$newsid = ''; ?> While the RIAA does battle with the big music-sharing services, smaller communities are gathering around the fringes to do interesting things with blogs, playlists and RSS feeds.
Item: MP3 blogs are weblogs which offer MP3s to illustrate their authors' comments on music. There's a flourishing MP3 blog scene, mostly dealing with obscure material of little interest to the big record companies. If you like the idiosyncratic world of blogs, you may enjoy MP3 blogs, too. A couple to start with could be Soul Sides and Fluxblog.
Item: Webjay is a "playlist community" of people who post playlists of links to MP3, Windows Media and RealMedia audio. For instance I've been browsing Webjay playlists of cumbia and Brazilian tracks. Webjay doesn't deliver the audio, just links to audio found elsewhere on the web, but it makes the audio available in a lot of useful ways. It has nice search, social and recommendation features (e.g., if you like a playlist you can find other playlists which contain overlapping material). More importantly, Webjay offers each playlist in M3U and SMIL formats, so your favorite streaming audio tool can deliver the playlist as a continuous stream. And it offers each playlist as an RSS feed suitable for podcasting.
Item: Podcasting is the practice of automatically downloading audio from an RSS feed into your iPod or other MP3 player. The name is confusing as the kind of MP3 player doesn't matter; what's important is that podcasting lets you time-shift audio the way a Tivo or other DVR (or a VCR for that matter) lets you time-shift TV. Tell your "podcatcher" the RSS feeds to watch and it will grab any audio they link to and save it in your player for you.
Item: Playthispage is a Webjay feature which brings the three previous items together. Webjay can turn any page which contains links to MP3s into a playlist and into a podcast-ready RSS feed. Thus the URL of the MP3 blog Soul Sides:
But that's only one way these goodies can be hooked together. I don't have a standalone MP3 player and I'm a little fuzzy on how podcasting would work for me without one. In any case I'm more interested in the ability of Webjay to take a list of discrete MP3s and splice them together in a continous "show" that I can have playing in the background. So here's what I've done: in my RSS newsreader I've subscribed to the Webjay Playthispage RSS feeds for several MP3 blogs. If I see something that looks interesting in the newsreader, I visit the Webjay playlist page and use it to launch my Quicktime player to play the show. (There's a trick to making that work in Firefox that I can elaborate on if anyone has read this far.) If something catches my ear, I visit the MP3 blog itself to read about the track; if I still like it, I download the full MP3 and save it in iTunes.
That gives me three things I like to have connected to one another: "radio" to play in the background, MP3s to download, and liner notes.
Someday I'm sure the preceding hodge-podge will exist in one system; iTunes is most of the way there. But such a system is likely to be for pay and limited to the content available in somebody's master library of licensed material. As klugey as MP3 blogs, podcasting and Webjay are, they're open-ended and limited only by the content the web at large chooses to make available.