The Spirit Inside the Machine
Contrary to myth, convergence is not the union of consumer electronics and computer hardware. It's a far more complex blend of CE, computing, Internet connectivity, software that entertains, and software that organizes. That last element is the unseen whirlwind inside the revolution. It was also, until recently, the element that was least evolved. That's begun to change, and Gracenote is at the forefront of that change.
The Emeryville, Calif.-based company is best known as the heir to CDDB, the service that enriches burned CD-Rs or ripped music files with track and other data. CDDB is virtually everywhere—in the iPod and other compressed-music players, online downloadable music stores, MP3 encoding software like WinAmp, the RealOne player, digital car audio devices, and of course, a gamut of hard-drive-based music servers from high-end companies like Escient to mass-market names like Samsung and Sony.
More than an enhancement, convenience or minor feature, CDDB is an integral part of these products. How far would any of them have come if users had to type artist, title and track data from a keyboard? By quietly revolutionizing the functionality of convergent hardware, Gracenote is one of the founding fathers of convergence. Yet the company's identity is shadowy and underpromoted. That's likely to change with the unveiling of new technologies like the all-embracing Control4 automation interface, which builds on Gracenote's original strengths and moves it into new areas—like custom installation.
NOT JUST A DATABASE
CDDB was founded in 1995 by California music enthusiasts Steve Scherf and Ti Kan as a way for music lovers to share track data. Anyone who bought a new CD could type the artist, album and track names and submit them to a database.
Today music lovers from over 130 nations add metadata to Gracenote's CDDB service 24 hours a day, providing cultural diversity as well as an accurate, up-to-the-minute glimpse of what's hot in any given region. Gracenote's editorial team monitors submissions, locks down information on popular albums and protects the integrity of the database. But CDDB has evolved far beyond a database. It is now a music recognition service.