2 Amigos Are Udell-ized

I’m so envious of my Canadian amigos Brian Lamb and D’Arcy Norman— they’ve both made it as quoted by Jon Udell. In the same post. In adjacent paragraphs.

In Opening up iTunes:

Brian Lamb of the University of British Columbia sums it up nicely: “The Stanford iTunes project benefits from goodwill generated by the growth of open source and social software communities, even as it tacitly undermines them. … I wish they weren’t wrapped in an impenetrable cloak of virtue.”

D’Arcy Norman, a software developer at the University of Calgary, asks whether these objections would vanish if Apple provided a Web front end and offered vendor-neutral MP3 files. For the most part, yes. And if iTunes U also provided Web services interfaces to enable creative remixing, I’d be wholly satisfied.

Dudes, you rock! Green with envy here in Arizona. Congrats! The first round of drinks at NV2006 is on me.

Udell’s been writing lately about the Apple iTunes U effort — Apple offering free pocasting hosting for colleges/universities — for being at the same time generous to the open communities of education and critical of Apple’s walled in garden strategy. Specifically, the “free” stuff can only be pod-captured to an iPod (not any MP3 player), and today, how iTunes freeze dries in the podcast URLs where they cannot be cut and pasted elsewhere.

I’m really conflicted here. I do agree with Udell and Brian and D’Arcy on the zingers thrown at Apple, as I would anyone who offered a big free carrot with a stick of sorts behind their back. I am double conflicted since I found out recently I was going to get an early peek to play with iTunesU. My hope is that this stuff is happening so fast that Apple has time to adjust.

On the other hand, our community college has NO infrastructure in place for every day mortal faculty to put rich media online. We have no streaming servers, no podcast publishing platform available for all of Maricopa. We are not Michigan, Stanford, MIT. And we are considered more advanced with technology for community colleges. The current strategy is dumping video and audio files on the web server (and at some of our colleges they have small disk quotas). So the option that Apple may host stuff, a lot of stuff, for free, and more than just lectures, but student work, digital video, is tantalizing. I cannot fully ignore it. Yet.

So I am playing on the edges of the walled garden, just to have a good idea what’s on the inside..

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. You know, I used some strong language (and Udell quoted the strongest), but I hope my overall post reflects my own conflict as well. I like the Apple products, and use them. But I don’t want to be part of locking my campus into any proprietary scheme.

    Then again, I don’t want to pass up a good service that most of our users would love out of some sense of ideological purity.

    And I should stress this isn’t my decision to make. UBC is a big place.

    Gardner Campbell wrote a good post recently about how the infrastructure challenges you convincingly describe are a huge issue.

    I think D’Arcy’s points are key — if the files are MP3, and there was a web-accessible front end I would feel a lot better.

    But as you know Alan, when I asked (nicely, I hope) an Apple rep questions about what I might tell a Linux (or non-iPod) user at UBC if we used their service, he basically shrugged his shoulders and said the corporation would decide. They need to able to answer these concerns better than that. (D’Arcy did a way more effective job of defending the strategy, maybe they should hire him with a big fat salary.)

  2. I just don’t believe iTunes U has any philanthrophy at its heart. This is a marketing move to solidify and enhance the market lock Apple already enjoys with its iTunes/iPod combo. It’s an impressive combo–I love mine–but I bought it because I wanted it, not because it gave me access to things I couldn’t get readily or at all otherwise.

    And it is absolutely true that this is a free media server offered to all of us. It’s true that most of our schools do not have such a thing in place, and probably couldn’t afford one on this scale anyway. I think Apple knows this and is taking advantage of these facts while wearing that “cloak of virtue” Brian so memorably states.

    There will be a price, and we will pay it. That’s business. But it’s a shame and a worry that Apple is pretending to give us something for free. And it’s a worry that Apple’s “reality distortion field” continues to work so well.

  3. Gardner- You know I like the fire in the belly writing, “jIust don’t believe iTunes U has any philanthrophy at its heart… There will be a price, and we will pay it. That’s business. But it’s a shame and a worry that Apple is pretending to give us something for free.”

    I waded through some of that with my distaste for their approach for forming the Educational Community Exchange (whatever the acronym, now forgotten).

    But I ponder the flip side- where is the assumption that Apple *should* be giving away completely open hosting via a successful set up – Apple Store -> iTunes?? Despite it all, they are a business, and do things to perpetuate their bottom line. Is Microsoft doing anything like this? The other MP3 player manufacturers? Anyone?

    One response might me that the Internet Archive is closer to this ideal, or OurMedia.

    I don’t know how this will all play out, but I’m hoping to keep a paw in the door. They have not even developed the concept beyond the Stanford prototype. Regardless, let’s just not look at Apple as some Pollyanna.

  4. Alan,

    Sorry about the double trackback. Changed the title of my post and I guess it went through twice.

    I do think free weblog and email hosting for universities is one of those too good to refuse things.


  5. Yikes, Alan, I feel like a spammer. I do apologize for these multiple trackbacks. There’s some configuration option in WordPress that I’m missing, or maybe I should just avoid changing the title of my post.

    Anyway, what I am writing about is that both Microsoft and Google are getting into free hosting email for colleges and universities at their own domains, e.g. @email.college.edu.


  6. No worries David; a double trackback from a name I recognize is a drop in the ocean of spam.

    I just saw the Google mail offer for free email hosting for educational institutions and sent it to some of our folks as we have differning levels of student email in our system (from all to none).

  7. Thanks, Alan. I appreciate your tolerance.

    Both options are in the “almost too good to refuse” category for us, so I imagine we’ll look very closely. We provide email for all 300,000+ of our students.


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