Music in the Cloud: Heavenly or Pipe Dream?

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Source: Flickr user erin MC hammer

Let’s face it, remembering to sync just stinks. With MobileMe, Apple introduced “over-the-air” syncing, allowing your contacts and emails to appear on your phone and computer automatically without intervention. Small amounts of data make it easy. However, if you want music, that’s a whole different story.

Currently, you need to manually hook up your iPhone or iPod to your Mac in order to sync, and most music collections exceed the size of the average music player. Kevin Tofel over at GigaOm Pro proposes the idea (subscription required) of moving all your music to the “cloud” and then streaming your music to your player. This way, your entire music collection is available over an Internet connection. Kevin mentions that ZumoDrive already offers the ability to play music synced to the cloud, so why not extend that to other services? If you can purchase music via your iPhone, why not stream it? Great idea, but not the way Kevin suggests it.

For one, we’ve already been down this road of keeping your collection in the cloud. Before clouds meant anything but rain, MP3.com came up with a similar idea. In January 2000, it introduced a service that let you stream your entire music collection via its website. You simply proved you owned a particular CD and then it unlocked the album from its digital locker and allowed you to listen to it. Unfortunately, the record industry didn’t like this service since they thought it represented unauthorized duplication and distribution. It’s been a decade and the music industry has accepted that digital music is a fact of life. The case might have gone differently today. MP3.com minimized the need to actually move the data around and was ahead of its time.

A big problem with using the cloud to sync your music is the sheer size of data. A few songs are great, but whether you use DropBox or ZumoDrive, a large MP3 collection would be prohibitively expensive to keep in the cloud, and take forever to upload over a consumer-grade broadband connection. Additionally, while the cloud can be convenient, it can also go up in smoke at the drop of a hat. Just ask anyone with a T-Mobile Sidekick. A song collection represents hundreds of hours of ripping or thousands of dollars in online purchases. It would be risky to keep solely in the cloud. While you would still have the music on your computer, keep in mind that “syncing” is not “backing up,” because when syncing goes haywire, it has the ability to erase data from your computer. SugarSync recently did that to me, and man it stung!

An Alternative

Personally, I prefer to use Pandora and Last.fm to bring my music with me. With their ability to customize stations, I’m able to hear songs I already own as well as discover new artists. While it’s not identical to my music collection, it provides a majority of the same songs and same artists. If you want your exact music collection accessible anywhere, software already exists to do that. Simplify Media allows you to stream your iTunes collection to another computer or to your iPhone and it even works on slower Internet connections. This keeps the data on your computer and hopefully safely backed up.

Backups are really the key, though. As so many of us move to online backup services such as Mozy, Carbonite, and Backblaze, why couldn’t they extend their services like Kevin suggests and allow streaming of your backed up music collection? A good online backup should be an exact duplicate of your music collection. Carbonite already provides instant remote access to your online files and I’m sure Mozy and Backblaze will be sure to follow. Bandwidth, of course, is an issue, but I’d gladly pay a few extra bucks a month to have my MP3 collection backed up and accessible to me anytime anywhere via a web browser or my iPhone. That should be a good value add for these companies and earn them a bit of extra revenue.

Good idea Kevin, though I disagree with the implementation. Too bad that MP3.com was a decade ahead of its time. It should take the Newton team out for a beer and talk about what that’s like!

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