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February 23, 2005

Godawful User Interface
Posted by Teresa at 09:38 PM * 76 comments

I assume I’m neither the first nor the twentieth nor the two hundredth person to be driven to foamy-mouthed ranting by Apple’s iTunes retail audiobooks section. Patrick tells me the iTunes site design has come in for some heavy criticism. Ask Patrick about that if you’re interested. What has me exasperated is the way they organize their titles.

Is the site divided into fiction and nonfiction, with the fiction grouped by category and author, and the nonfiction by subject, as is only proper? It is not. It’s divided into twenty-two rudimentary categories—News, Nonfiction, Travel & Adventure, etc.—that have no subdivisions, which means they’re too big to browse effectively. The categories themselves are next to useless.

When you browse their top-level contents, all you get is a scrolling list labeled “Author.” This is a multifaceted piece of stupidity. First, the space-wasting layout could easily have accommodated an accompanying list of titles. Second, listing titles by author is not the way to organize most nonfiction categories. (Languages, for instance, should be organized by language.) Third, the list is alphabetized by first name. Fourth (and here we’re getting into serious stupidity), easily half of the names in that scrolling list aren’t the authors. Instead, they’re the people who read the book aloud for the audiotape edition, or in some cases the packager who put together a series of audiobooks. To give you some idea how mindlessly this list has been compiled, in every category there’s an entry under “Author” for “Full Cast.” If you highlight it, you get every title that was recorded by the full cast of whatever it was that recorded it.

The actual author’s name can most reliably be found in the extended listing for a title, under “Artist.”

But back to that top-level list. If you highlight one of the names under “Author,” you’re shown a further list of every audiobook which is by that author, or was read by that reader, or was recorded by a full cast, whether or not those titles have anything to do with the category you’re browsing. For instance, the History category lists Flo Gibson as an author, though in fact she’s a reader. If you highlight her name, the list of audiobook titles you see includes Mansfield Park, Persuasion, The Jungle Book, Wind in the Willows, and Wuthering Heights. In Religion & Spirituality you can find The St. Charles Players’ dramatizations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Christmas Carol, Cinderella, Oliver Twist, Peter Pan, The Golden Bowl, The Time Machine, The Virginian, and other entirely secular titles—at a guess, because of the “St.” in “St. Charles.”

This setup fails to fulfill the most basic requirements of marketing categories. It doesn’t make books easier to find; it doesn’t group titles and authors you already know you like with other titles and authors you’ll probably like; and it doesn’t exclude books you aren’t looking for.

A database is not a user interface. Of all the companies to get that one wrong —

Comments on Godawful User Interface:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 12:14 PM:

One of the bits I left out:

The Religion & Spirituality category indiscriminately tumbles together--and mind, I'm only picking ones with well-known authors--books by Billy Graham, Elaine Pagels, Lew Wallace, Ram Dass, Herman Hesse, L. Ron Hubbard, the LaHayes, Thomas Cahill, Kahlil Gibran, Shakti Gawain, Fritjof Capra, Flavius Josephus, Cardinal Ratzinger, D. T. Suzuki, John Bunyan, E. L. Doctorow, John Ashcroft, Mark Twain, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama; plus John Foxe (as in Foxe's Book of Martyrs) and, mysteriously, a number of Star Trek novels.
I had a point in mind, but in the end I decided it didn't need to be made.

#2 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 12:20 PM:

Perhaps, they are just hoping that by making you browse through titles/authors you weren't looking for, you may stumble upon some gem that will make you just as happy or at least make the owner of the gem happy.

I think that's why small grocers (in my area, anyways) frequently rearrange their product placement in the aisles. You go down the aisle looking for rice, only to find that Brand X has come out with a new side dish. If even one person picks up Brand X instead of (or even better in addition to) the rice, then it was worth the trouble.

#3 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 12:46 PM:

Product placement is one thing, that's why the iTunes store has that front page it serves the same purpose as the "Power Isle" in a chain bookstore, a dumping ground for product they want to move. But there is simply no excuse for this haphazard an arrangement. As a librarian, I'm disappointed. It's not like their aren't organizational systems for books out there, many of them digital. I'm not saying they need to have full MARC records but anything would be better than the current set up. As a long time Apple user, I'm very disappointed. Apple is capable of so much better than this.

#4 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 12:57 PM:

I gave up in despair after about 5 minutes. For now, I'm sticking to music....

#5 ::: JH ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 01:13 PM:

>> Of all the companies to get that one wrong ó

Not that $90/share Apple needs me to defend them, but I'm betting their excuse is the same as it was for some of the dopey music title mistakes -- they post the database as they get it from the publishers. And the publishers give them a stupid database. (Which excuses only part of that frustrating interface...)

Anyway, Apple should be beyond excuses. The company is powerful enough in audio distribution to demand better data from the publishers. Their reputation for sensible interface design is at stake...

#6 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 01:21 PM:

I've been getting my audiobooks from audible.com instead of iTunes, because they're much cheaper if you sign up for one of their monthly plans (and yes you can cancel right away, and usually the first time you try to cancel they'll give you a cheap/free (I don't remember now) month too).

They're having a free month right now too.

Audible, mind, has its annoyances--every link is done by javascript, so my habit of throwing open a bunch of background windows for later browsing is foiled--but at least you can search by title, author, narrator, etc.

#7 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 01:22 PM:

The iTunes music store isn't very well organised either. I hopped into several genres, looking up basic artists who you'd expect to find in said genre, only to come empty-handed. I later found those artists by doing a search on the artist's name but geez....

There's no industrial and all their techno and electronica and sub-genres are all lumped together.

I've only bought one audio-book from them though--and that was Neil Gaiman's four children's stories, as read aloud by Neil. (I wanted to hear the interview with Neil and his daughter, Maddy.) By the time I purchased that, I had already learned my lesson, and went straight to author search.

#8 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 01:22 PM:

They may have thought they have something resembling a reason - according to several of the library related lists I read (Fiction-L in particular) a noticeable number of people want to listen to anything by particular readers, or like listening to books with full casts, but not single readers.

They don't care as much what the book is about, or who the book's by as who reads it and how. (Which sort of makes sense from a 'not quite my reality' perspective.)

On the other hand, there's no excuse for not being able to sort things intelligently by the actual author or other such info as well.

#9 ::: Stephanie ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 01:29 PM:

I'd never browsed the audiobooks before. Good Lord. I hope you've pasted your rant into Apple's music store feedback form.

#10 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 01:47 PM:

That sounds more like an indexing issue than a UI issue. I know a few people at Apple. I could talk to them and see if they could make contact with whoever is in charge of the store.

#11 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 01:59 PM:

Teresa:

It's an iWorld, we only live in it.

"Billy Graham, Elaine Pagels, Lew Wallace, Ram Dass, Herman Hesse, L. Ron Hubbard, the LaHayes, Thomas Cahill, Kahlil Gibran, Shakti Gawain, Fritjof Capra, Flavius Josephus, Cardinal Ratzinger, D. T. Suzuki, John Bunyan, E. L. Doctorow, John Ashcroft, Mark Twain, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama; plus John Foxe..."

That was the album cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, right?

Sgt. Pepper's Army
Beatles Essays, Bios, History, and Critiques

Or one of George Harrison's albums?

Can't seem to find that on iTunes. Hmmm. Interface...

Andrew Sullivan: Society is dead, we have retreated into the iWorld

#12 ::: Janice Gelb ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 02:09 PM:

This sounds like a nightmare. More surprising to me from Apple, though, is that I have actually been reduced to ranting at the interface of the iPod itself: is it too much to ask to get an actual on/off button? More than half the time when I try to press down on the Pause button to turn the #$&* thing off, it merely pauses the song, or puts me in some weird mode where diamonds march across the screen under the song. Aargh!

#13 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 02:26 PM:

Besides javascript, Audible does have its issues. An old friend of mine works for Audible (who, BTW, provides the recorded books for iTunes). I sent him an annoyed note at one point asking him why on Earth they had listed "Little Women" under "Classic European Literature."

#14 ::: Jeff Weitzel ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 02:27 PM:

I suspect that this travesty can be chalked up to Apple's priorities rather than some sort of more generic idiocy. In many spheres, they put a lot of effort into user experience, and the fact that they haven't in this one suggests that they don't see it as an important (i.e. big money making) venue to deploy their UI talent.

It is possible that they are mistaken . . . they seem to be losing Teresa's business.

#15 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 02:43 PM:

I only use iTunes when I know there's something I specifically want to buy. Then if I don't find it in two or three minutes I give up. It's lousy for browsing.

#16 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 03:22 PM:

That site is a classic example of "how not to." I went to the music part and searched for "Thompson" -- being curious to see what they had from Richard Thompson and also Linda Thompson. It had nothing from either. Instead, it gave me a list of movies featuring Emma Thompson. Maybe if I'd looked in the videos section I'd have found music by Richard and Linda?

I've never found Apple interfaces intuitive or easy to understand or use. But that opens up a religious debate, doesn't it? Not one I really want to start.

#17 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 03:24 PM:
I suspect that this travesty can be chalked up to Apple's priorities rather than some sort of more generic idiocy.
But can't whacked priorities (to the point where the current incarnation of iTunes gets no attention from the UI folks at all) be considered generic idiocy? There's a difference between "This is not top priority, therefore I will only devote minimal attention to it" and "This is not top priority, therefore I won't pay any attention to it at all".

Everything's a matter of priorities. That doesn't mean that priority #2 can go all to hell. When you get into a state where "priority 2" does mean "let it go to hell" then the end result is that you suddenly discover that you've got more than one "#1 priority", because it's almost never acceptable to let everything but one single area go all to hell.

#18 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 03:31 PM:

Yep. iTunes is a wonderful piece of software, and the iPod is a work of art, but the music store section is useless unless you only want to buy what all the other 14-year-olds are buying (in which case it's on their front page) or you know exactly what you want and can search effectively. And that's assuming it isn't down or crippled at the moment. The only things keeping the iTMS popular for music are the success of the iPod itself, and the fact that all its competitors are worse.

Audible's site? Almost as bad, and much slower. But at least they have a usable help section, and as someone else already pointed out, the price is right.

#19 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 03:40 PM:

Janice Gelb:
This sounds like a nightmare. More surprising to me from Apple, though, is that I have actually been reduced to ranting at the interface of the iPod itself: is it too much to ask to get an actual on/off button? More than half the time when I try to press down on the Pause button to turn the #$&* thing off, it merely pauses the song, or puts me in some weird mode where diamonds march across the screen under the song. Aargh!

There's no on/off button because "off" isn't really a concept for the iPod. It has a "sleep" mode instead. This is by design: Apple wants to maintain the illusion of immediate response, and making you hit a power switch before hitting Play would be an unnecessary step.

And FWIW, there's no need to stress about holding down the Pause button and putting it to sleep manually. As long as there's no music playing, you can leave the iPod alone, and the screen will turn off and it'll go to sleep all by itself in about a minute.

#20 ::: Stephanie ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 04:46 PM:

Steve: that's true, but it's inconsistent with how we've all learned to use portable electronics. ("I'm done with it; now I'll turn it off to save the battery.") I hate the fact that the iPod doesn't have an off button, and I think the play/pause button was about the least intuitive choice they could have made.

#21 ::: Richard Cobbett ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 04:51 PM:

You're absolutely right about iTunes - it's a hideous work of true horror. I've bought a few audiobooks from it (not many - the price of them generally threatens to turn my hair white, especially when I hit the preview button and hear horrible, scratchy tape quality audio) and every time it's been a nightmare just trying to find authors I'm interested in, never mind casually browse around for something new...

#22 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 04:56 PM:

I had noticed this stupidity with the itunes audiobooks recently - I think the author list is really just the same as the "artist" list for songs. That is, the person performing the thing. So "author" is only valid if the author is also the one reading it.

I generally go to blackstone or audible, browse til I find something I want, then go see if Itunes has it, then get irritated at the user interface and refuse to give them my hard-earned money even if I do manage to find the blinking title.

The deal at audible's not bad, on the other hand. You can play the things nicely enough on your ipod, by importing them into your itunes library. The only problem there is if you join as a member, which is easy to do online with a credit card, you have to PHONE them to cancel the subscription if you get tired of it. And it doesn't tell you that anywhere, it just hopes you'll never figure out how to quit.

#23 ::: Michael Pullmann ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 05:02 PM:

Obvious conclusion: The person/persons responsible for that site has never set foot in a bookstore in his life.

#24 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 05:03 PM:

Janice Gelb:

The problem you're encountering is that clicking the wheel too close to the center activates the center button instead of the appropriate wheely bit. The center button, if pressed when you're already playing something, will cycle through these modes: audiobook chapter hoppy mode, song rating mode (you can turn the number of dots up and down to rate the song), audiobook speed mode, and then back to volume control. Note that these are my own names for the modes; apple may call some of them the same thing as I do but probably not.

so, if you always press the wheel as close to the outside as possible, you won't have as many problems. And yes, I discovered all this the hard way - I got it stuck in chapter hoppy mode for a while, so I couldn't ffwd or reverse on any songs any more.

Just think of it like a cat - it doesn't do that many different things, so you can kind of predict its behavior, but it doesn't give a flip what you want it to do at any particular moment.

#25 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 05:09 PM:

Maybe it's just because I only generally search for specific tracks, albums or artists, but I actually find the user interface works pretty well. I don't listen to audio books, which might also make a difference.

I would suggest that maybe most people do what I do, rather than what you do, but Apple aren't immune to creating bad interfaces (see QuickTime Player for an example), so it could just be an accident.

#26 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 05:26 PM:

The only time I really looked through their audiobooks was when I was trying to see if they sold the audiobook of the British guy reading the unabriged Lord of the Rings. They didn't. Or they hadn't, at that point in time. A shame, I'd love to carry that around on my iPod...

#27 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 05:43 PM:

Paul wrote:
I would suggest that maybe most people do what I do, rather than what you do, but Apple aren't immune to creating bad interfaces (see QuickTime Player for an example), so it could just be an accident.

Let's be precise here. Almost all of what Teresa was complaining about was not strictly an interface issue in the sense of feature usability. The feature set supported by iTMS is actually relatively decent, although it suffers from poor visual design obscuring many of its controls.

The issues Teresa pointed out were essentially all data issues. Products were terribly organized, categorization was insufficient, and much of the metadata was just wrong. Nobody's verifying any of the content. If they wanted to fix this, a team of library science professionals and a couple of decent Web designers could make a near-perfect music (and audiobook) store out of iTMS in a couple of weeks without changing a single line of interface code.

Will this ever happen? Probably not, unless they start losing market share over it. It seems to sell well enough to the people who buy from it, and those people probably don't care as much about audiobooks.

Me, I've only ever bought a few songs from the iTunes Music Store. Most were to replace tracks that turned out to be damaged when I ripped my CD collection. (Losing half of my High Fidelity soundtrack hurt the most.) One was a song from the new William Shatner/Ben Folds album, because it sounded really funny. In all cases I knew exactly what I wanted and didn't attempt to browse.

Now if iTMS were ever to carry albums from the Beatles (which will happen, oh, never) or Yoko Kanno's soundtracks, I'd be all over it. But as it stands, when I go there looking for something I want, odds are better than even that they won't have it.

#28 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 05:51 PM:

JvP: Sullivan says Ever tried a Stairmaster in silence?

I only wish; maybe I'm Just Too Old, but I've never been so short of queued-up reading material (that I don't mind sweating on) to need music, and I usually wish the PA system were down if not off.

I'd like to see Penn Jillette's response to that rant; 15+ years ago he vigorously took the opposite tack (see the book with their first full-length show's script semi-obscured -- ?Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends?), but personal music was much less common then.

#29 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 06:06 PM:

Christopher B. Wright, your library may well have the unabridged _Lord of the Rings_ on CD (mine does).

#30 ::: Michael Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 06:24 PM:

Mary Dell said, "I think the author list is really just the same as the 'artist' list for songs. That is, the person performing the thing. So 'author' is only valid if the author is also the one reading it."

However, I just did a "power search" in the ITMS for audiobooks for an artist named "Dickens" and found a bunch of stuff by Charles D. himself...I doubt he did any audio recordings of his works. And Charles Dickens appears as an artist when you browse audiobooks, too.

On the other hand, the artists are all alphabetized by first name when you browse (as opposed to search) the store, so, say, if you don't happen to know what Vonnegut's first name is, you will have trouble....

#31 ::: Edo ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 08:08 PM:

Steve Eley said:

Will this ever happen? Probably not, unless they start losing market share over it. It seems to sell well enough to the people who buy from it, and those people probably don't care as much about audiobooks.

I'm going to echo Greg's sentiments about not wanting to start a religious war but this thread, especially Steve Eley's comment, makes me wonder if Apple has finally learned something from the OS wars: that 95% of users will put up with 70% of an interface.

#32 ::: JH ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 09:49 PM:

Wait a minute.

From what I heard some time ago, Apple doesn't have any control over the database of names. They license the audio and the database from the music industry, and they make available via iTunes.

That is, blame Sony, Universal, BMG...

#33 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 10:02 PM:

Sony, Universal and BMG had nothing to do with designing the terrible interface.

#34 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 10:06 PM:

Apple gets the metadata from the content rights holders or their delegates. For the audio books, that's almost entirely from Audible.

There's a tag identifier for Author and one for Performer (distinct from Artist--though I don't know what the criteria is).


There are similar problems with Classical music, though I think there more of the blame can be laid at Apple's door.

Use the Feedback option in iTunes and complain. Please, so I'm not the only one bugging them. They do read the Feedback, and it is taken seriously. That said, the Feedback form is a bit lame; I apologize in advance. You can skip most of the blanks though since you're writing them about the Store.

iTunes and Apple Music Store Feedback.

Thanks--I appreciate it.

#35 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 10:06 PM:

In the "iTunes Store Imponderables" department, the song "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet is listed as being by "Matthew Sweet & *NSYNC".

The members of NSYNC were about 10 years old when that song came out in 1991.

#36 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 10:13 PM:

Michael Cohen:

Dickens was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. The Chief Medical Examiner signed it. And the head of CSI-London's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Dickens was as dead as an iPod battery...

#37 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 10:25 PM:

None of this surprises me. The user interface design and implementation was probably outsourced and then never tested after delivery.

Get used to more and more of this, as the American software industry disappears into the Wal-Mart world of cheaper above all, including quality.

#38 ::: Neil McKellar ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 10:54 PM:

A database is not a user interface.

If this is what their database looks like, then their problems are more significant than any user interface can hope to hide. How the hell could any programmer hope to make sense of this data?

#39 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 11:09 PM:

Apple expands its iPod product line
Computer Business Review Online
"Reports have also hinted that Apple is trying to faze [sic] out its 40-gigabyte iPods with 20-, 30- and 60-gigabte [sic] models..."

Hey, kidz. Let's quit this computer journalism schtick and take some outsourced iTunes interface design work... I mean, like, we can read and write and stuff, how hard can it be?

#40 ::: Metal Fatigue ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 11:49 PM:

Nice JMF, JvP.

#41 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2005, 11:51 PM:

Here's a fun one. Try to find the album "Da Da Da", by Trio. "Da Da Da" returns 75 results but all wrong. Most are either Adiel da Silva or rap songs where da=the.

Okay, how about "Trio"? Tons of "The ____ Trio" hits, but none on "Trio".

A bit more luck with the power search. Combining "Da Da Da" with "Trio" gets the correct album. I still don't get why an exact match (the first two searches) gets ranked below at least 75 other results.

And I can still be critical of iTunes for Windows UI design, too. Just one small example. I run my screen at a fairly high resolution. This would make scroll bars skinny, and would require some careful trackballing to grab or click them. To make it easier, in the Display control panel I've set scroll bars to be 20 pixels wide. It also inherits the 3D objects color settings -- light grey. So why are the iTunes scroll bars about 12 pixels wide, with blue oval sliders?

Yes, I know that itís the Carbon look. So what? If it's iTunes for Windows, it should be, um, for Windows. It's like Toyota selling cars with the steering wheel on the right in the US because that's how they do it in Japan.

It's true that most media players have screwball skins that ignore the normal user settings, but there's almost always "unskin"s available that make them look like regular Windows apps.

I can pick at other bits -- the mouse pointer turns into a hand rather than a resize pointer when resizing the panes. The Genre/Artist/Album lists aren't resizable at all, and the sort order can't be reversed by clicking on the column headers.

This is a classic mistake in UI design. The most famous version of this was Lotus Notes. It was made to look alike whether you were running it on Windows 3.1, OS/2, or AIX. The idea was that you could switch platforms and still use Notes just like you always did. In practice, who really does this? It just made it equally hard to use on all platforms. It's vastly more important that it fit in on the platform it's running.

Of all the people to get this right, it's Microsoft. Mac Office doesn't look like a Windows app plopped onto a Mac screen, and Mac users would be justifiably upset if it did.

Sure, I can deal with the idiosyncrasies of iTunes for Windows. But it's like the time I was driving in New Zealand -- half the time I'd get into wrong side and have to correct myself.

#42 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 12:53 AM:

iTunes is pretty much a dead loss as far as audiobooks are concerned for all the reasons people have listed here, so I've had a membership with audible.com for about six months now.

The problem is that Audible's holdings are... meager. I have a list of ten must-read/listen authors who are well established, none of whom have their work on audible. Dennis Lehane, for example. A few other authors on my list are there, but in abridged form, which I will not bother with. My own novels aren't there, in spite of the fact that I had my agent contact both Audible and my audiobook publisher and say that I very much wanted to see that transfer happen.

I'm running out of titles to listen to at audible, and will soon give it up if they don't pick up the pace with their acquisitions. Oh and, get rid of #K$@J! javascript.

#43 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 01:26 AM:

Jon H said: the song "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet is listed as being by "Matthew Sweet & *NSYNC". The members of NSYNC were about 10 years old when that song came out in 1991.

Thanks for making me feel old.
---
More generally, I've never understood the allure of audiobooks. The only time I've ever made it through one was on a cross-country drive om I-80. The endlessness of Wyoming was a perfect accompaniment to Band of Brothers. I don't think I could ever manage listening to a piece of fiction being read.

#44 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 03:30 AM:

Steve Eley: Now if iTMS were ever to carry albums from the Beatles (which will happen, oh, never) or Yoko Kanno's soundtracks...

The near-inaccessibility of Yoko Kanno's tunes here in the US is one of the best arguments for pirating a la eDonkey or Napster-of-old I've ever heard.

[Not that I'd do it, mind, but that's partly because I picked up the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack in an eBay auction for about $10.]

#45 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 07:00 AM:

Top 10 Reasons to Not Shop On Line

For myself, I find Apple's iTunes store pricing and IP protection appalling. Of course, they don't sell most of what I want, anyway, so it's easy for me to ignore their store.

#46 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 07:35 AM:

With respect to the DRM - the Hymn project could probably be useful there, if one was so inclined.

#47 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 08:58 AM:

I've been to that site more than once. Each time was much too frustrating and just not worth the effort, let alone the time.

Color me dense if you must, but I like simple interfaces because when I shop, I want to know what's available first. Don't show me your hardware items before I can look to see what's available for it. Also, I might want to use some other brand. After all, I'm used to purchasing records, tapes, and discs that generally work on multiple brands of hardware. I want that same kind of convenience for electronic downloads, too, be it music or books.

I have to agree with Teresa that the interface at the iTunes store is atrocious. Unless the management simplifies and cleans it up significantly, they won't get my money and I do spend money online.

#48 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 09:26 AM:

Larry Brennan: More generally, I've never understood the allure of audiobooks.

Thank you! I was beginning to think I was the only one. For me, I think the trouble is that I read so fast that an audiobook seems veeeerrry sloooooow in comparison. I've had better luck with recordings of radio dramas; they're designed to be listened to.

--Mary Aileen

#49 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 09:44 AM:

Larry Brennan and Mary Aileen Buss:

I agree about most audiobooks being too slow - I've tried to listen to serious fiction and it drives me a little bit batty. Funny stuff, however, is better. I just finished listening to Douglas Adams reading "Hitchhiker's" and enjoyed it a lot. Next I'm going to try something like Henry James or Dickens - stuff that I generally find myself slogging through and getting mired in mid-paragraph someplace, and finally giving up. It'll probably be just as boring on audio but won't give me eye strain.

Either way, I decided I should just bite the bullet and get used to it - I spend a minimum of 2 hours a day in my car (commuting to/from work) and I never have enough time to read. So I'm trying to spend a few mornings listening to slow, poky audiobooks instead of my usual tunes.

#50 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 09:50 AM:

Oh, one other advantage of audiobooks - some members of my family are dyslexic. Obviously, audiobooks are a godsend if you have a reading problem. So even when I'm not listening to them for myself, I buy them for other folks.

#51 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 10:25 AM:

Randolph & Teresa ---

Thanks for posting the link to Tog's rant. I'm not surprised to see it here. The intersection of the sets Editor Sense and Usability Sense is large.

The world would be a better place if more hardware and software builders listened to Tog. This conversation happens far too often:

Engineer* --- "Our product does all this cool stuff! It doesn't have to be easy to use."

Customer --- "Sadly, no."

* Engineers are wonderful people. I'm dating one. However, they tend to build devices they would want to use. Engineers are not a representative sample of consumers. :-)

#52 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 11:39 AM:

Mary Aileen Buss wrote:
Thank you! I was beginning to think I was the only one. For me, I think the trouble is that I read so fast that an audiobook seems veeeerrry sloooooow in comparison. I've had better luck with recordings of radio dramas; they're designed to be listened to.

When you say "sloooooow," are your referring to the speed at which the narrator speaks, or just the fact that listening is inherently slower than reading?

If it's the former, one of the cooler tricks of recent iPods is a menu option that will speed up -- or slow down, if that's ever necessary -- an audiobook without changing the pitch. I've found that to be rather useful as I listen my way through all 50 hours of The Count of Monte Cristo unabridged. (Great book, by the way. But man, is Dumas wordy!)

Of course, if you simply get impatient at any listening speed compared to reading speed, then there's really no help for it. I don't listen to audiobooks either, when I have leisure to read, but they've made my daily commute a lot more pleasant.

#53 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 11:54 AM:

Steve Eley: When you say "sloooooow," are your referring to the speed at which the narrator speaks, or just the fact that listening is inherently slower than reading?

The latter. On a long train trip, the abridged audiobook I had with me took six hours to listen to. I could have read the whole thing in two (but not on a train--eyestrain). Thank goodness I also had music tapes with me, or I would have gone bonkers.

Of course, if you simply get impatient at any listening speed compared to reading speed, then there's really no help for it.

Yep. :)

#54 ::: melissa ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 12:54 PM:

On the not understanding the appeal of audiobooks - I'm there with Mary Aileen and Larry.

I read much like Mary. But, the big killer, is that I have to pay too much attention to an audiobook. Since the book keeps playing even if I'm not listening, I can get lost easily. (and, it can be tricky to find your place again :-). If my attention wanders with a written book, I can find my place again pretty easily. And, the book pages haven't kept turning.

#55 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 02:54 PM:

To those who don't understand the appeal of audiobooks, there are times and places that they are perfect.

My old job, for instance, at times required hours and hours of repeating the same task over and over. Audiobooks were perfect because they left my hands and eyes free for cell culture, but kept my brain occupied when I otherwise would have been bored out of my skull.

The second instance is car trips (people have already mentioned long commutes). My dad has a very bad (and dangerous) habit of falling asleep while driving, which has only gotten worse as he's gotten older. However he found that listening to an audiobook helps focus his concentration and keeps him from nodding off. (Of course we don't let him take long trips by himself anymore, but that's something else entirely.)

#56 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 04:12 PM:

Randolph Fritz wrote:

For myself, I find Apple's iTunes store pricing and IP protection appalling.


Could you be a bit more specific about the IP protection? It seems to me that FairPlay and Apple's copying policies are better than those of other commercial online music services.

Given the current agressive RIAA pursuit of students and "file sharing," I've been following the various commercial online services and campus music licensing rather closely, so I'm genuinely interested in people's opinions.

#57 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 05:57 PM:

Michelle, doesn't work for me. Listening to recorded words lasts a few minutes, then I start daydreaming.

#58 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 06:47 PM:

I made the mistake of buying the Spike Jones version of "The Nutcracker Suite" from iTunes. Every track has a fade out added onto it which cuts off material. Mind you, if some teenager stumbles on them he's not going to care that a parody of "Raymond" from "Inner Sanctum Radio Mysteries" has been chopped from the end of one of the tracks--but I know damnit! And it annoys me.

#59 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 08:25 PM:

Michelle - aside from long car trips, I know exactly what you mean.

Robert B. Parker's Widow's Walk kept me sane as I painted the dentil moulding in our dining room - twice. It was exactly the right length (about six hours) and required exactly the right amount of attention (not much, but enough to keep me from going stir-crazy whilst painting seventeen gazillion small surfaces above my head).

#60 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 10:19 PM:

"Could you be a bit more specific about the IP protection?"

I'm most concerned about the way Apple operates the combination of the iTunes Music Store and their licensed players as a closed network where the only copy-protected material allowed has to be bought from Apple. Real broke this closed network, reverse-engineering the iPod to allow them also to sell their material to iPod owner and in a later software update, Apple made changes which locked out Real, rendering valueless paid downloads from Real. There is also an archiving issue; a recording which requires a user key to play is a recording with a lifespan that will be less than that of the user.

Apple is charging as much for a heavily-restricted license (five computers, which apparently includes iPods) as the recording companies charge for a CD license that is simply covered by fair use. Apple charges very heavy agent's fees to independent artists; my impression is that independent artists pay around 90% of the selling price of their music to Apple.

Myself, I favor Mperia. However, Mperia depends on the BitPass for payments, and BitPass is an unregulated bank like PayPal and not necessarily consumer-friendly. For artists, Mperia also has the problem that it does not list many (any?) major artists to draw people into the site, which means that there is little possibility of people shopping for recordings by widely-known arists looking "in the next bin", as it were, at recordings by lesser-known artists.

It's the music industry in the driver's seat, and the music industry is not, overall, a friend to artists. I am sensitive to the desire of artists to earn a living from their work, but I question whether supporting the existing music industry (and Apple is doing that) is the best way to do that.

#61 ::: Metal Fatigue ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 11:32 PM:

Randolph Fritz: FYI, iPods don't count against the limit of five computers; protected downloads work on the iPod if and only if they are sync'd from a copy of iTunes that's activated for that user ID.

#62 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2005, 11:36 PM:

Randolph: The archiving issue can be easily finessed by burning an audio CD. (Recompressing from that will lose quality, of course, but it's better than not having it at all.)

#63 ::: Bernard Yeh ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2005, 02:59 AM:

Anarch, Steve Eley:
Yoko Kanno's (or basically any CD or DVD media from Japan) is actually not all that difficult to obtain commercially anymore, through the wonder of internet commerce. :-) You can try CDJapan (http://www.cdjapan.co.jp) or YesAsia.com, both English language commerce sites that will sell you Japanese media and accept major credit cards.
These sites sell Japanese original media, not Taiwanese/HK/Chinese pirate copies.

The only problem is the price, they sell at full Japanese retail (typically 2900 Yen = ~$28 for a CD) plus airmail shipping.

As for Yoko Kanno soundtracks, the burgeoning American anime industry will usually get her soundtracks into the US at domestic prices, if you're willing to wait a while...

I'd be more impressed with iTMS if they offered pop music tracks from other countries, here in the US, too. I'm particularly enamoured with J-pop and rock these days, and I'm not finding any of the acts that have had limited cross over into the U.S. (except for Hikaru Utada's recent domestic releases) Then again, most domestic record distributors didn't and still don't bother with much foreign non-English music. Another point in favor of the old Napster, and the current dubiously-legal file-sharing services.

Also, I'd also beware of Ebay auctions for anime related media. Lots of them tend to be for Taiwanese pirated copies. If you see SM, or SM Records, on the spine label of a CD, you've gotten an unlicensed Taiwanese pirate copy.

(back to lurking)

#64 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2005, 04:17 AM:

YesAsia is great for Korean and Chinese native stuff (as opposed to pirate Japanese products), too: If you find your JPop interests broadening into Korean pop artists such as BoA, Chakra, Baby VOX, or Park Ji Yoon, you'll find that Korean CDs tend to cost $9 to $12 or so. Similarly, Tai Seng's excellent DVDs tend to be priced much more reasonably than the various Japanese movies and anime titles.

And YesAsia has free shipping on orders of $39 and up, which is, all things considered, pretty good. And they do occasionally have some decent deals on Japanese stuff; I think I was able to get the Japanese version of Puffy's Spike album from them at a pretty good price; and I think I've seen some newish Shonen Knife CDs on sale there as well.

#65 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2005, 10:20 AM:

Marilee:
Listening to recorded words lasts a few minutes, then I start daydreaming.

For me, focusing on the words keeps my mind from wandering, which is a good thing, because it tends to wander to unpleasant places.

The fact that I'm partial to non-fiction in audio books may also have something to do with it. It puts me in the mood of being in the classroom, and as I go to lectures and talks just for fun, this is a Good Thing.

Jill Smith:
Six hours of painting over your head? I'd think my arms would have given out long before my mind!

#66 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2005, 04:44 PM:

I have the same problem with lectures or sermons, although if I have my hands occupied with something, I remember more. I'm just very visual when it comes to words.

#67 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2005, 08:48 AM:

I found that JPOPHelp delivered a CD I ordered quite quickly, even in early December, going from US to UK. I've only used them once, though, so I can't really vouch for consistent performance.

(Silly, really - a CD going from Japan to the UK via the US...)

#68 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2005, 12:27 PM:

Bernard Yeh wrote:
As for Yoko Kanno soundtracks, the burgeoning American anime industry will usually get her soundtracks into the US at domestic prices, if you're willing to wait a while...

Oh, I know. I'm not finding it difficult to get Yoko Kanno's stuff; I'm just wishing the iTMS would sell it at $10 per album.

Ebay and pirated stuff: I've only had one experience with that, and it was accidental. In retrospect, it really should have occurred to me that $60 for five regionless DVDs with every single one of Miyazaki's movies was probably too good to be true. But it honestly did not occur to me until I got a package from Taiwan with "Happy Birthday!" scrawled across the wrapper. Yeah, stupid of me.

I do try to make up for it by buying all of his movies again when they come out in US commercial release. But some of those movies will most likely never come out here, like my personal favorite, Whisper of the Heart, and I don't really regret having those.

#69 ::: MichelleDB ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2005, 02:20 PM:

Bruce-- you can eliminate the fading of one song to another in iTunes by going to the "audio" section of the preferences and reducing the crossfeed playback to zero. That's on a Mac, that is. Yes, it really should be more obvious.

#70 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2005, 09:58 PM:

Also, I'd also beware of Ebay auctions for anime related media. Lots of them tend to be for Taiwanese pirated copies. If you see SM, or SM Records, on the spine label of a CD, you've gotten an unlicensed Taiwanese pirate copy.

I found that out to my cost when I was trying to get a hold of the complete run of Cowboy Bebop. Not only were they pirated copies, they were bad pirated copies; I've still never seen the last couple of episodes complete and uninterrupted, dagnabbit. At least the CD was authentic.

#71 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2005, 12:42 AM:

MichelleDB--thank you! Although I'm sure whoever gets the nastygram I sent Apple will wish I'd waited until I saw your message...

I keep hoping that some of the more obscure things will show up, like the wonderful orchestral soundtrack for The Stunt Man that was available for about 15 minutes after the film came out. In theory I've got the LP in storage, but I don't have easy access to the equipment to get the sound off the record and into the computer...

#72 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2005, 11:35 AM:

Anarch wrote:
I found that out to my cost when I was trying to get a hold of the complete run of Cowboy Bebop. Not only were they pirated copies, they were bad pirated copies; I've still never seen the last couple of episodes complete and uninterrupted, dagnabbit. At least the CD was authentic.

Bebop is readily available everywhere these days, including NetFlix and in all probability your local Blockbuster. I recommend seeing the last few episodes properly; they add a fair bit of depth to the rest of the series.

(Also, the song that plays over the credits of the last episode, "Blue," is one of the best that Yoko Kanno's written, IMO. Which makes it by default one of my favorite songs.)

#73 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2005, 06:14 PM:

Anarch, I have all the TV Cowboy Bebop eps on my Netflix list, followed by the movie.

#74 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 12:22 PM:

What Steve Eley said about some of the problem being seriously dubious metadata. I've been amused and appalled by the factods one gets when screen-scraping Amazon or Powell's for info on a book; it sure doesn't map to Dublin Core. I don't know where they get their info. What would Tor hand off to Amazon, for instance? Is there a book with several different creator-types to check goodness of transmission with?

(The LoC and the British Library have good data, but aren't particularly indexed by ISBN, especially not by the ISBN of newish cheap paperback copies I happen to own. Anyone else with a good solution to this problem?)

#75 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2005, 05:44 PM:

Apple's down one champion of user interfaces: Jef Raskin died last Saturday.

#76 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2005, 05:45 PM:

Meant to write that the world was down one champion, don't think Raskin's worked at Apple for a while.

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