Friday, July 30, 2010

Unhidden Connection

This is a "party game" I invented. It is very simple and a very effective ice breaker. My company has used it twice at employee meetings (breaking into groups of about 8-12 people), and it can also be used at private parties. It is especially good when the group assembled is not very familiar with each other.

Everyone works together as a team in this game. To begin, everyone forms a circle. (Throughout the game, people do not need to stay in their original seat - they can move anywhere in the circle in order to make the "links" work.)

The goal of the game is to form unique links with the people on either side of you. These links must be something that only those two people - and no one else in the circle - share in common.

The links may not be anything obvious from looking at the people. (For example, the only two people with mustaches or the only two wearing green.) Beyond that, anything goes. For example, in the first game, I formed a link with the only other person who had read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. (Although I had read an English translation, whereas he was Russian and had actually read it in its original language!)

Even after people form their own links, they can still participate, helping to find common ground between the people remaining. The last links are always the hardest!

For smaller groups, you can optionally have everyone uncover a unique link with every other person playing.

At the end of the game, every person in the circle will have formed two unique links: one with the person on their right in the circle, and another with the person on their left. And the entire group will have learned a lot about each other, which will hopefully keep the conversation going.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ten things iTunes still doesn't do

I've been working on the world's greatest playlist my whole life, but for most of my life technology has been frustratingly uncooperative. When I was a kid, records allowed you to go to any song instantaneously (if you could find the right track without scratching it), but if you wanted to listen to several songs in a row, you were at the mercy of the pre-determined play order. Then cassette tapes allowed you to re-record songs in any order you wanted, but it was a labor intensive process, and you had to fast forward and reverse your way along until you found the song you were looking for.

I used to dream of a jukebox big enough to hold all the songs I would ever want, with a nice computer hooked up to it so I could program different playlists. I thought I'd need a whole room in my mansion for it. Then a few years ago someone brilliant - I'm not sure, but I hope he's got a few Nobel Prizes and a palace full of servants now - invented MP3s. And then the people who cower in fear of Steve Jobs created an overpriced but very chic device to play those little files, and now my wildest dream has been realized and then some.

Using just a regular computer, I can create almost any playlist I can dream of. And I didn't even need the mansion. In fact, I can download my playlists into a device smaller than my wallet and almost as light. (No shit - 32,000 songs and they all fit in my pocket.)

What I'm saying is that the iTunes player is the greatest thing ever. But that doesn't mean that it couldn't be even better. Here are ten easy things that Apple could do right now to make me go double rainbow.

1.  Sub-Playlists

Sub-playlists would allow you to break down your longer playlists (I've got one that's over 2,500 songs long) into manageable sections, or "chapters." For example, segmenting a blues playlist by regional style, or a history of classical music by period or by composer. This could easily be accomplished with the folders iTunes currently uses if they allowed you to sort a folder in order (based on the order of the playlists in it), instead of just alphabetically.

This would allow some cool options by putting different kinds of playlists in the same folder. For example, you could have set-order chapters at the beginning and end and shuffled songs in the middle.

This is the #1 improvement Apple could make, and it should be an easy fix.

2. Artwork for Playlists

When you create a mix-tape - or now an iTunes playlist - you're basically creating a new album. And any album needs a cover. I've some sweet artwork for my homemade mix-tapes in my day. I made one once called "Chocolate and Razor Blades" out of a Hershey's wrapper and an actual razor blade. That was awesome. Right now, my "Surfer Suicide" playlist is screaming for its own artwork.

3. Comments for Playlists

I capture all kinds of data in the "comments" section of my MP3s: when was the song actually recorded, if different from the release date? Who were the musicians? etc. When I go to a concert, I create a playlist to commemorate it and I write down my memories of the day. I should be able to write that stuff in iTunes.

4. Liner Notes for Albums

This is similar to the last one. Why do we only get information at the song level? iTunes should be smart enough to associate songs with an album, just as it associates them with a playlist. (Really, albums are obsolete - everything is a playlist now, but I digress.) And with that being the case, why can't we get all of the essays, tedious thank-you lists and other junk that fills the album sleeve right in iTunes?

5. Word Wrapping

In list view, when you show the artwork, why not allow the text in the other fields to wrap if space is available. There's a lot of wasted space on the screen; why not use it?

6. Find the Right Artwork

iTunes has a "find artwork" feature, but it's a real crap shoot. Half the time, it gets it wrong. It should err on the side of matching the artist listed, rather than throwing some crappy, unrelated K-Tel album cover on all of my blues compilations.

7. Find Lyrics

If they can do it with album artwork, why not lyrics? Why even tease us with a lyrics tab if it's impossible to get them? At the very least, the songs we buy from iTunes should have the lyrics already populated.

8. Separate Field for "Featured" Artists

This is a personal preference, but I hate albums that have the "compilation" box set to "yes" just because there are a bunch of guests artists. I don't care if Jay-Z stopped by to deliver 14 seconds of non-sequitor rap, the song is still by Billy Joel and he should be the only one listed on the "Artist" line. Give me a separate line to list all of the other musicians that participated.

9. Multiple Date Fields

What do you list in the date field: the date the record was performed / mixed? the date it was released? the date it charted? For my purposes, I want fields for at least the first two, and for classical pieces I would also like a field to note the date it was composed. (And while we're at it, let's make the date fields include optional month and day fields, not just year.)

10. Ring Tone Maker

Ring tones are actually pretty easy to make in iTunes, but it's a long process - no doubt because Apple wants to encourage the direct sale of ring tones. That sucks. Don't make us pay again for twenty seconds of a song we already bought, Apple.