This morning my son had a song from a music assessment returned because it did not have copyright information embedded in the metadata. He is doing year 12 and has his first written exam today, so the stakes are HIGH, and the stress levels are precisely as high as you’d expect.
The thing is, my son had explicitly added the copyright information to the metadata on the file. He had saved it. No warnings. No error messages. Nothing unexpected. But there was no copyright information in the file. You could not, of course, detect this unless you closed the program and reopened it, reloaded the file, and checked the metadata. If you simply looked while the file was still open, the metadata was sitting there quite happily, doing exactly what we expected it to do.
So he tried again. Using the same software, he added the metadata again, saved it, closed the program, reopened it, reloaded the file, only to find no metadata in sight. Picture, if you will, a stress thermometer: the reading jumped a notch higher.
No matter, I say. I know how to add metadata in iMovie. Let’s do that. So we load the audio file into iMovie, add the metadata, save the file. Load it up again, and hey presto! No metadata. None. What the hell?
It’s an audio file, not a movie, so I try in Garageband. Nope. Garageband doesn’t seem to have a way of adding metadata. I google a bit, and it doesn’t seem possible to do it in Garageband, but there’s an app called Media Meta app that can do it. I download it, load in the audio file… adding metadata seems easy but oops! Can’t save! Have to buy and register the app. for $29.95. Stuff it, I think, let’s just do it. So I buy it and try to activate the registration. “Incorrect activation info!” blares the app. I faff about for a while and finally it works. Excellent. I go to save. It doesn’t seem to save the file. In fact, it opens a Finder window and shows me the file, but doesn’t modify it at all. What. The. Heck???
I try a few more times, exploring settings, hacking around, and can’t make it work.
What else can I try? Maybe we should try VLC on my machine. So I download the latest version of VLC, load the audio file, can’t figure out how to edit the metadata, because this version has different menus to the windows version (FFS). Eventually we find a bit that says “Media Information” and hey presto! Here’s the metadata. We edit it. Click “Save metadata”. The file save date updates to the current time – that’s a good sign, right?
Close the file. Reopen it. Guess what? No metadata.
Stress and frustration levels are going through the roof. I send the kiddo off to have breakfast while I do some more googling. Everything I can find says to do exactly what we did, and yet nothing has worked. I’m wondering whether the US based support folks will be awake at this hour. I contemplate calling my muso friend and getting him to do it for us. Everyone is now close to melt down.
Eventually I find a post on reddit that says not being able to save metadata on movies is a known issue. This is an audio file, not a movie, but I suddenly think like a computer scientist and think “what if we try a different audio format?”
So I change the file from m4a to mp3, and try changing the metadata in VLC. Guess what? It works.
This, tech industry. This is why we can’t have nice things. Because none of that should ever have happened. If I had software that said it was going to change the metadata it should damn well have changed the metadata. If it couldn’t, the very LEAST I should have got is a meaningful error message. Any error message at all would have saved my son from submitting a file that didn’t have copyright info in the first place.
You should not have to be intensely paranoid in order to safely use technology. Users should not need to compensate for the egregious failures of the software industry to produce programs that are fit for purpose.
I have a smart watch that has analog hands. It’s very pretty. Periodically, the hands decide the time is something completely different. It’s not drifting a little, it just sometimes jumps to a time that’s hours different. This is a known issue, to the extent that the accompanying app has a little function to realign the hands of the watch. We have sunk so low that we are perfectly happy to accept a software industry that produces – AND SELLS – watches that CANNOT RELIABLY TELL THE TIME.
We have put up with far too much for far too long. And it’s not up to users to demand better. It’s up to the tech industry to change its priorities. To have some pride, but also to have some shame. This level of hubristic complacence is catastrophic in the long term.
After the dust had settled, I said to my son that the morning’s drama was an indictment on the tech industry.
“You think everything’s an indictment on the tech industry.”
“Well, most things are.”
But they don’t have to be.