opinions

Are Google Reader shared items the new del.icio.us?

by Shane Perris on Thursday, 26 June, 2008

in opinions

deliciouslogo Since its debut in 2004, del.icio.us has been the market standard for social bookmarks.  Its reputation was further enhanced in late 2005 when it was acquired by Yahoo!.  Social bookmarking was going places.  It wasn’t that long ago that every second blog (particularly in the tech niches) had some type of del.icio.us widget in a sidebar somewhere.  Sometimes it was a simple list of the latest bookmarks the blog author had while other times it was a tag cloud of recently added items.  Either way, del.icio.us seemed to be around every corner. [click to continue…]

{ 0 comments }

Why internet TV is failing and torrents are winning

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 11 June, 2008

in opinions

I understand that content owners have licensing agreements around the world and feel that they can’t open up television programs globally to protect the financial investment of various regional licensees.

However, content owners, you need to understand that if you deny people a way to legally access your product simply on the basis of geographic location, they will get it anyway without you. [click to continue…]

{ 23 comments }

Trent Reznor does it again

by Shane Perris on Tuesday, 6 May, 2008

in administrivia,opinions

I’ve got a guest post up at sarahintampa.com (the blog of Grand Effect and ReadWriteWeb writer Sarah Perez) on the new Nine Inch Nails release The Slip and how Trent Reznor continues to lead the way in ‘music 2.0’.

Over the last few months, Sarah has quickly become one of my favourite tech blogger so of course I jumped at the chance to provide this guest post.

NIN does it again. Are you watching, Thom?

{ 0 comments }

Data Portability: do normal people even care?

by Shane Perris on Friday, 25 April, 2008

in opinions

DP-Logo-GreenData portability is the idea that individuals have control over their data online and can determine how they and others can use that data (if at all). Some examples of what data portability could be include:

  • your profile ‘auto-filling’ when you join a new site
  • exporting details of your social network contacts to an external contact manager
  • easily migrate blogs between different service platforms
  • easily moving photos from one web service to another (eg from Flickr to Zooomr)

(more examples of possible use cases for data portability here)

There is no denying that data portability is a hot issue amongst the tech community. There is the Data Portability Project, Google’s Open Social initiative for widgets/gadgets/apps in the social networking space, uber blogger, PR machine and the loudest echo in the chamber Robert Scoble avidly pushing data portability at every turn before accepting that there are roadblocks to data portability and the recent announcement by Yahoo! that it is rewiring its network of internet properties for social graph and data portability. However, all this is for the geeks and the techies. What about the real world and real, normal people who don’t live and breathe this stuff.

Do normal people care about data portability? As always, when it comes to finding out the opinions of the tech savvy but not tech obsessed, I turned to my wife, who although she spends a lot of time online, she is very far removed from the echo chamber that many people find themselves in. She couldn’t tell you how much Google spent on buying the latest start up, or who Jason Calacanis is, what Twitter does, who Duncan Riley is angry at this week or any of the other things that fill the pages of Techmeme on a daily basis.

What my wife can tell me is what normal people (ie not early adopters) think. Her extensive network of online friends, although from large and varied backgrounds with wildly different views on many things, share a common thread – they use the internet as a tool, not as a game, or a money making machine or as a way of life.

I asked my wife, “Does anyone care about data portability?” I then had to explain about ideas such as exporting your Facebook contacts to Outlook, or moving photos from Flickr to Zooomr, or shifting a Blogger blog to WordPress and so on. The blank, uncomprehending stare slowly became more focused as she began to understand what I was trying to say. “Outlook? Why would I want to do that? Flickr? Don’t most people just keep a copy of their photos on their hard drive anyway? I know you can move from Blogger to WordPress fairly easily. […..] did that and it worked fine” and so on.

Data portability. Do normal people care? Probably not. Right now, it just doesn’t affect them. Normal people don’t hop from web service to web service. Normal people don’t seem to have extensive collections of media online and even if they did, they’ve still got the original files floating around. Rudimentary services that work more or less good enough already exist for the bigger services, especially where there is a commercial imperative to make importation easy.

Is data portability important? I believe so. However, until data lock in has an impact on the online experience of the slow adopters, no one will really care.

{ 10 comments }

Has Radiohead missed the point?

by Shane Perris on Thursday, 10 April, 2008

in opinions

Radiohead - Nude coverart Radiohead has once again hit the headlines with an ‘innovative’ new media way of promoting the band and the music. They have broken down their latest single ‘Nude’ into 5 stems (vocal, guitar, bass, drums, the rest) and made each available to buy exclusively at the iTunes music store for fans to download, remix and uploaded their mixes to the Nude Remix site.  Despite the media hype, the question to me becomes is Radiohead at the forefront of new media or the rearguard of old media?

I have a number of concerns with how Radiohead is approaching this release:

  1. The stems have to be downloaded individually, each at the cost of an individual track ($1.69 here in Australia), making it more expensive than some EPs.  Some people might think that this is still a fair deal (after all, how often do you get the chance to remix a track yourself?) but it doesn’t offer anything extra to the  buyer.  In times past, Nine Inch Nails have released multi-tracks for free (remix.nin.com has more information).  As a less extreme example price wise, BT released ‘The Technology’, 6 track EP of remixes and included the multi-track files for 3 singles of the album ‘Emotional Technology’ back in 2004.  Nine Inch Nails was free and BT added something extra.  Radiohead does neither.
  2. The stems are only available through the iTunes music store.  Big Radiohead fan but no iTunes music store in your country? Too bad, my friend. No remix for you.
  3. The Nude Remix terms and conditions are not very friendly at all.  You sign over all rights to the remix to Warner/Chappell Music (the publishers). It doesn’t specify if this only applies if you upload the track to the remix site. In my own experience, if it is not specified, it is a blanket approach.  Also, the Radiohead band members are given sole writing credit.  When you submit your remix, you can not ‘exploit’ it in anyway without prior approval of Warner/Chappell and Radiohead.  In other words, we own your song, you will receive no credit for your work and you can’t do anything with your own remix without permission.  To Radiohead’s credit, they do also undertake to not commercially exploit your work without contacting you first. Nice.
  4. There’s no competition or prize attached. While a competition or prize is not essential, in the context of the previous three points, throw your fans a bone guys!  Seriously. It doesn’t have to be a huge prize.  Maybe the best remix could get a signed copy of the the 7″ vinyl single, or something equally token but meaningful to a hard core Radiohead fan.  Surely that wouldn’t be too much to ask.  Instead, remixers get a guarantee that the ‘Radiohead will listen to the best remixes’.  Woo.

Are Radiohead reaching out to the fans by offering individually downloaded components, or are they taking 5 bites from the same cherry?  Is it innovative new media thinking or classic old media record label money grubbing?

What do you think?  I really want to know what other people think about remixing ‘Nude’

{ 4 comments }

Mobbing the echo chamber

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 12 March, 2008

in opinions

Two issues dominated the tech blogosphere this week:

  1. Jason Calacanis dared to suggest that people working for a startup might need a different work ethic to someone punching in 9-5; and
  2. Business journalist Sarah Lacy apparently bombed an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, at the South by Southwest (SxSW) conference (remember when SxSW used to be about the music, man? It’s changed, dude. It’s changed).  The meltdown was fuelled by an angry TwitMob feeding its dissatisfaction to the broader tech community, 140 bilious characters at a time.

Both of these issues took on a life of their own and the dominated the space despite the fact that they are of limited interest and aren’t really that important in the scheme of things anyway.

The conversation around Calacanis’ post can be summed up as:

Jason sucks

I disagree

He’s a prick

Well I think Jason’s right

Well I think he’s just a prison warden, nyer nyer nyer

And I think he’s got it backwards, too

Um, I actually work for Jason. Can I say something now?

… and so on.  It’s hardly world-changing stuff, but I bet a whole heap more people have heard of Mahalo now! (personally, I think Jason sounds like my type of boss – free coffee so I don’t have to leave my desk? Sure thing. Paid for lunch so I don’t have to go outside and get it or brown bag it? Just sign here and initial there? Comfortable chairs, two monitors and a laptop for work at home? Damn straight! All this and I’m a family man.  Try working 9 to 5 while constrained by laws governing public administration and spending of tax dollars and then tell me you wouldn’t work for Jason in a heartbeat …)

As for the apparent ‘crash and burn’ of Sarah Lacy, I feel like I was the only one who thought “Sarah who?” before proceeding to not care that an interviewer misjudged her subject and crowd and had an off night. The only newsworthy aspect of the whole thing is that it was at a tech conference and therefore plenty of people were pumping up opinions live on Twitter (wisdom of the crowds or rampaging mob? You decide.)

The most startling thing for me was that in both cases it was astounding how quickly a mob will turn when the Silicon Valley/Bay Area echo chamber starts feeding upon itself at so spectacularly.  I’m somewhat saddened that from my antipodean perspective in Australia, in a week where Apple releases an iPhone SDK, a Gmail archive program turns out to be a front to scam your login details and REM streams its new album through iLike a week before its release date (I couldn’t care less but I know lots of people who do care), and this insider First World Problem dross is the best people can do.

*sigh*

{ 0 comments }

Why Nine Inch Nails is NOT the future model of music

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 5 March, 2008

in opinions

ghosts_400x400_4Trent Reznor, the creative force behind Nine Inch Nails, has caused a stir with the release of the new NIN album ‘Ghosts I-IV‘. True to recent form (including berating record labels over pricing of NIN product and encouraging fans at a concert in Sydney to steal his music [language warning]), ‘Ghosts’ has been released online as an independent release on the mysterious “The Null Corporation” record label (nullcorp.com perhaps? According to whois, it’s a private Dreamhost registration so I’m possibly way off base on this one).

The release is being heralded as the future of music distribution and is available as a DRM free digital download, a 2xCD release (also available in stores in early April), a deluxe version with bonus data DVD of all the audio tracks (perfect for remixing the songs – a similar DVD was made available with the limited edition of the remix album for Year Zero – Y34RZER0R3M1X3D) and the ultra deluxe version with vinyl, artwork, CDs and booklets (which sold out within hours of release at $300 a pop).

Predictably, this development has been heralded as the beginning of the end of the record industry (how many times have we heard that?) as Trent Reznor continues down the “big name” path paved by Radiohead. Leaving aside for the time being the substantial differences between Reznor’s and Radiohead’s approaches, it is still difficult to argue that this NIN release is as important as the blogosphere hype-o-meter would have everyone believe.

‘Ghost’ is NOT the future of music distribution

  1. Nine Inch Nails is already a well established, highly regarded entity with a significant and fanatic supporter base, and was for some time before going independent.
  2. Much of Nine Inch Nails’ success post ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ was due to the support provided by Interscope Records, a record label well placed within the much reviled music industry/record label system.
  3. The previous success of Nine Inch Nails gives Reznor a significant edge when it comes to using brand recognition in negotiating digital and physical distribution deals.
  4. Reznor has sufficient capital to bankroll a high quality professional production with a big name producer (long-time production collaborator and well known producer Alan Moulder). While Reznor has crammed a lot of that capital down his throat, up his nose and in his veins over the years (he maintains he is totally clean now, and you can draw your own parallels between apparent sobriety and relatively high productivity of recent years), he successfully sued his ex-manager John Malm for several million dollars, which gives an idea of the kind of cash that has been floating around the Nails machine for the past two decades.

Trent Reznor has done very well out of this exercise publicity wise, and probably financially as well. The sell-out ‘ultra-deluxe’ version was limited to 2,500 copies, creating revenue of $US 750,000 in just a few hours. Of course, that needs to be balanced against the massive bandwidth costs incurred after the servers copped an absolute hammering in the days after the release of ‘Ghost’.

How easy would it be for an unknown artist to bootstrap their way towards this kind of success?

In my view, not very (if it is possible at all). If the record label/recording industry is indeed on its way out, this could be last era of the ‘mega star’. Perhaps a better indication of the way forward for a lot of aspiring musicians is what I like to call the ‘JoCo Model’.

jonathan_coulton_lab Jonathan Coulton (or JoCo as he is affectionately known to his fans) is an independent musician based in New York. A former computer programmer, Coulton quit his job to pursue a career in music. In 2005-06 he released a song a week for a year on a podcast called “Thing a Week” and is possibly best known for the songs ‘Code Monkey‘ and ‘Still Alive‘ (the end theme for the computer game ‘Portal‘). Having said that, my wife is quite partial to the songs ‘Soft Rocked By Me‘ and ‘Tom Cruise Crazy‘, so Coulton has a wide appeal.

Part of Coulton’s success can be attributed to the way he has released his music. Each of the Thing a Week tracks were released under a Creative Commons license that allowed for file sharing and non-commercial usage including things such as fan videos, non-commercial podcasts and remixes. Using services such as Eventful, Coulton is also able to tour when and where demand permits. Coulton’s music career has reached the stage where he is making more money now than in his last year as a computer programmer, as revealed on the This Week in Tech  podcast (Episode 133 – Jonathan Coulton – Functional and Elegant).

The JoCo Model demonstrates the importance of playing to your niche. Coulton’s supporters are just as fanatical, if not as numerous, as fans of Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. It is not difficult to imagine Reznor’s career having a similar trajectory had he started 2 years ago instead of 20.

Postscript: I should note that I’m a huge fan of Nine Inch Nails and have been listening to ‘Ghost I-IV’ while writing this. It’s an excellent collection of instrumental tracks and I encourage you all to go out and buy it. 36 mp3s fully tagged with individual artwork and encoded at 320kb/s is worth the minimum $5 investment. You can order from here if you like…

{ 2 comments }

The problem with AIR

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 27 February, 2008

in opinions

I got carried away last night commenting on this Read/Write Web post about 6 new Adobe AIR apps.  For anyone unfamiliar, AIR or Adobe Integrated Runtime (so that’s Adobe Adobe Integrated Runtime, really) is Adobe’s effort at bringing Rich Internet Applications (RIA) one step closer.  RIA, for those increasingly unfamiliar with my jargonistic babblings, is the idea of web apps that have a high level of interactivity and preferably can be used offline.  Another example is Google Gears or the recently announced Mozilla Prism (formerly WebRunner).

For AIR apps to work, users first need to download what is known as a runtime binary, which is essentially a library of code that can be used by multiple applications.  It allows for a degree of interoperability and common usage.  A “sort of, not really” example of a runtime binary is a Java virtual machine, which allows for an application to be written on one platform but run on many different platforms and still look exactly the same.  There are also .NET runtimes in the Microsoft/Windows world.

I like the idea of having web apps that include an offline component, particularly as more and more services like office productivity, photo and video editing move into the cloud.  However, the fact that users have to download a separate application/library for these applications to work in this manner still feels like a significant roadblock to me.  It’s hard enough to get people to load plug-ins in their browsers or even extensions.  The popularity of the Flash plug-in does not disprove my point either.  When was the last time you installed a browser that didn’t have a version of Flash installed as a default.

The fact that the runtime has to be downloaded and then installed is another aspect that will work against it.  How many people still spend the majority of their screen time at their work computer in cubicle land where corporate IT has locked the workstation down tight to prevent unauthorised installations?  Every office job I’ve ever worked at reflects that situation.  Hell, I can’t even use Buzzword at work because the standard operating environment has settled on a version of Flash 9 that is several point releases lower than is required for the word processor to work.  If a point release for a near-universal plug-in is crucial, how much more difficult will it be to increase adoption rates for a runtime binary installation?

AIR has me interested and intrigued. I’d be something of a failed geek if it didn’t.  I just can’t see AIR gaining wide spread acceptance while it still needs a separate download and installation for any of the apps to work.

Think I’m wrong? Deluded? Uninformed? Right on the money? Let me know in the comments.

You know you want to.

{ 5 comments }

Virtual time – the trap of social networking

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 20 February, 2008

in opinions

Socialising and networking takes time. A lot of time.  The more friends you have, the more time you need. There are phone calls, emails, letters (honest-to-god by hand, on paper letters – they do exist – look it up if you don’t believe me), catch-ups, dinners, chats over coffee/tea/beer/protein shakes – it goes on and on. The more you value your friends and networks, the more time you spend on them.  It’s hard but valuable, rewarding and cherished work.

It is no different in that nebulous and ephemeral virtual world we have all come to know and love as “social networks” – the Facebooks, Jaikus, Myspaces, Twitters, Diggs and last.fms of the world.  There is a very good chance that if you are reading this blog, you belong to at least one, if not most or indeed all of the places I just mentioned.

There are many benefits to belonging in a social network.  You can meet new people, share ideas with those that are like-minded and debate those that are not, get recommendations from the social host, discover new things and have old beliefs reinforced.  You can use it to network in the more traditional sense, raise awareness of what you do, look for a job or look for someone to fill a job.  All this and so much more.

It can be so easy to make new friends, especially if you don’t have to maintain a face-to-face relationship. You can add people from all over the place – the more friends the merrier for some.  Having new things automatically recommended to you is awesome. Think of the time saved now you don’t have to look for new things yourself! But is it really time saved?  Every social network has a user profile of some sort, asking for information that ranges from the basic (age, name, location etc) through to the detailed (last 3 jobs, list 10 hobbies, favourite books, movies, authors, bands, food etc. etc. and did I mention etc.?).  The more questions asked and the more granular the information that is collected, the better the experience, or so the theory goes.

It feels like every day, a new network pops up on my radar or a website implements one for registered users. Just last month I discovered I was suddenly a member of the Mashable! network simply because I registered to leave a comment!

Filling out profiles takes time (a lot of time time, if done in detail).  Checking up on your friends’ updates takes time (a lot of time you have a lot of friends).  Populating your network presence takes time (uploading photographs, updating status, ignoring Facebook apps – yet another big batch of etcs.). The demands on my time become stronger every day.

I’m tired of being social. Can I have my life back now? Please?

 

Photo credit: luc legay

{ 0 comments }

Microsoft and Yahoo: did anyone actually see it coming?

by Shane Perris on Wednesday, 6 February, 2008

in opinions

It’s interesting that for years there have been rumours that Microsoft and Yahoo were destined for some sort of arrangement, whether it be a formal partnership, merger or good ol’ fashioned buy out.  The first link goes back to 2006 and I vaguely recall rumours in 2005, but my Google-fu is letting me down at the moment and I can’t find evidence of this.  My point remains – this idea has been around a long time.

This time of year is flush with predictions for the 12 months ahead.

The Read/Write Web predictions included the rise of semantic apps, the acquisition of Digg, Twitter and Tumblr, the Facebook juggernaut rolling on and the first chinks in the Google armour. 

Mashable! predictions included increased acceptance of the mobile social, Facebook going mainstream (if my 60-something coworker asks me about Facebook because her sister-in-law sent her an invite, it’s already mainstream people) and blogs to become acquisition targets.

Update: as Adam Ostrow of Mashable kindly pointed out in the comments, the one important prediction I missed in his 2008 predictions was indeed Microsoft buying Yahoo. I’m an idiot (Adam kindly didn’t point out that fact, so in the interests of full disclosure I’m doing that for him).

There were predictions of Windows XP living on and increases in state-sponsored cyber warfare, “personality matters“, the year of “micro” (blogging, groups, online video)  and enterprise adoption of web 2.0 (I’d link to the original Forrester report but I don’t have that kind of cash just lying around – especially not for an 8 page publication!).  In amongst all these minds that are far more perceptive than mine, I don’t recall once seeing mention of the Microsoft-Yahoo even being a possibility.

It is amazing that despite all the past rumours (or perhaps because of them), it is as if everyone thought the idea would never actually go ahead.  After so many false starts, each rumour would be treated as the merger and acquisition world equivalent of an Apple Tablet.

If anyone can point me towards someone who did predict that this year, Microsoft would try to buy out Yahoo, please let me know.  I would dearly love to subscribe to that person’s feed.

 

Graphic credit: “Microhoo” by Joe Manna.  Used under a Creative Commons licence.

{ 2 comments }