CMIS could be the MIDI interface of content management…

MIDI – the Musical Instrument Digital Interface – was created back in 1982 by a consortium of musical equipment manufacturers including, if I remember correctly, Roland, Yamaha, Sequential Circuits, Korg, Oberheim (I’ve got a Matrix 6 to sell BTW ;-), maybe Ensoniq (did they exist already?) and others. Companies that were fiercely competing in the market, individualistic industry leaders who agreed to get together to create a bigger market for their instruments and equipment.

My diploma work as an electronics engineer was about MIDI, in 1983 – I created a MIDI output interface that could be retrofitted into accordions. The spec was not final at the time (or at least I could get a final version – that was before the web of course), all I had in terms of specs were a few magazine articles, a Yamaha DX7 and one of the first Korg synths to have MIDI. Both synths had slightly different implementations, and some compatibility problems, as can be expected from an early and not yet widespread spec.

What’s happening with CMIS today sounds quite similar: competing vendors finally agreeing on an interoperability spec, even if it’s limited to a lowest common denominator. If this works as with MIDI, we’re in for some exciting times – the few years after 1982 saw a boom in MIDI-related electronic instruments and systems, as suddenly all kinds of equipment from different companies could talk together.

MIDI had serious shortcomings: a slow transmission rate, serial transmission meaning each note in a thick chord is delayed by nearly one millisecond, and somewhat limited data ranges for some real-time controllers. But the basic idea was great, let’s get something done that allows our instruments to talk together in a usable fashion, even if it’s not perfect. MIDI has survived until today, 27 years later, which is quite amazing for such a standard. It’s been tweaked and workarounds (including hardware extensions) have been used to adapt it to evolving needs, and often travels via USB or other fast channels today, but it’s still here, and the impact on the music equipment industry is still visible.

I must admit that I was quite disappointed with the CMIS spec when I first looked at it, especially due to the so-called REST bindings which aren’t too RESTful. And CMIS seems to consider a “document” as the unit of content, whereas JCR converts like myself prefer to work at a more atomic level. And don’t tell me that hierachies are a bad thing in managing content – you might want to ignore them in some cases, but micro-trees are a great way of organizing atoms of content.

Nevertheless, seeing the enthusiasm around the soon-to-be-incubating Apache Chemistry project (that link should work in a few days, how’s that for buzz building?) made me think about MIDI, and how amazing it was at the time that “commercial enemies” could get together to do something that finally benefitted the whole industry.

I still don’t understand why WebDAV can’t do the job if this is about documents, and still prefer JCR for actual work with content (considering that everything is content), but I’m starting to think that CMIS might make a big difference. It will need a test suite for that of course- software engineers know that interoperability without test suites can’t work – and this week’s CMIS plugfest is a good step in this direction. I’ll be around on Thursday, looking forward to it!

6 Responses to CMIS could be the MIDI interface of content management…

  1. Rob Koberg says:

    “I created a MIDI output interface that could be retrofitted into accordions”

    and they just let you freely walk around?


    (seriously though, I love me some Flaco Jimenez)

  2. bdelacretaz says:

    @Rob, you need to get yourself some Richard Galliano!

    I don’t think he’d play a MIDI accordion, but that can be useful for notation. And it was a cool thing to implement back then anyway ;-)

  3. Interesting comparison! I recently bought a Midi keyboard (with looots of controllers) to play with the fabulous software synthetizers we have nowadays on our Macs and PCs, and was amazed to find that all I learned about Midi 15 years ago was still current.

    Let’s hope CMIS will allow the same level of universal interoperability and have an equivalent lifetime!

    Don’t know about CMIS, but one of the reasons for the success of MIDI was its simplicity, and it lasted until now because it is an open framework that can accept new extensions that weren’t initially foreseen. Another similar example is XMPP!

  4. Kas Thomas says:

    Brilliant analogy (MIDI). I followed MIDI from the very beginning, buying a Korg Poly 800, one of the first Yamaha DX7s, and some of the early Roland digital drums, wiring them all together into a giant furball of noise. But, it was synchronized noise! The noise generators talked together! :)

    Like CMIS, MIDI won’t be perfect, but it’ll be great fun, and the resulting “symphonies” of content-exchange will give rise to some interesting synergies, I’m quite sure.

  5. W. D. says:

    Rob Koberg Says:
    April 28, 2009 at 10:24 am | Reply

    “I created a MIDI output interface that could be retrofitted into accordions”

    Such a waste of effort and the time for so many years. You might be and electronic engineer, but otherwise scary in business and the great opportunity looser.
    The Austrian, Italians, Swedish, Slovenian made huge progress and created 1000’s jobs, and now all of them make money selling that product to USA. “And here, he comes” – telling us story of “self-nothing- eccomplishments.
    It’s nothing to be proud off with such an outcome for the Accordion MIDI Interface initial diploma project. Somebody powerful should send you to North Slope in Alaska to work as a laborer till the rest of your life for such a fiasco. As far as I can see, your engineer diploma was mistakenly awarded.
    Learn quickly to play accordion, start improving the Accordion MIDI interface, and rehabilitate yourself my friend.

  6. bdelacretaz says:

    @W.D.: ???

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