizing the cold wind.
It’s only after that big piece of art and expansive explanation that the songs start. At that point the capabilities of all the other playlisting providers kick in. I bring this up because it a really great example of why it is that the HTML-based playlisting solution in goose (which he uses in that page) is better than any Flash-based one. This is a new and better generation of playlisting technology.
What Arek’s hack means is that new sound formats can now be implemented in pure AJAX and deployed with browser-borne technology. This breaks the logjam at MP3, where new audio formats could never reach wide deployment because the only one that Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe could agree on was MP3. The result of the logjam was that innovation related to audio file formats was over in about 1998.
That innovation can now start up again. We can expect growth of patent-free codecs like Vorbis and FLAC. I’ll bet there will be a JSON-based audio format based on Vorbis. And in the long term, freaky Big Daddy Roth audio files with chromed metadata, embedded blenders, etc.
Upate: I’m getting a little pushback from people who feel that (1) there’s nothing new here because it has been possible to do Vorbis using Java applets for a while and (2) this method doesn’t support video.
Java is not a viable option. Most people don’t have Java installed, and the people who do have it installed won’t tolerate the slow and ugly startup. About the need for video, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One thing at a time.
Hit the “Hello Goodbye” button in this widget, and what you’ll hear is (1) This is Jonathan Clay and you’re listening to a brand-new song called ‘Hello, Goodbye.’ Thanks to Levis 501 Jeans for making this a free download and (2) the song, which makes my skin crawl but what the hell I’m not the target market and that’s probably what it’s supposed to do.
Go to the TrueAnthem homepage to check it out, since whatever you’re using to read this page is stripping out the OBJECT element that this widget needs.
That’s from a company called TrueAnthem (check out their FAQ for a fine intro), which describes itself this way:
an advertising supported, online music promotion and distribution company. We believe that artists should get paid for what they have created; that fans want music for free; and that the best way to reach a targeted audience for an advertiser is through music.
They remind me of blogads in that they’re matching advertisers with independent content producers.
I used blogads way way back when. Another thing TrueAnthem and Blogads have in common is that the HTML they give you to embed doesn’t validate and screws up a web page like this one, so you’ll have to debug it for them. Hint to TA: <BR> has been off the shelf for ten years. Did you mean <br />?
Another thing they have in common with Blogads is that they’re stuck with mid-range to low-range ad inventory. Content producers (bloggers and musicians) that get a really big audience have an incentive and the means to either do their own ad sales or to move to a premium network. In either case they make more money on each incremental bit of traffic once they leave TrueAnthem/Blogads. Or at least that was how the space worked back in the day; it must have changed, though, because I can easily find largish sites that still live on Blogads, like Daily Kos and Perez Hilton. Anybody know why these sites wouldn’t have moved on to a display network like Value Click?