I stumbled upon this nodeshell by the miraculous and terrible forces of chance and the omnipresent nodegel. It caught my eye not just because it has apparently nothing to do with the other softlinks, but because Real Media—and by extension Real Player—are names that I haven’t heard in a long, long time.

Years and years ago there seemed to be an explosion of formats for both audio and video. Even the clunky Flash format (.swf) had its place as the way to distribute small games and animation projects.1 Back then one had to be aware that there was no universal “media” player,2 so you would either resign to having multiple pieces of overlapping software, or become more picky when choosing which files to wget.

Quick interlude: a relevant xkcd in three acts:

Act I
Situation: There are 14 competing standards
Act II
«14!? Ridiculous! We need to develop one universal standard that covers everyone’s use cases! Yeah!»
Situation: There are 15 competing standards

«Why hasn’t Real Media died yet?», you ask, but before answering we would need to define exactly what constitutes a format’s death. The most appealing definition could be when there’s no (usable) media in that format, but knowing that would require to know what’s lying in every storage device, everywhere in the world.

Is it by absolute number of users? Equally impossible, since there may be media in a particular format that’s kept for archival purposes and it’s still the subject of a librarian’s or archivist’s daily work and by that definition clay tablets are still a living format.

It’s evident that a hard, 100% objective definition of “living” and “dead” formats is almost impossible, since there’s bound to be some sort of exception or impossibility down the line. It seems that the definition should be somewhat ambiguous or fuzzy around the edges. Not strictly beautiful, but usable.

Common sense and intuition tells me that a format is dead when its use is relegated to small and/or very specific use cases, when it falls off the mainstream of users, when it’s no longer appealing for a majority of its potential users. Wikipedia reports that the latest stable version of RealPlayer was released only a few months ago. One of the main appeals of this player (back in the day) was precisely the ability to play the proprietary formats of Real Media (namely, .rm, .ra, .rma, .ram, .rv, .rmvb) but today, its advertised capabilities are nothing to write home.

On the other hand, neither of the following offer downloads in Real Media formats.

These arguably represent the heaviest of hitters when it comes to legally buying and downloading music. I’m tempted to say that if they don’t offer files in Real Media formats it’s a good indicator that their customers don’t want/don’t use them. After all, even the unusual FLAC format is making a comeback, despite its large file size, why? It’s advertised as being better for high-fidelity systems due being lossless and supposedly preserving music in its purest form.3

So, why hasn’t Real Media died yet? Mostly because it will never be 100% out of existence, or 100% out of use. But even the world’s largest encyclopaedia hasn’t updated its relevant article in almost 9 years. None of the largest music download services use it, its own parent company doesn’t advertise it as a selling point.

Real Media may not be dead, but it hasn’t been alive for well over a decade. As for me, I say let it rot in its graveyard along with many of its brethren of the format wars of years and decades past. RAmen.

  1. See Newgrounds, Kongregate, Armor Games, MiniClip or just about any other site that thrived on hosting “Flash games

  2. Arguably, there still isn’t one, but the number of formats supported by most players has only risen, while the number of de facto used formats has more or less settled down.

  3. Your mileage may vary