Friday, November 10, 2006

Apple is finally waking up to social software

A couple of years ago, Apple was at the forefront of "new-web-uses", with the incorporation of syndication, podcasting, and video into iTunes. However, things change fast in internet time, and before long, blogs, wikis, YouTube, and all those other "social software" apps and neat Flash video players started to leave Apple behind in innovation. Even the QT Player Plug-in looks like it needs a bit of a design overhaul, or at least make it easier to skin. And why can't you embed many QT movies in a web page, without having them all dowload at once and freezing the page, unless you hand-tool a separate poster movie? It was actually easier to embed a QuickTime movie in a web page a few years ago, then you could just use the embed tag.

Apple's Weblog Server, included in OSX Server, has been a disappointment to me. It's supposed to be a blogging tool, and a podcasting tool. But it does neither well, from a user interface standpoint, and comment moderation is very poor. As Apple has survived and then thrived by its interfaces, this is surprising to me. Nothing has been done to improve Weblog Server since its inital release. I'm sure the "back end" is very robust, but the front end is poorly thought out. You can actually do more with Blojsom, which it's based on. I have a right to criticize Apple products, by the way, as I use many of them!

After many hours of work, and searching for information scattered at different web sites, I managed to customize the interface to make it usable for podcasting, it's at
I have to admit that trying to edit those Velocity templates, which I had never heard of before, was not much fun.

We have not really used it yet (still hand-coding podcasts), and I'm afraid if I install a major OS update it will break something. The purpose of our podcast server is to make it as easy as possible for a novice end-user to update a podcast after we create it for them. We are not ready to sign up for iTunesU yet, waiting for the early adopters to pull the arrows out of their backs and help Apple improve the first release. I decided to take my lumps on other new software.

Well, it seems Apple has finally woken up! I had run across iTunes' iMix a while ago, but did not pay much attention. However, this link caught my eye

It seems that now you have a "Publish to the Web" feature, which creates code that you can paste into your web page or blog, and links you to your or others' iMix. Here is an example of an iMix.. I picked a random one, have not looked at the songs yet.

When I copy-pasted the Apple code Blogger Beta gave me the error "Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tag is not closed..." but I bypassed it and it seems to work anyways.

I think this is a first for Apple: automatically creating copy/paste code for web sites and "social apps", and I hope to see this functionality incorporated in some of their server products, such Weblog Server, which needs a complete interface overhaul and some back-end tweaks, and extended to other media types, such as QuickTime movies.
Another first, I believe, is that the above is in Flash format, I have not seen Apple use Flash in such a prominent role before.

I have to investigate if an iMix, now that it can be published, has any educational uses. One more thing to look at!


Cole said...

I like this idea ... at PSU we are using iTunes U and a home grown Drupal podcasting site. These two spaces provide different kinds of opportunities for faculty ... iTunes U gives us a protected podcasting space, while our own solution gives us an open environment where faculty can (if they want to) solicit feedback via comments.

A while back I wanted to find a way to publish my lecture podcasts as iMixes ... I haven't found a way. Looks like anything you place in an iMix must be in the store. Unfortunately podcasts are not really in the store. Furthermore, I have been disappointed that iTunes U doesn't share much of the store's emerging social functionality. At any rate it was good to see some new stuff from Apple.

Frank Fulchiero said...

Cole, thanks for the info, I will go back and read your original posts. We are just getting started with this stuff, and we are always looking at institutions that have been doing it longer, or have greater resources. We have to be careful what we take on, due to our time/staffing limitations.

It seems the combination of iTunesU and a "homegrown" site is a good way to go. For now, we have neither, everything is "hand made" by me. This is fine for now, we have not really promoted podcasting, so I can hadle the workload. We will need a more automated system in the future though, if we start promoting it.
Georgia College and State University
University of Minnesota
also have written their own podcast servers from the ground up. They both seem pretty full-featured. Interestingly enough,including yours, everyone has used different underlying technologies, indicating how important a factor "local knowledge" is in selecting a solution.