March 16, 2006

MP3 / ID3 / iTunes tags

Tags are spreading everywhere at the moment. Sites like Flickr, deli.cio.us and even Amazon are getting on the bandwagon, allowing one to tag things with arbitrary labels for easy sorting and searching.

It makes sense - a single description is no longer useful for describing something, so just associate something with words and it becomes easy to find matches. A photo taken on a trip to Oslo might be tagged with "oslo, norway, snow, cold, travel, city" and anything else you like. This paradigm has extended to all sorts of things, including bookmark lists, shopping sites, etc.

But there's one essential object that's yet to adopt tagging - music!

Why hasn't it come yet? The ID3 format's the only thing that you can use to describe an mp3, but doesn't yet support tags. Lots of meta-data goes into ID3 tags like album info, artist/composer info and just about anything else you want - even an embedded album cover!

But where can I stick my own tags? The Genre field is pitifully limited, only letting you put one type into it. A song can be marked as "jazz" or "rock" or "classical" or "metal", but that's it. Today's music collections just can't be adequately described with a single genre. Got an acoustic version of a rock track, or a live version of a song? What genre is it? Rock? Acoustic? I want to be able to label tracks with "acoustic, rock" and "live,clapton", then have my player able to generate playlists based on this info, such as matching tags "live" and "metal", and one with "instrumental" and "slow"!

Eventually the ID3 format might be extended with this, but for now it's almost elusive. Almost I say, as there are ways to hack it into existing players. Using the iTunes smart playlist feature, I should be able to comment a track with a tag scheme and have the playlist match on that...just perhaps. I'll give it a go in the next couple of days and see how it goes.

So whilst MP3 tagging is not yet "there", I can see some really useful developments here in this arena, and perhaps my iTunes experiment will bring fruit.

Posted by Ben at March 16, 2006 11:39 AM
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