One Format to Rule Them All…

A daily routine conundrum, which leads to my wishful thinking but technically possible “big idea.”

Ok.  I’m listening to a non-fiction audiobook at the moment, and the details as it’s dictated to me sometimes flies by at such a pace that it becomes impossible to digest at first try.  More than once I mentioned to myself that it would be extremely useful to crosscheck the audio I’m hearing to the text of the actual source material.  I would buy the book separately just so I can revisit some of the text that was read to me.  Obviously in an audiobook you need to note the time signature of the section you want to revisit, but that is a little difficult when you have both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

It would be so much easier if I can somehow marry the audiobook and the ebook version of this piece of work, and allow me to manipulate either format and have that synced with the corresponding format. 

Let me illustrate: I’m listening to the narrator saying something about the fall of the caliphate in Egypt and the uprising of the Young Turks a few chapters back and I want to revisit it.  Instead of blindly jumping back and forth on the audiobook timeline, I do a search of the text I want on the ebook version, skim through to the section I want, and click play audiobook from there.  Or alternately continue reading it from the ebook version itself.

This marries two fiercely independent pieces of work in terms of copyright, even though they are from the same source.  There are legal precedents that strictly divides these two disparate artforms, and traditionally they don’t (and can’t, legally) mix.

But let say this marriage between the forms is possible.  Why stop there? 

I have this very vague idea of a new industry standard digital file format to encompass a singular piece of work in all its myriad digital incarnations.  For example, a single digital file that holds the full text of Les Miserables, the unabridged audiobook that is synced with the text, the official (insofar as dictated by the publisher) abridged version of the same work, its accompanying audiobook, a graphic novel adaptation of the work, screenplay, songs with synced text of the lyrics, even movies or graphic novel adaptations.

This file format is not just an audiobook, or an ebook.  It’s a universal container.  A new metadata digital file. 

All media players or ebook readers will read this one format, but can only playback the parts of the work that the device is designed to work with (i.e. the iPod is only able to playback the audiobook or songs portion of Les Mis work, while the Kindle only displays the ebook text.  A computer is able to access all available formats included in this metafile).

Now I know how it crisscrosses across so many legal boundaries relating to the copyrights of each of these individual pieces of work.  This is a high-level idea for now, and the legalities will have to be dealt with later. 

The idea is crystalizing slowly, and I’m thinking that it will only give me rest if I give it a little more form.  Areas of concern include how to include more formats of the work in the same file, who owns the overarching metadata of this meta file?  How to add pieces of work to the same file, as and when it becomes available?

I’ll probably write more later.


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