iTunes extensions get grief from podcast community
Although Apple’s new iTunes 4.9 has earned cheers from analysts and podcasters alike, the new program also has some jeering due to its use of RSS metadata, among them the man largely responsible for both RSS and podcasting.
Podcasts rely on RSS feeds to deliver data. The RSS standard was developed to deliver descriptive content in a lightweight manner (RSS stands for really simple syndication). By adding a link for an attachment to an RSS feed, publishers can also transmit data such as MP3 files. When Podcasters enclose mp3 files in a feed, the attachment will be automatically delivered to subscribers along with the feed.
In order to deliver MP3 content via the iTunes Music Store (iTMS), however, Apple wants podcasters to add special iTunes-only metadata—or extensions—to their RSS feeds. Although a few publishers already support iTunes metadata, most podcasters will have to add these extensions to their RSS feeds if they want to comply with Apple’s specs.
The extensions define descriptive data for podcasts, such as author, duration, and whether or not a podcast contains “explicit” content. Apple uses these descriptions to categorize and describe podcasts on the iTMS. Although podcasters are not required to add Apple’s extensions, the new metadata has nonetheless caused some to cry foul.
Since some of Apple’s extensions are already covered by existing RSS, features critics argue, that Apple’s extensions are unnecessary and dilute the RSS specification. Edd Dumbill, author of Mono: A Developer’s Notebook , who publicly chastised Apple’s iTunes RSS implementation on his site, notes that the extensions largely ignore the existing work that has gone into RSS development.
“From a community point of view, there’s a significant overlap with the RSS Media extensions work, led by Yahoo!,” Dumbill told Playlist via email. “RSS has been very community-focused in its development, and it is certainly a shame that Apple have acted unilaterally, at the same time as benefiting from all the previous community work.”
Dave Winer, who developed RSS and created the enclosure element that makes podcasting possible, dismissed some of these Apple elements altogether.
“I suggest ignoring the itunes:category element, their software seems to work fine without it,” writes Winer. In the same post, Winer chastises Apple, noting “it would have been really smart to review this stuff with the community before releasing their software.”
Another concern is that by adding extensions specifically designed for iTunes, Apple is turning an open standard into a proprietary one, or at least one useful only to iTunes. The iTunes elements are defined by the use of special tags, such as the author tag: <itunes:author>. Critics argue that since the tag contains the word “iTunes,” an Apple trademark, other companies are not likely to support the extensions. So although the tags add more data to the feed, that data is only useful to iTunes, and does not generally enhance the RSS specification.
As Winer notes, “I think it’s kind of a bad idea to use a trademark in the name of a namespace. I think Apple may regret doing this. Also their competitors, already objecting to the use of ‘pod’ in the name of the category, may further object to supporting information with a trademark of a competitor as its name. Come on Apple, we can do better.”
Mathew Honan is a San Francisco-based writer and photographer. His work has also appeared in Macworld, Wired, Time, and Salon.
For more on podcasting, please visit the podcasting topic page.