The Celestial Jukebox

Ah, the sweet smell of vindication. There's nothing better than seeing things turn out exactly like you said they would, particularly when it happens despite the skepticism of others. As I predicted, the Celestial Jukebox is open for business. Sometime ago, a few of us foresaw the day that music lovers would be able to quickly access every piece of music ever recorded.

Now, the jukebox is here. Interestingly, it's not just one music depository but actually many - linked together, not surprisingly, through the Internet. And because the essential problem of mass music storage isn't having enough memory but having an effective way to find what you're looking for, it's no shock that the developer is search-engine pioneer Yahoo. Check out Yahoo Audio Search at audio.search.yahoo.com.

Other search engines - such as AltaVista, Lycos, and Singingfish - can also find music, but Yahoo's engine is far more powerful. It lets you type in a song title, artist name, or description and searches online music services such as Napster, Rhapsody, and iTunes - but not the "legally challenged" file-sharing sites like eDonkey. Then it tells you where to find the song so you can buy it. Although these collected catalogs don't (yet) contain every bit of music ever recorded, they do contain files numbering in the millions (Yahoo claims access to 50 million files), with thousands of new files being added every day.

There's no word yet if Yahoo's archrival Google will offer a similar service, but I'll bet money that it will, and soon. In no time, there will be a legion of music search engines spanning the globe, hunting for the tunes you want. In the same way that online mapping services let you look at practically every square inch of Earth, online music services will let you download any song you can think of.

Of course, that's just the beginning. I can imagine that future search engines will let you type in lyrics or other descriptors. One company (www.411song.com) has already developed technology that lets you hold up your phone to the radio, and it identifies the song. Moreover, as bandwidth gets broader, search engines will let you find movies online. You could search by film title, actor, lines of dialogue, or whatever.

Technology like Yahoo Audio Search is another step toward the future of music and movie playback - for better and for worse (the latter because many downloaded files are lo-fi). I'll go out on a limb and predict that within ten years, online music retrieval will account for more sales than discs. In time, disc collections will be as old-fashioned as the Dewey Decimal System. If you think that's crazy, just remember who you're dealing with - the guy who predicted the Celestial Jukebox.

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