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Stanford on iTunes
Jamais Cascio, 29 Oct 05

stanforditunes.jpgThis one's an early indicator of something, but I'm still not quite certain what. Stanford University has begun to make recordings of select lectures, speeches, interviews and events available on the iTunes Music Store, for free. The material currently available includes a number of WorldChanging-related topics: talks by Lawrence Lessig, Geoff Davis on Microfinance, Paul Erlich on Population and Sustainability, and over 50 presentations on Health and Medicine. A restricted access section provides course-related materials for students and instructors, as well.

You'll notice that I haven't linked to any of the recordings. That's because they're only available through iTunes Music Store, which is accessed through (and therefore requires one to have) the iTunes application. This means that people on older machines, or non-Windows/Macintosh computers, are out of luck. The files are in the non-protected AAC format (.m4a), so more recent non-iPod players should be able to play them. (Adding to the complexity, the Stanford iTunes part of the ITMS is only accessible via the Stanford iTunes webpage -- you can't get to it by navigating through the iTunes application.)

On the one hand, Stanford has put out for public consumption a collection (which is intended to grow) of generally very good lectures and discussions, and has done so in a non-protected way; moreover, by using the iTunes store, they're piggybacking upon a system that already has a large following and seamless integration with the most common digital music player. On the other hand, by using the iTunes store, they're limiting the audience to people with relatively recent mainstream computers -- Simputers, Linux boxes, and the like need not apply. Because of the way the ITMS works, they may also be limiting the audience to people in the United States or North America. (Could some of our non-US readers with iTunes check it out? Thanks.)

In general, I'm all for universities putting their material out on the net for broad consumption; it's all the better when it's free. I'm more hesitant about the Stanford iTunes program largely because of the ITMS requirement, but again, there's a reasonable case to be made that, by using ITMS, Stanford is taking advantage of the popular familiarity of the system. I'm open to persuasion either way. What do you think?

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Works fine in Australia. Heard a nice talk on climate change technology.

Posted by: kd on 29 Oct 05

I'm all for open, royalty-free formats. Proprietary formats, even if they are openly published ones like Adobe's PDF, can tie you to a set of applications or systems. Upgrades can render your content unreadable (Microsoft tried this a few times with Office.) or trap you in legacy software.

Sometimes a proprietary format does better at something than anything else. PDF still prints better than HTML and print media CSS and probably will for a long time to come since printing is so hardware dependent. In that case you have to use it.

But for long lasting, widely used data and content in a hetrogeneous network like this one, open is much better. One only has to think of those old data tapes and card stacks used in Federal Government programs from the fifties and sixties that are nearly unreadable because their formats and hardware are no longer supported. Let's avoid that by keeping things as open and interchangable as possible. I should be able to play my old 78's on a 33.3 turntable.

Then there's localization and translation. Keeping things in open, interoperable standards makes that easier.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 29 Oct 05

Works fine in Canada!

Posted by: sassy_red_head on 29 Oct 05

I'm with you - it's cumbersome and I'm not even sure what I'm doing yet, still fiddling around trying to work out how to use iTunes. Much prefer Odeo. Or just about any of the others. Grrr :-)

Posted by: roseg on 29 Oct 05

Just tried this out, very cool. The ITMS didnt work with firefox but i got it to work with explorer.

Posted by: Matt on 29 Oct 05

I think they may have chosen iTunes mostly because of ease of distribution issues. Given their history of distributing free webcasts of certain seminars, such as Terry Winograd's HCI seminars, via their SCPD program ( I wouldn't be surprised if they'd be amenable to suggestions on how to better improve the reach of their free materials.

Posted by: Eric on 29 Oct 05

BTW, you can in fact link directly to files in iTunes. For instance, a link to the Global Initiatives" section:

RIght-click on any file or section graphic in iTunes and "Copy iTunes Music Store URL" should be an option. These links open iTunes, if it's present.

Posted by: Andrew on 30 Oct 05

I guess that it wouldn't be too hard for them to write a script that automatically converts their lectures into .ogg files and hosts them direction on their website. Maybe they are just not aware of the possibility; anybody here with contacts at Standford?

Posted by: Michael G. Richard on 30 Oct 05

Thanks folks.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 30 Oct 05

Works fine in the UK with downloading Lessig as we speak....cheers.

Posted by: Nick Temple on 31 Oct 05

Works fine in Japan.

Posted by: JC on 31 Oct 05

Works fine in Israel.

Posted by: roy on 12 Nov 05



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