Wk9: The Hardest Button to Button – Reinventing the keyboard.

There has to be a better way

In the last decade, almost everything we’ve known about computers has changed. But  the humble keyboard remains pretty much the same (and in some ways worse). Maybe it’s time to have a think about it from scratch.

The layout of a keyboard has pretty much stayed steady from typewriter days. Big tall buttons in mostly the same order. For programming purposes, we had a series of function buttons that most people never touched. They added a number keypad on the right as well.

In fact, the development of the keyboard in the last decades has been only about adding buttons. Some newer, even clunkier keyboards had stand-alone volume and playback controls. Add some screen stuff as well (brightness, contrast, etc). If you look at one of those keyboards, they are clunky, complicated and full of redundancies.

And, once again, it took Apple to really think outside the square.

I’m a Mac user, and when I have to go back to PC, it’s always the keyboard that is the biggest struggle. Apple are pretty good at touting all their features, but they kept quite mum about the keyboard ones. Maybe it’s because they’ve used them for so many years.

Really thin buttons is the main one. Most keyboards have buttons that are almost 1cm tall. It might sound like a small complaint, but the lightness of touch increases speed and reduces strain. Not to mention getting rid of silly valleys where food can get into. Macs also come with back lighting on the keyboard, that automatically comes on in low light. They also got rid of the wire.

Beyond the physical advancements, there are some changes in the thought behind the keyboard. The Function buttons (F1, F2 etc) are rebranded into useful things like Dashboard, brightness and volume. Looking at a MacBook, where I’m typing this now, the keyboard looks compact and efficient.

Most importantly, I use every button quite often in my active use of my laptop. I don’t have lots of buttons taking up space for no reason.

Again, there maybe some who simply think – who cares? But we should. Technology should be looking at how to improve every aspect of our lives. Why has only one company in the world ever looked at keyboards, and how we typed?

If we took a snapshot of what your most used buttons are, what would you see? How often do you hit those function buttons. Or print screen? Numlock? Pause break?

Less buttons work. And it’s worth thinking about. Are frequently used buttons hard-to-get to? Are rarely used buttons in the way? What about finger strength – are the most used keys lying under your most powerful fingers?

Maybe it’s time for good old QWERTY to go. Dvorak (link) has never caught on, but maybe we can use some of the thoughts behind it. Or this new Android keyboard designed for thumbs (link) – splitting QWERTY in half.

Otherwise we are wasting time. Sure, it’s a small waste. But its’ a waste multiplied across millions of computers and users, hours and hours, every day of the year.

I think the most interesting Apple has done with keyboards is on the iPhone. Cutting it into three – allowing type to appear first, then punctuation in the next two screens.

Cleverly though, when it comes to typing in URLs, there is a button for “.com”. That whole phrase is one button. It’s a shame that seems to be the only real breakthrough of new buttons. And a new type.

When I was in high school, I had an essay to write about Hamlet. Because I was typing and retyping the names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, so I set up a simple ‘macro’. A little Shift+Ctrl+R would type Rosencrantz, saving me some time. This was over a decade ago, programmed by a kid. If everyone in the world was typing Rosencrantz a lot, we should be looking at a Rosencrantz button.

And maybe new types of buttons are what we should be looking at the most.

Here’s one suggestion (link) – a Share button. In the era of social networking, people often share content they discover. Is there a way we can work out the rules, and save me scrolling around a page to find that share button?

If I was allowed to create a button, it would be “Search”. You would still need to type a search field somewhere. Maybe hitting search pops up a window with a text field, and pressing again launches the search. When done in a browser, it goes to Google. On your desktop, it goes to Finder. In Word, it searches for words. In iTunes, it finds your songs. Seems like a no-brainer.

The Apple iPhone keyboard doesn’t take things far enough. Imagine giving programmers full keyboard customisation. For Twitter – the hashtag is too far away, and retweeting should be a keyboard button. Hopefully they will open this up in future.

Such keyboard customisation exists. Check out a Pro-Tools keyboard (link). It just takes computing back to something very basic and powerful. Press a button, and something happens. If only we could control those buttons.

Less buttons work. Yet more buttons need to be invented. It’s an interesting tension.

But buttons no longer need to be physical anymore. Tablets and phones are moving away from the physical keyboard. And a button is just a button – software can rewrite it’s function.

It seems like it’s been a long time for the keyboard. I can’t remember there ever being a game-changing one – maybe it’s not as cool as Thunderbolt or Retina Displays. But it’s our very access into the computer. It should be the best it can be.

Nice article about keyboard challenges – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/news/hardware/The-search-for-the-perfect-keyboard/articleshow/7583512.cms

Discussion of a ‘Share’ button – http://kovshenin.com/archives/every-keyboard-needs-a-share-button/

Wk8: The Spotify Jukebox Idea

The Jukebox ... mark 1?

Spotify launched in a flurry in Europe in 2008. Already people are ripping off the idea (Music Unlimited anyone?). But at it’s heart, Spotify is cloud computing at it’s purest. It has hit many burdens on it’s bumpy rise, but if they can smash through those walls, there is so much potential.

One idea I have is a Spotify pub jukebox.

Not sure about Australia, but computerised jukeboxes are pretty big in the UK. For a pound or two, you get a number of songs. They usually have all the current chart hits. Some even have every chart hit ever!

(Some still have CDs on spindle racks. Pretty sure they can be improved too…)

But every chart hit ever is small beans compared to the entire Spotify catalogue. And if we are playing in credibly possible fantasty – it should have every song legally relased, right?

The Jukebox, as it currently stands, pays for itself. The pounds that are put in pay for the machine rental and sometimes the broadcast fees.

But having Spotify around should save a lot of money on those machines. Also theoretically – more choice should lead to more use. Less overhead and more use should hopefully lead to cheaper use, and could lead to even more use!

It can be done now. Plug in a cheap laptop onto your pub PA. Pay your broadcast fees. Ask for 20p for a song request from your patrons. See how it goes.

Pretty soon, it just looks like a jukebox, but powered by Spotify.

It’s the best way to think about technology. What if you could start from scratch?

If you were to invent a jukebox system for a pub, it would be crazy for you to come up with a new computer interface. Or to do the deals to license the music. Just use Spotify.

And let’s go really nuts. Lets do it on a iPad (because if a child can use one, so can a drunk). And the buttons are all colorful touch screen things. And it feeds jukebox recommendations. Imagine – if you will – it’s hooked up to a central pub jukebox server and you can see what others have listened to? Charts. More.

What about recommendations? How many time have you had three song choices but could only come up with two? How good would it be if, after a couple of beers, someone could help you with that decision.

There’s some start up costs but you can see the power behind the idea.

And there is a gap in the market coming – music for retail. Pubs. Shops. Malls. Etc. And these big emerging music services should be looking to service them.

Back in the day, big chain department stores woud send out cassettes for in-store play. It was a way of controling it. An anodyne cassette of Christmas music would be sent in November, intercut with some store IDs. Sent out to all stores everywhere – the same cassette.

Let’s make it a playlist. Let David Jones or M&S insert their store IDs. They can open a Retail account and all stores can log in.

Then you have stores like Urban Outfitters or those with a cooler vibe. Maybe the store workers can choose from a pool of tracks, to suit their tastes.

Cloud computing should, in theory, destroy the CD. Yet people still bring in CDs to shops to play over the PA. And their song choice is restricted to the half a dozen CDs they bring. Even a 160GB iPod seems hopelessly restrictive.

Why not set them free?

I love pub jukeboxes. I am fascinated by what makes it on there. Who’s behind it. What people pick on them. I have put quite a few dollars in them myself.

But cloud computing is coming. We can see this now.

In every situation where you can hear music, a service like Spotify should be able to supply it. It’s whether they can tailor their service to the needs of retail. And if they can convince retail to support Spotify – and generate another important revenue source.

And if Spotify doesn’t – how about Napster? Or Music Unlimited? Or Zune? Or Rhapsody? Any streaming service, really.

I deeply believe technology will lead to a better world. It’s why this column exists. And technology could reinvent – and improve – something as simple and humble as the jukebox. If we just think about it.

Spotify – http://www.spotify.com

Setlist: 18/02/2011

Danny Yau and Casey Atkins


Petersham Bowling Club

1. The Bedford Arms *
2. Adventure! *
3. I Just Wanna See You *
4. I’ll Show You My City *
5. Last Time Around
6. As Lonely As Me
7. Wish You Were In Love
8. The Body
9. Joni Mitchell’s Blue
10. Can I Go With You?
11. Bring It On Home To Me
12. I Was Born In 1980

* Danny Yau solo

Songs 5-10 and 12 are available for FREE download here

Wk7: The real second life – Digital data after you die.

The dead can be a pain.

Much like pop music in the 60s, no one was quite sure how long this internet fad would last when it started. Now – as we live our most of our lives online – there are big questions to be asked. The biggest one is this:

What happens to all our digital data once we die?

It’s a hot topic for the last few months. I thought I would summarise the challenges and add some thoughts of my own.

The biggest question seems to be one of control. We leave behind a sea of digital data. We are told not to give out our passwords. But what happens to all this once we die. For those left behind, how do we access it?

Sadly – there is no one answer. The legal rights of estate executors versus the terms and conditions of social networking sites is a delicate fight. The law doesn’t side with either one, but it is sliding towards the side of the executors.

Recently, (link) Oklahoma passed a state law that gave an estate executor automatic control of the deceased’s digital accounts. But it is not that easy. Yahoo is very specific about their terms, and how you cannot transfer your account. If Yahoo was not an American company, the waters would murk further.

So just leaving it to your will may not be enough, from a legal standpoint. And there are other loopholes. Some technical (your will is public record, so leaving actual passwords in there, like bank ones, is a bad idea) and some cultural (leaving your estate to your children who may not be able to login to your accounts).

Evan Carroll and John Romano, authors of Your Digital Life (link) have lots more to say about this matter. They decry the lack of industry standard, and suggest you pick a “digital executor”. Someone who is digitally savvy and protect your legacy.

(Carroll also runs the Digital Beyond blog, that covers this issue http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com)

And what legacy is that? When you count them up, it’s a lot.

For most people, the obvious online profile you have is social media. Mainly Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and that lot. One step further is bloggers.

Then there’s User Generated sites. Flickr photos has been one that has been under contention. But there’s also YouTube.

Then services that are tied crucially to money. Your bank details are probably the most important. But there’s also Paypal. eBay. More. And various stores that take logins. Amazon. Music subscription services. iTunes login.

Games are another important one. Games like Warcraft and Second Life uses an invented currency with real life value. Although not based on money, equally crucial is any email accounts. Gmail. Hotmail. Yahoo Mail.

Then, there is simply the mark you make. Comments made on blog posts. Photos where you’ve been tagged. Music tastes submitted to Last.fm, or Apple Genius.

And there’s plenty more to go. Who owns all this data?

None of these services have a standard to do with death. Each treats security issues, and hence issues around accessing and transferring accounts, with varying seriousness. But with no standard to follow anyway, how can they come to a consensus?

(And what happens when we move beyond passwords? Are fingerprint scanners that far away?)

To try and counter this are the folks behind Digital Death Day (link). They are in their second year and have had two conferences so far and more to come. People from various walks of life are trying to get something done, and getting input from everywhere. They haven’t begun to work out a standard yet though. That is still very far away.

Beyond the rules of how things can be accessed – what should you do once you have access? How do you want to be remembered online? And how would you like to remember people you knew?

Beyond the lack of legal consensus – what is the cultural one? Is it weird for dead people to be on Facebook? Surely there’s a data issue as well. When Facebook touts it’s 500 million figure – are any of them dead?

And if we do get rid of someone’s facebook – what happens to their photos? Their comments? Their tagging? Is that not rewriting history?

And who owns it? If I put up a photo of you on my Facebook, is it mine – or yours? Do my executors have the right to decide what to do with my photos of you – ones that are tagged of you and on your profile?

Actually, Facebook is ahead of the game. They have a Memorialisation feature, which can be activated for people who have passed. It gets rid of things like contact information, but allows people to post messages. But no other service offers anything like it. I’ve not even heard of any other company looking into it.

And who said the internet was permanent anyway? In fact, far from it.

MySpace is falling apart. What happens when it falls apart completely? What happens to my profile? I’ve lost my old Geocities sites. Even URLs expire after a few years. Inactive Twitter profiles can be claimed. Some sites even clear out unused profiles after a while. How can you hold onto something that’s always moving?

If you were to freeze my digital life 5 years ago, it would look very different to my digital life now. What will it look like in 5 years time? And with even the devices we are using to view the web going through massive changes – will we leave any mark at all?

Maybe in a way that we don’t want. It maybe deleted from the web, but I’m sure I will always exist in Google’s database somewhere. That, for me, is even more worrying.

What will we leave behind? Everything? Anything?

Will my grandchildren be able to find my Last.fm profile, and see what my most listened-to artist for the week ending Feb 14th is Matthew Sweet? Will they even find this blog? What will they even do with that information?

What happens after we die? That questions seems to get bigger every day.

Digital Death Day – http://digitaldeathday.com/

Interview with the authors of “Your Digital Life” (http://www.npr.org/2011/01/10/132617124/after-death-protecting-your-digital-afterlife)

Evan Carroll’s blog – http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com/

BBC article about the Facebook “Memorialisation” feature – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8691238.stm

Liner Notes: The Reservations- Last Impressions

Last Impressions is the first album by the Reservations.

It was produced by Michael Carpenter. The initial sessions were recorded in Kings Rd, but the record was finished (and probably the bulk of the recording was done) at the newer Love Hz studios in Leichhardt. It was released on October 11, 2004 – my 24th birthday – through Non-Zero Records. The photos and cover photo are taken by Amy Walters.

The players are:

Danny Yau (vocals, guitars, mandolin)
Casey Atkins (guitars, vocals, keys)
Saul Foster (bass)
Israel Smith (drums)
Nigel Chong-Sun (bass)
Michael Carpenter (drums, bass)
Paul Andrews (drums)

This little band was kind of falling apart when we started recording this album, in pieces, over a few months. Saul and Israel left the band, so Nigel, Paul and Michael did a great job filling in.

This was the album that came from the first batch of songs I ever wrote. There were probably 5 or 6 more tracks that could have been recorded for this album.

We didn’t really think about making this album enough. Mood wise, it’s all over the shop. Maybe there could have been some better songs. I think we were thrilled about having just recorded some songs so we put them out.

This album was also written in a period of intense unhappiness. I was kicked out of my flat. The band was falling apart. Girl issues. A close friend, Michael Lock, died (the album is dedicated to him, for many reasons). And because of that, I wanted to make a nice album. We probably could have pushed the rock angle, or the country angle. But in the end, the album is full of songs about friends and lovers.

I do love what’s there. Apart from one song (Emily, which I have deleted from the download version), I am still pretty happy about this album.

Track notes by Danny Yau and Casey Atkins

Side 1

1. Calvin & Hobbes

DY: A song about Bill Watterson. I had just read a book about him and his life, and was a bit obsessed. I still am. But it was more about being happy without compromise. I wanted this song to sound like Ash. Nothing else on the album sounds like this. It wasn’t really indicative of what we did, and this song kind of fell off the setlist almost immediately.

The end bit was written mainly in the studio and it was the first thing that Saul ever liked that I wrote.

CA: This is the second version of the song we recorded. One was done in the original “Kings Rd” session, but I don’t think it was as big, bombastic and Ash sounding as we were after. As Danny says, dropped off the set pretty quickly, but I do remember it being our live opener for a while. Probably why it ended up the album opener.

2. Can I Go With You?

DY: Our first single. First song of mine I ever heard on radio. Lyrics are quite ironic now, as it’s about a girl who moves to the UK, something I did not long after. The chorus is “let’s throw ourselves to the wind, girl” and not “window”, as some people thought.

I guess I was trying to write a Posies song. Turned out somewhat different which is great.

CA: I always remember feeling more Teenage Fanclub (Neil Jung?) than Posies on this. Regardless, it was a fave for me and a lot of people for a long time. I still love the riff, especially when it re-enters at during the last verse. Nice little piece of pop.

Incidentally, it was me that thought the lyric was “throw ourselves through the window”.

3. Messy

DY: This song was one I always played live, although I don’t think we really nailed it in the studio. I think it was supposed to sound like Norwegian Wood or something. But people really liked this song. I think girls love the ballads. I’m pretty happy with some of the rhymes in this one.

CA: I’m actually really happy with the studio version. I loved Paul’s ‘brushes on the snare’ feel. I do remember trying to play the bass part, but realising really quickly that I’m not much of a bass player. Thanks for stepping in, MC.

4. Forever + Always

DY: This song had a riff that was kind of Byrds-y. So the only idea we had was to emulate the Byrds. I bought a 12 string Rickenbacker that I almost never used again. The middle 8 kinda doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the song, and there are like 15 chords in the thing.

Taylor Swift has since put out a song called Forever And Always which is a lot better.

CA: Some of my favourite guitar playing on the record. I love the double tracked guitar solo. Still a bit bummed that I didn’t try harder to hit a high harmony in the choruses though.

5. Somebody New

DY: This was our third single, and our usual set-ender. Written about a friend’s ex that I saw at Newtown station, with some big, tattoo-d douche bag. So yeah, fuck her. I was also very into augmented chords at this time, and would use them whenever I could. G#aug. Great chord.

CA: Always love a good rocker for rocking’s sake. Also, from memory, the only song we ever did a radio edit of, so the vocal came in earlier.

Side 2

6. Joni Mitchell’s Blue

DY: I wrote this song in my first apartment out of home, cooking a fry up, while a pretty girl I was madly in love with was about to come around. She would sometimes pick up my guitar and have a strum, even though she couldn’t play. And that became this song.

This is another one a lot of people seem to like. I guess because it’s kind of light hearted and sweet. Sometimes, live, we would change it from Joni Mitchell’s Blue to Led Zeppelin II. Other options are My Aim Is True, Bachelor No. 2 or Weezer’s Blue. Who Made Who?

CA: I’ve always liked this song with just Danny and I on it, but after this record was done and we were playing live we worked up a really good full band version. Paul came up with a great drum part. It disappointed me a bit that we never recorded it with everyone on it.

7. (Calling Out) I’m Through

DY: This was the first song we ever released, on a compilation called Rock Against Howard – an indie music finger to then Prime Minister John Howard. He was a racist cunt. We included it on the album because it’s a lot of fun to play. I think the lyrics are pretty average. If you’re going to have text, there should be subtext. But there’s something about kicking out a tune as well.

CA: Main thing I remember about this song is when we played it live. We always managed to dedicate it to somebody who’d just quit their job. I also remember re-recording my guitar part because I wasn’t happy with my tone from the original Kings Rd session. What a wanker.

8. I Wish You Were In Love

DY: My favourite song on the album. Would have been the fourth single. It was played a few times on radio anyway.

I guess all the things I like about this album is on this song. I wanted to make something that would make the world a little warmer. I wanted to tell my friends I loved them. I think the overall mood of this album is one of sweetness. Not a great selling point, but how close we got to that is how I judge this album. And I think we scored pretty high.

CA: Only time I sung a lead vocal. Many people said I sounded like Evan Dando, you be the judge.

9. As Lonely As Me

DY: This was our second single. It was written about a girl who – whenever I felt like calling her – would call me. For a while there, we felt the same about eachother (it didn’t last). But I still like the sentiment.

We were utterly, utterly obsessed with Teenage Fanclub’s Songs From Northern Britain. It was such a blissful, joyous album. We ripped it off royally for this track. And it still sounds great to my ears. Why did we put two of our best songs at the end of the album? I don’t know.

CA: There’s another subtle Teenage Fanclub reference around this song, where “Wish You Were In Love” ends abruptly, and “Lonely As Me” starts quickly after with the long strummed open chords. That was supposed to emulate the break between “Mellow Doubt” and “Don’t Look Back” from Grand Prix. Just for the train spotters. Like Danny and Me.

This song was always a favourite of mine to play, I loved singing the constant harmony all the way through.

10. I Was Born In 1980

DY: On the CD, this is a hidden track. In the era of digital, I’m happy to give it a promotion. This is just Casey and I, acoustic guitars and singing. Another sweet song.

This actually came from a year where I thought I would write my friends a song each for their birthday. I only got one song in.

CA: Yeah, a sweet song. To me it was always a bit of an answer to “Forget it Sister” by You Am I. I loved how it linked Danny and I together in song, in that we were both born in 1980.

You can download the album FREE from here – http://www.mediafire.com/?b4izmadidv9i4ip

Wk6: Reading Up on Digital Text

His lyrics make more sense when read from the end anyway

The digital age has changed the way we perceive the world on all levels – especially the small ones. In recent years, the rise of live updating (or live-blogging) using tech like Twitter has become the fashion. But isn’t it all a little, um, upside down?

Take Gizmodo’s recent Verizon iPhone live blogging event (link). It works well when you follow it at the time, but an odd thing occurs when you read them after the fact. You have to start at the last page, and work backwards – and upwards – back to the front page.

In short, the timeline of events moves in the opposite direction to what we’ve been used to for centuries.

If I want to read about that Verizon launch as it unfolds, I’d have to start from the finish. Even if I take a break and come back, I have to start again on page 3 or something, and work my way back to page 1.

Does anyone else find this odd? Or have we already adapted to a new way of reading?

In modern English, text flows in a pre-defined, accepted way. Along the right, then down. To follow the text along time, you simply follow this flow.

Live updates (like this one) don’t. It flows right, then down a line or two, then UP. We have broken that flow.

Once you notice this, you will see it everywhere. My Facebook wall and Twitter updates also read “backwards”. Yes, those events are less connected.

And then blogging as a whole. New articles are at the top of the page, pushing everything down. People who discover list blogs like Stuff White People Like (link) will start at #132, not #1.

Comments can also work this way (although some don’t). But when you start wading into comments on some sites, you’ve started midway through a conversation, like at 9to5mac (link). And of course, Forums are built on this format.

The UK newspaper The Guardian does handles live blogging the same way – new posts jump to the top – but then flip them when the event is over. Check out the recent One Day International coverage (link) and see how easy it reads. They’ve spotted the problem and have tried to solve it.

Of course, we write this off as just kind of how it works. HTML (and all other web languages) loads from the top. It reads the code and unfolds it down the page. When you load any site, the default is you start at the top. And it’s taken as given that we want to see the newest info first.

But there is an alternative. One that most people are familiar with. One that works differently to webpages, and reads well both during-the-event and after-the-event. And it’s not an obscure thing – it’s ubiquitous.

It’s every chat program.

Let’s look at the popular Facebook chat function. It pushes old text UP. New messages are slotted in BELOW what’s been said before. It causes no confusion. It really is just a scrolling issue.

Another idea, perhaps more feasible, is a simple sort function for micro-blogging. Sort-recent and sort-date? Or perhaps someone will make an app that natively scrolls up as part of it’s environment. There are some ideas out there.

The latest version of Safari has an excellent “reader” function. With one click, any page that looks like an article can be altered. The main article pops up in a light-box (with easy to read black text on white), every side bar and banner ad fades to the background. Better still, articles split over several pages are one easy-to-read scroll. Safari can identify text and put it in order and make it look readable. So we are almost there.

Your computer screen is not a page – it’s a window. And you can move that window in any direction. Sure, there are technical limitations. They probably have to rewrite HTML from scratch. But the internet wasn’t built by bolting on new ideas to the old. It’s about visions that smash the old to bits.

Is it even a problem though?

It seems we are coping with this change without to much trouble. References to old articles for new readers can be easily linked. Personally, I find it easy to ignore and scroll past recent articles if I want to read from the start.

I don’t think technology itself can kill off any form of expression. But take something like serialised fiction. Or daily comic strips – those legendary Calvin & Hobbes adventures that would last for days. We either find a new way to sort, or their creators find a new way to express.

Either way, this low level dissonance can’t last. The note will have to resolve itself.

The way we are reading has changed over the centuries. And the fundamental way we read, and the text flow, is evolving right now. Question is – do we let technology dictate how we read, or do we come up with a better way?

Examples of “broken flow” articles – http://live.gizmodo.com/http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1353734/Wolves-v-Manchester-United-live.html

Corrected “broken flow – http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2011/feb/02/australia-england-odi-live

The wonderful Stuff White People Like blog – http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/

The excellent 9to5mac blog, with it’s silly complicated comments system – http://www.9to5mac.com

Setlist: 03/02/2011

photo by Bek Lambert

Danny Yau (solo)

03/02/2011 – Excelsior, Surry Hills

1. The Bedford Arms
2. Done With Love
3. Adventure!
4. I Just Wanna See You
5. Victoria I
6. I’ll Show You My City
7. Irreplaceable (Beyonce cover)
8. The Body
9. Find the Sea
10. It’s Time To Go

You can download “The Body”, free, as part of the I Blame This On You album here

Wk5: I Want My D2C – how can instant TV work?

ABC's iView - a sign of greater things to come?

I agree with Michelle Griffin in her recent SMH article (link) that suggests Australians are third class citizen when it comes to digital consumption.

Amongst the many great points she makes, she suggests that people download so they don’t have to avoid the internet for months. How could you avoid revelations in Mad Men or Lost? Even airing Lost within two weeks of the US date was too late.

But why did it take so long at all? What are the blockages? What’s being done? And will it work?

Programming a TV station must be hell – I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. People who complain about how Sopranos was on at 2am have a point, but God knows how many parties get their say – contracts, advertisers, ratings etc. What to air?

New shows are a risk, and Australian TV still sometimes waits for it to be a hit in it’s home country before committing money. Network schedules are worked out far in advance, and ratings times fluctuate between countries. Holding back a Lost premiere by a couple of weeks might lead to real boost in advertising money.

But Australian TV is learning. The ABC just announced Doctor Who will be airing within the same week of the UK dates next season. They even managed to show the Christmas episode within 24 hours. Brendan Dahill, network programmer for ABC1, even acknowledged Australia’s advanced downloading as the primary reason for this.

Yet, they call this “fasttrack”. It needs to be the norm!

A more impressive and innovative solution from the ABC came last year, when they put the new episodes of Doctor Who on their online iView service straight away, allowing the slower moving TV audience to get to it a couple of weeks later. A great move. ABC has the rights. iView is not a slave to programming time slots. And there’s no need to worry about advertisers.

We are hitting the point for TV that music hit years ago – people who have gone digital and people who have stayed traditional are exclusive. Those who download and/or watch online are not going to watch it on TV – ever. And if you don’t cater to that audience, you’ve lost them.

TV ratings are like music charts – they don’t represent a large part of the audience. Those who watch, listen and love, but don’t contribute to ratings. But downloading TV shows and movies can still be a pain. Is there a way to bring the two together – an online viewing world?

To do it, the big TV studios will have to break down some old school boundaries. But it’s feasible and imaginable.

BBC’s iPlayer is fantastic. The quality is great. And easy to use. They commission and own most of their material. But it is, of course, geo-blocked but free to UK users.

But what if I could pay?

I would definitely do it. Maybe some people wont, but I would get every TV show just after UK airings. Live streaming of the channels. All the neat social features and recommendations. It’s an awesome program!

Will they lose buckets of money if they do this? Maybe. What they get from subscriptions, they will lose on syndication to overseas channels. There is still big money for regular TV.

But it comes back to my point of two audiences. Would a direct-to-consumer TV portal appeal to much more than the downloaders, the digitally savvy? It will probably eat away a bit – but at least it’s not free.

Another way to look at it is much like Netflix Watch Instantly that breaks international boundaries and is tied to a TV studio. The technology is there – but maybe the big shows have too much money involved to take that risk. But there are other shows.

But there are other shows. Despite what your cable network will tell you, there’s only so many hours and channels. And none of it is on demand.

Sticking with the BBC, I can think of dozens of shows that are great, and not on TV. And they could have it online. Blackadder. State Of Play. More.

I know that cable networks occasionally gets some shows – like Black Books. But again – it’s two audiences. Those who browse channels to see what’s on are different to those who have heard about Black Books and want to watch it now. And for new shows, these savvy people are tastemakers, spreading precious word-of-mouth.

Imagine a HBO player. Access to the latest shows and all the old classics. On US release dates. HD streaming quality. No more waiting for Channel 9 to show something at 2am. How much would you pay a month for that?

Then there’s shows like Bored To Death, or all those awesome HBO telemovies. Chances are these second tier shows will never make a splash overseas. What have HBO got to lose from making them available online.

Then there’s international shows. PPS is a service who does something similar for Cantonese shows – shows that have no hope for a local syndication.

Finally, there are shows made by independent studios or have fallen into a rights abyss.

A bright, varied and full digital TV catalogue online. That’s the dream.

But it might not last. There is one very big hurdle to overcome, and one that is coming up quickly;

What happens when the TV becomes a computer?

iPlayer works on Apple TV, and can be accessed from some gaming consoles. But those are special cases, and special interfaces. Full net access from a TV is still not commonplace. But it’s coming.

Why would you watch the Brady Bunch on Foxtel/Sky, when you can watch Boardwalk Empire on a HBO player that can be accessed from your TV. And why would a TV station buy Boardwalk Empire’s rights?

Maybe there will always be passive viewers who want things programmed for them. But for everyone else, why will there be any need for TV stations at all? Especially all those ones that just pump out marathons of old TV shows.

So, maybe the TV station, previously the only distributor of TV shows, has to die before this can happen. Unless they can adapt.

TV viewers are getting more demanding. The downloading genie is out of the bottle. And one of the reasons we download is because we don’t want to wait, and it’s easier.

But the TV studios can give us what we want – instant availability, watched at our own pace. Wrap up the package with old shows and other bonuses. Direct to consumer – no middle man.

Culture Vultures Forced To Go Pirate – Mary Griffin’s SMH article (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/culture-vultures-forced-go-pirate-20110107-19ikg.html)

PPS streaming for Cantonese TV shows (http://www.ppstream.com/)

BBC iPlayer (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer) UK only, really.

ABC iView (http://www.abc.net.au/iview/)

Doctor Who Transmission on ABC news, with Brendan Dahill’s quote (http://www.doctorwhonews.net/2011/01/dwn260111235812-australia-transmission.html)