My previous post was fairly critical of Songbird, but the application is not without its merits. Songbird doesn’t do a lot of things, it doesn’t work that well right now and it lacks several features that I require of my media player. Yet, it is an alpha application — the company calls it a proof of concept — so complaining about bugs and such is rather pointless. Also pointless is trying to compare it to a mature media player like iTunes. Many of the features it lacks, Songbird has queued up for future releases.

What matters at this point is Songbird’s potential contribution to the evolving future of music. Does the idea of Songbird have promise? When viewed from this perspective, Songbird has tremendous possibilities. Perhaps I contradict myself, but maybe the future of digital media does need another media player. Songbird, at its most basic, is a powerful, extensible, mostly open source media player. It seems to be fairly well designed, which means extending it and writing plug-ins should be straight forward. This is a very good thing.

By virtue of it’s design and open source approach, it is the first media player untethered to a particular monetary incentive — which means one can eventually use this player to access any music distribution service, any portable device (hopefully), and any new avenue of music distribution that might arise in the new music industry. This application doesn’t need to placate the major music labels, as iTunes does, by applying some awkward restrictions on how users listen to their music. It also doesn’t need to shove ads in users’ faces, as RealPlayer and other players do. From what I can tell, Songbird’s goal is to be agnostic towards how users acquire their music. Instead, it offers a framework for allowing users to choose their distribution network — whether that’s MP3 blogs, traditional ‘network’ music services, or burning their CDs.

I still question the value of having ones’ media player all balled up with their web browser and RSS reader, but I also see point: Many people use the web (blogs included) for a distinct function (not their only use, but a distinct one), which is to explore, discover and acquire their music. Songbird definitely understands this, although their current development strategy is missing some of the major networks that music gets distributed upon, most prominently P2P networks. Although P2P networks are generally vilified for enabling copyright infringement, they are also used as a primary distribution channel for indy bands and people who just want their music out there. The absence of P2P access as a ‘Network Service’ in this application is probably an attempt to sidestep the legal problems visited upon P2P companies; and perhaps a future version can incorporate legitimate P2P networks (whatever those might be).

At the end of the day, the idea of Songbird is indeed promising. I’m looking forward to a version that is fully functional and bug-free, and gives me all of the components and plug-ins I require in a media player. Until then, I’ll stick with iTunes and my own little set of tools that connect me with the music I love.