Review: Mogopop, Inc. Mogopop.com (Beta)
Company: Mogopop, Inc.
Compatible: PC/Mac, iPod 3G, 4G, 5G, nano, mini
Pros: An impressively simple, primarily web-based piece of software that enables users to create iPod-ready multimedia content - primarily text files with media links - then host and promote the content online. Though still in Beta form, site and its downloadable file Manager tool work substantially as expected, enabling any user to make files that look best on the 5G iPod, and play in possibly stripped-down forms on smaller and/or older screened iPods.
Cons: Software still isn’t entirely finished; some bugs and rough edges persist, preventing the proper processing and iPod formatting of certain types of media. Best for small projects - no bulk upload feature, and limitations on site’s responsiveness when dealing with masses of content, makes creation of large projects more time-consuming than necessary.
Two weeks have passed since iLounge began testing Mogopop (free, Mogopop.com), a piece of iPod content creation software that’s as intriguing as they get: with Mogopop, you can create your own iPod applications. Sort of.
For years, Apple has locked third-party developers out of creating true applications that will run on an iPod without the company’s permission, but there have been two exceptions: late 2006’s downloadable iPod games, and a much older feature called “Notes,” originally designed to let any Dock Connecting iPod display short text files on its screen. While iPod games have received a bit of recent marketing attention from Apple, Notes has seemingly been on a distant back burner: Apple’s never provided a tool for users to create Notes content, and over the years, the Notes standard has seen only small improvements, mostly in the form of “links.” Today’s fifth-generation iPods can have text files that link to each other, as well as photo, audio, video, and album art files, but older iPods support only some of these types of media. Consequently, Notes created for one iPod may not work fully on another, but the text portion will be fairly similar from model to model.
With such limited and iPod-inconsistent features, it’s not a big surprise that Apple’s done little with Notes, but it has created a 54-page instruction manual for those who want to learn how to use it. Consequently, we’ve seen handfuls of Notes-based applications, such as language translation and bartending software from the company Talking Panda, but they’ve been few and far between. Apple hasn’t even capitalized on the feature to offer downloadable news, RSS feeds, and weather, as some third parties began to test on the iPod years ago.
In essence, Mogopop - the brainchild of staff from Talking Panda - does three things: it transforms Apple’s instruction manual into a web-based application that lets you create your own iPod Notes-based content, hosts your project online for free download, and provides a user-customizable promotional page on the Mogopop community web site. Though it’s still in beta form, and nowhere near as refined as it should be by the time it goes final, the fact that it does all of these three things with any degree of competence makes it more impressive than anything else of its kind right out of the gate.
Mogopop actually relies upon two pieces of software to create and transfer files to your iPod. The first is the web site, which currently runs on Firefox and Internet Explorer, but not Safari. Through the site, you have a list of pages, a window pane where you can enter text and create links, another pane where you can upload media files, and another pane where you can preview how the assembled content will look on a 5G iPod. Once you’re finished putting together the iPod file, which is somewhat like a web site - minus the ability to display text and pictures on the same screen - you can create your promotional page from text and graphics, then publish everything together on the Mogopop site.
Downloaders - users of Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and other browsers are all welcome - don’t have to see any of this. Instead, they have only four steps to take: find something worth downloading, download a free program called the Mogopop Manager, download the single, iPod-ready file, and click on an arrow in Mogopop Manager to transfer it to your iPod. If that sounds too complex - yes, it’s a step or two longer than necessary - realize that Mogopop’s Manager and site are handling lots of intermediate steps that used to be painful for iPod users: downloading folders full of files, locating the right places to put them on the iPod’s drive, and making them look right once they were on screen. Though the programs can’t do the impossible, namely, upgrading Notes to improve its styling of text or ability to display photos, they otherwise make about as much of Apple’s Notes standard as could be expected.
Our Mogopop Experience
That’s not to say that Mogopop’s current tools are perfect - they’re not, but then, we put them through some rigorous testing. When we decided to test the service by creating an iPod-readable file from some existing iLounge content, we had no idea that we were about to develop the largest and most complex Notes file the company had ever seen: with two MPEG-4 videos, hundreds of pictures, and tens of thousands of words in HTML format, our Complete Guide to Macworld Expo 2007 was a bear to assemble, and converting it into Notes format wasn’t easy, either. Mogopop’s software was most certainly designed to add image, video, and audio links to short text files, and what we were trying to do was the opposite: taking documents full of existing images and video links and making those links work on the iPod. We nearly had to start from scratch, stripping our HTML files down into plain text, removing all of the styling and images, and then uploading everything, file by file, over to Mogopop’s site. Without a batch file transfer program - and after a few little discoveries - we found that what seemed like a weekend test had become a nearly two-week project. One of these discoveries was that Mogopop.com slowed down a lot when we loaded it up with content, and its editor became very sluggish, an issue we hope is resolved when the site becomes final.
We also discovered that, despite some built-in limitations, Mogopop was still a bit generous about importing text and videos that mightn’t display properly on the fifth-generation iPod. Each iPod Notes page is limited to around 4,000 characters, and our original Guide’s pages were running much, much longer than that, but Mogopop’s server didn’t warn us of any issues - we had to discover plenty of missing text on the iPod, and then the pages had to be cut into much smaller, bite-sized chunks for iPod consumption. Similarly, the site would let us transfer iPod-compatible video files - only ones in .M4V format, interestingly - but certain videos we tried wouldn’t link properly for display. Ultimately, we found that Mogopop would most reliably play videos converted into iPod format specifically by iTunes, and that short, simple pages were next to mandatory.
The major reason for the page limitation: photographs. Even though the fifth-generation iPod can display them, they aren’t visually parts of the text file - rather, they’re text links you click on, see in a nearly full-screen display, and then exit out of, back to the text file. Unfortunately, the iPod doesn’t save your place in the text file, so you wind up back at the top of the screen after viewing each photo, which is apparently Apple’s fault, not Mogopop’s. Plus, if you try to click on the photos with an iPod nano or older screened model, you’ll see only garbage text on the screen, which Mogopop warns you about prior to transferring your project to anything other than a fifth-generation iPod. In other words, develop a big multimedia project and it’ll only work on one iPod model; stick to audio and text if you want to see it work on everything.
After a substantial amount of work - and lots more communication with Mogopop’s development team than we’re accustomed to having during the product testing process - our Expo Guide, renamed to become the “2007 Guide to New iPod Accessories & More,” was finished. You can see the promotional page and download it here. Some of the wrinkles in its development - such as a possible handful of wrongly-pointed links, which couldn’t be checked easily with using Mogopop’s web interface, and the unnecessarily large size and formatting of the video clips - were issues we would have resolved with more time and development manpower.
But as a first stab at developing iPod-ready multimedia content, we’re generally satisfied with what Mogopop has accomplished with the Guide. The site has created a collection of nicely-organized, well-linked text documents that can be read on most Dock Connector-equipped iPods - assuming their software’s up to date - and users of fifth-generation iPods get to see some decent photos and videos, too. While the portable version of the Guide is no substitute for seeing the original (and now actually longer) versions of the pages on the iLounge web site, it’s far better of a pocket companion than could have been done on an iPod a year ago, and certainly miles easier to create thanks to Mogopop’s software.
In our view, smaller, less ambitious iPod documents will be a breeze for others to create with Mogopop, and based on our experiences, we’d even consider tackling similar or larger projects ourselves in the future, particularly if Mogopop updates its tools to further automate content creation. Thankfully, the site’s only in beta - hence our lack of a rating above - so we’ll look forward to checking it out again in the future, and seeing how far it’s come from our early development efforts this year.