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Real-Time Rhapsody

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News of the acquisition of Listen.com’s Rhapsody subscription music service — nominally a spin-off of the late lamented file-sharing network AudioGalaxy — now playing Iraq to Rhapsody’s alliance of the willing — prompted me to wonder if anyone had ever expressed an opinion about the Rhapsody service, or had thoughts about the Real acquisition on the quality of that service.

Of course they have. Audio World, for example, gave the service four and a half stars back in early 2002. That seems about right. I enjoy Rhapsody just about every day I sit glued to my machine, which is just about every day, so at $9.95 a month, the price is right.

The user interface is generally very good in helping to navigate to stuff that might interest me, though the search function is a little stupid — If I type The Blind Boys from Alabama, I am not looking for Buck Naked and the Barebottom Boys — and the classification by genre sometimes make not a lick of sense. If the Gypsy Kings are a fado ensemble, then John Waters is Luis Buñuel, for example. I could quibble with the selection as well, although the service generally does you the courtesy of explaining why a particular artist is not available, and seems to do a good job of using user requests to guide its acquisitions. In the case of its acquisition of AudioGalaxy, the Christians seemed to have instilled some of their user-friendly values into the conquering Romans.

Quibbles aside, I find plenty to interest me, and enjoy being able to program several hours of music at once from my easily accessible personal library of music. The front page, which offers various samplers and mixes in rotation, is programmed by someone pretty hip, and designed for diverse appeal. I may not be interested in the ’70s disco mix currently showing, but, hey, here’s a ’70s New York underground mix with Richard Hell, The New York Dolls, Lou Reed, and early Blondie. That does not suck at all, dude!

Drawback: Burning. A generous number of tracks are available to burn, but the process is so cumbersome that I have given up trying. An agonizingly slow server-side application does the ripping and will only write the file to your CD-WR. So what if you can pull those files off, re-rip them into your shared file, and commit an act of civil disobedience against the RIAA anyway? This unworkable method apparently covers all the necessary legal asses while maintaining the appearance of enlightened generosity.

I’ve given Real Networks’ various promotional offers a spin as well over the years, and detest the service thoroughly, with its intrusive advertising, its cockeyed user design, its spotty performance, its tendency to tie up 99 percent of my CPU for minutes on end for no apparent reason, not to mention the intangibles — it has no ethos at all save the plastic fantastic corporate infotainment mojo that so disgusts me. The junior Ralph Naders at E-Pinions tend to agree with me over the years. I believe the phrase “vicious, buggy spyware” gets used in there by someone. I might subtract a star or a star and half from their aggregate rating, but then I’m particular.

So will this acquisition offer the Christians another chance to civilize the Romans? I doubt it, since the conqueror this time is the Golden Horde of Ghengis Khan, whose attention is focused, not on making its customers happy, but jockeying for world supremacy with its other nominal “partners” in the died-and-supposedly-to-be-resurrected MusicNet subscription service — the Huns at Vivendi, the Vlad the Impaler crowd at Bertlesmann, the unlimited supply of Venetian pillagers of Constantinople at EMI, and so on.

I could not have been more wrong when I wrote about Real Networks and its role in MusicNet a couple of years ago,

RealSystems is undoubtedly the class of the field, and may be able, through its partnerships, to provide pieces of solutions to the other technical issues facing MusicNet. … AOL’s endorsement of the technology ought to count for something, in the wake of its attempt to draft the inventors of Gnutella to home brew its own peer-to-peer distribution model.

As far as I can see, Real and its partners have learned nothing about what their users want and demand in the intervening months and years. Or maybe the Rhapsody buy is a sign that Real, at least, is beginning to get that way. Keep your ears peeled.

About Colin Brayton

  • Eric Olsen

    Colin, absolutely great review, thorough, well written, very timely, super job. Thanks.

  • kajagoogle

    Colin — well written review, my man — I hope the folks at Real take it to heart. Any thoughts about the new, 99 cent service from Apple? Or is that Part 2 of this review?