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Monday, October 23, 2006

Napster on the Underground?

Would you share your music on the Tube?

UndersoundMany thanks to both Geoff and Matt from the New Scientist who both sent me a link to Undersound, a project by three design students in California and London where you can upload and download songs at different points around the Tube network and even hear tunes that other commuters are listening to, all via Bluetooth.

Well that's what it appears to do in a nutshell although the designers give it a slightly different introduction

"undersound is a new type of experience, an interface that is on your mobile phone and in the underground stations you pass through every day. It is part personal, part public and all about the tube. undersound is a way of listening to, distributing and affecting the flow of music in the underground that goes beyond just the music itself. It allows you to see your journeys, the people around you, and the tube itself in a new light. There are three key aspects of life underground that we tapped into in the design of undersound.......

While in the carriages of the tube, I can browse undersound music of other people in range. Because the system will be gathering metadata on the stations where the track has been (via uploading/downloading at the transfer points) and thus its spread within the network, the time it has been in the system, the number of times it has been played, the number of people who have played it, and so on, I will be able to see this information when I look at other people's music. I can browse through other's tracks anonymously, but if I decide to download a song from someone else an alert will be triggered on their phone letting them know that I am grabbing one of their tracks."

London Underground Poster - Personal StereoThey compare this type of music sharing with the way people "share" their copies of Metro (obviously written before London Lite and the London Paper came on board).

But do I really want to listen to what other people are listening to on the Tube? Haven't the London Underground spent years trying to get us all to turn the volume on our headphones down, implying that personal stereos should be kept ..... er.... personal?

As I browsed the website looking for more of "the science bit", I learnt that apparently each station would have a visual display of the music on offer. Does this imply that the music stays at the station even when you leave it? Would you be able to travel through certain stations as you knew a lot of drum & bass would be on offer?

Whether the three women will get any funding to take the project further remains to be seen. At the moment it sounds too much like a scientific experiment and I'm not sure anyone would buy into it with the current language "It combines situated and ubiquitous technologies in a way that reflects current social practices as songs are highly linked to the location where they become accessible but their journey throughout the space depends on people's movements and behaviour over time."

But stranger things have happened and maybe there is a mass market for sharing music on the Tube. What do you think?


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