Friday, May 15, 2009

Into the Vacumn

I made a mistake a long time ago that I am still paying for.

I have come to this conclusion over the last couple of months as we look at our support of RealMedia. To put it simply -- RealMedia is a dead end at this point. I can't imagine why anyone would want to put content they are creating into this format, and worse, force their audience to install yet one more player that is notorious for taking over playback of everything on your computer.

It was a necessary decision because we lived in the days of 56k modems, and we wanted to deliver audio and low bitrate video. It was a remarkable achievement that we could deliver video at that time that wasn't very good -- but it worked!

On my campus, we face a similar dilemna now. My organization doesn't offer a followup solution to RealMedia. We don't offer a way for people to ingest media, control access, automate workflows.

Unfortuately, our campus does support something that does -- but it is couched in a framework that is 100% Windows technology. It uses silverlight, but can play back windows media as well. The worst part is that the content lives in this framework, never to get out. In this regard it is even worse than RealMedia because there is no exit strategy. At least realmedia content can be played without a server.

But we live in a vacumn on our campus, so it is a viable solution. I don't blame people at all for adopting it -- because there is little else other than iTunes U that they can use. I have to watch helplessly as the migration begins to a single vendor solution, with little or no hope of mobile playback, housed in a container that is every bit as proprietary as RealMedia.

Most people simply don't care. I have written at great length in the past about the concern I have about content we create not being playable in the next 10 years. This has already happened with very old RealMedia content -- it will not work in the latest RealMedia player. I am sure that Microsoft won't make a similar mistake.......oh wait -- there was this technology called Indeo -- a codec for Windows Media -- I have some of that content on my laptop right now -- and I can't figure out a way to play it back -- or at least convert it. It is dead and inert.

We are forced into thinking short term -- how can we solve the problem NOW -- with little concern about the future. Ironically, in this age of open standards, for some of the more compelling technologies -- the move is to pull content into a box, and not let it escape. There is by design no exit strategy for this content.

I will spare people all the ramifications -- what happens when the vendor goes bankrupt -- what happens when something better comes along -- and you are stuck (again, RealMedia). The reality is that most people don't care.

It is like we are publishing books that only can be read with a certain device, from a single vendor. Oh wait, Amazon is doing that now.