Here’s a reading of my latest Guardian column, Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful, about the social and political factors that make all the difference when choosing technologies.
Banshee fails gracefully because its authors don’t attempt any lock-in. When I find myself diverging from the design philosophy of Banshee to the extent that I want to use a rival system to manage my music, Banshee is designed to assist me in switching. Unlike Apple, Microsoft, and others, who treat you as a product to be bought and sold – and who have engineered laws like the DMCA to make it illegal to convert your files for use with rival products – Banshee is designed to work with me until we part ways, and then to gracefully bow out and let me move on to someone else’s version of this particular bit of plumbing.
A good example of this is Amazon’s MP3 store. Until recently, it worked beautifully. I’d pay a reasonable price for my music, and Amazon would let me download it to my computer with as little fuss as possible. Recently, that changed. Amazon wants to promote its cloud drive services, so now it requires that you lock yourself into an Amazon-proprietary downloader to get your MP3s. The Amazon MP3 store started life with a lot of rhetoric about liberation (they made t-shirts that trumpeted “DRM: Don’t Restrict Me!”) that contrasted their offering with the locked-in world of the iTunes Store. Now that Amazon has won enough marketshare in the MP3 world, it’s using that position to try and gain ground in the world of cloud computing – at the expense of its customers.
Lucky for me, MP3 is an open format, so MP3 investments fail well. The fact that I bought hundreds of pounds’ worth of music from Amazon doesn’t stop me from taking my business elsewhere now that they’ve decided to treat me as a strategic asset instead of a customer. By contrast, I was once unwise enough to spend thousands on audiobooks from Amazon’s Audible subsidiary (the major player in the audiobook world), kidding myself that the DRM wouldn’t matter. But the day I switched to Ubuntu, I realised that I was going to have to spend a month running three old Macs around the clock in order to re-record all those audiobooks and get them out of their DRM wrappers.
Mastering by John Taylor Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes “Beer Jewelry” and “Odd Musical Furniture.” He often “meditates while reading cookbooks.”