What we do is secret: Usernames and passwords part 1.

Are we trapped by passwords?

Usernames and passwords. It’s the price of being online. It’s our key into many websites. We have been using them or decades. Or maybe we’ve been a slave to them. Having to come up with new passwords all the time is a pain. Usernames are a shit fight too. And it’s not getting easier.

In the next two weeks we are going to look at them both – passwords and usernames.

The News of the World controversy came down to passwords. In all the furore over the “hacking” of people’s voicemail, the fall of am empire and the tabloid juice, an under reported question has been – HOW did these people get into voicemails.

Turns out it was the easiest thing in the world – so easy even Paris Hilton worked it out once. Turns out UK phone carriers give you a default voicemail passcode. It’s quite a bit of hoop jumping to change it. Faking your caller ID, trying the default password and bam! You’re in.

Passwords are important, but they are a pain. Technology should make life easier, yet password tech gets more complicated. There’s a tension there. We want to be lazier with our passwords. But we are asked to he more devout than ever.

Whats going to win? The fight for easier acces? Or tougher privacy.

What I wish for is a say. Some simple band forums ask for difficult passwords that are beyond what that site needs. It seems every few years security gets tougher and tougher. The standard these days seems to be more than 8 characters and throw in some numbers.

OK, some sane password practises are good. Don’t use the same password everywhere, for one. But not all sites are equal and not all sites need an insane password combination. Especially when you’re asked to sign up to something.

Facebook are trying to solve this with their “connect” technology. If a site allows, you can just use your Facebook profile to log into other sites. But Facebook is a scary key – I would say Facebook needs a level one password.

So what we need is level two passwords. And a company that makes them. And if that security is breached, then that guy can see my Bob Dylan forum posts, and maybe sign me up to get some more news from my local cinema. And make it work like Facebook Connect – tie it to my browser, and I can easily hop through simple sites that need simple protection.

And then maybe I need a work key. Internal intranets. Mailing list programs. Any array of sites. I have my Apple ID, my Google ID, my Facebook, my work one….seems like a lot. But imagine a window that pops up when you need a password and you can choose which “key” you used. Some saved in your browser – some not.

You wouldn’t have one key for everything in your life. But you wouldn’t be happy to have 100 of them either.

But we are not even having these conversations because hackers are getting better at what they do. Who knows what they can do with my Bob Dylan forum password? It’s fucking annoying, and hackers are cunts. And it seems it’s better to be safe than sorry.

And how scary is it that most operating systems saves your passwords? A stolen computer could destroy every aspect of your life. I am pretty happy my bank does all sorts of crazy things before I can get in.

And it seems passwords are an arms race. They get harder and more complex, and hackers get better at cracking them. There is such minimal work done in shutting down hackers (and spammers) that I don’t see this arms race stopping.

Then there is going beyond passwords.

Retina scanning and all that seems to be the stuff of sci fi, but it might be getting closer than we think. But the question is this – what can we use other than passwords to show the internet that we are really us?

There’s talk of all sorts of scanning. Your touch screen technology on your phone, your camera on your computer could all come into play. Facial recognition software has advanced plenty in the last few years. It’s still a while off, but there is certainly talk of it.

It’s a recurring theme in these columns. If something isn’t working it will be replaced. And I don’t know a single person who thinks passwords work for the internet. Something has to change.

I don’t want to be hacked. No one does. But I have literally hundreds of passwords in my life, due to the fact I have set up accounts for many people. And more often than not, I’m clicking on that little link that says “forgot your password?”.

Lets make it easier for people. If only one step. And not lose security. Surely we are smart enough to do that. A level two password technology that can get me into simple things.

Because technology is supposed to make our lives better, and that better life seems to be locked away. And I’m still waiting for that email to come through to remind me of my password.

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Wk31: Wait A Minute Mr Postman – The Problem With Email

Is this really the best way to deliver your mail?

Have you ever sat in a corporate seminar that taught you how to email? I have. Many times.

One time, the instructor told us this: that emails are legally binding documents, like mail. And should be treated like mail. Like legal documents.

This is, of course, bullshit.

Email is like language itself. We, the people, define it. And we have decided that the formal document is just one of it’s many uses.

But when we divide up what we use email for, we see that other alternatives are creeping up.

The crux of all this is that email serves a lot of purposes. And some people treat it like one thing.

It can be quick sharp text messaging.
It can be short notes and banter
It can be a long letter
It can be a 40 page report.
It can be….anything.

With links and attachments, emails can be absolutely anything.

And we send 107,000,000,000 of them a year.

But are they the best at everything? It’s quickly seeming like a no.

It seems insane that email might become redundant. And maybe we will replace it in parts.

Email has it’s limits and it’s drawbacks.

Spam is a problem. I hate keeping track of people’s changing emails. Both those problems are solved in Facebook’s message system. Some universities don’t give their new students email addresses. They get a social media account.

I don’t have to update my Facebook address book when someone changes work. It’s constantly updated for me. In a way, Sean Parker’s failed dream of Plaxo has come true.

Think about it. Before Facebook, there was still a chance you could lose track of someone. If you don’t have their email address, then what?

Spam is less of a problem on Facebook too. A Spam Robot can’t trawl the net for your Facebook inbox and send you a message. Those message are protected.

Ok, yes, there’s limits. No attachments. And maybe you want the odd unsolicited message. And more.

Let’s get to those.

Why else do people use email?

I subscribe to things. Band newsletters, site updates etc. And Twitter is just far better for that. And more instant. Most mailing list send outs have a link to read them online. And they will never go to spam if I just follow the headlines from Twitter.

No attachments? Plenty of sites to store files. As we head into an era of could computing, why send me that mp3? Why not just share it with me on my the cloud? Who needs downloads?

The irony, of course, is that most of these services take an email to sign up to. Facebook’s Connect service is a big challenge to that. Some sites like Rootmusic allow you sign in from your Facebook account – no email required EVER.

Emails are easier to store, and easier to file. But not THAT easy. I’ve been dragging certain emails around for years. And have lost many more. My gmail account, almost a decade old, is unsearchable, full of crap.

The fact it’s supposed to be everything is one of it’s problems. Useless notifications about some WordPress setting are mixed in with important receipts. Newsletters mixed with work figures. Personal emails mixed with links to jokes.

Everyone has thousands of emails under their belt. Thousands is probably cutting it short by a long way. Millions is more like it. Being a desk jockey, my whole job is just pushing emails around. Is this really the best way to communicate?

Google Wave is considered now a failure, but I thought it was interesting. The Google team obviously thought about what was wrong with emails tried to address them. Instead of twenty mails back and forth about one thing, it all sits in one “conversation”. It wasn’t perfect, but they tried to address the way people loop in others or exclude people as email trails grow and grow.

It might sound like a small issue but all that crap you get at the top when you reply to an email – the “to” and “from” stuff. Useless. Sometimes I have something to send but cannot be fucked coming up with a subject title all the time.

Email has not really developed the way just about everything else online has. I can’t embed videos. File sizes are still a problem.It is a formatting nightmare all around. And they aren’t as instant as they first seemed. God knows how many times I’ve asked someone if they have my email yet.

Spam and security are still issues. I still have to manually allow graphics in my emails in most cases. Most identity fraud and hack jobs use email as their way in. Yet we still hang on to email as our main means of communicating with eachother.

It’s one of the nice things about technology. If what you have isn’t perfect, and not improving, then someone somewhere is quietly reinventing it.

And email is far from perfect, and definitely not improving.

A few years ago, friends of mine started to abandon the landline. It was a bit risky, but they felt like they never used it. They will learn to live without it.

Maybe that day is coming for email. Not soon, but it’s coming.

It’s an interesting experiment to think about. Can a person survive without an email address these days? And if not, are we getting closer to the point where that can be true?

It’s obviously unfeasible right now. But not so impossible as we once thought.

Wk26: I’m Looking Thru You: Movies vs TV vs more

Is it a film or a TV show?

Trent Reznor said something wonderful once about the changes of music in the last couple of decades. Since the invention of the CD, all musicians have just been creating software*. And now it’s the visual mediums turn to face the same freedom/dilemma. The lines between TV, Movies, Webisodes, Vodcasts, Streams and more are blurring. Is it inevitable that they blur behind the scenes as well? And what about for us?

The biggest weirdo in the whole visual world is movies. And making a movie is a lot like signing to a major label. They have the advantage of marketshare and better publicity. Movies get hundreds of millions for production, because hundreds of millions of people go to the cinema. And pay over $10 a ticket usually.

What sets movies apart is distribution. And that gain is corroding – slowly.

I for one hate going to the cinema. If anything, it’s gotten worse in the face of multi-platform distribution. The chains are the worse – badly run malls with no food anyone with a brain would eat, with shit seating options and no projectionist. And the cost! But it could also be that I’m getting old. And it’s competing against watching a movie in the comfort of my own home, with no one chatting next to me.

So we are left with three advantages for the cinema. 1) The EVENT-ness. Lets face it. I do actually want to get out of the house sometime. There is a joy of experiencing something with a crowd (sometimes). 2) The screen size. 3) The release date. They get it first.

2). The screen. Hard to beat that one. Especially IMAX or 3D – although it seems 3D is waning. And technology will catch up. Because a lot of projectors are not that great, crisp or bright. Yet big TVs are getting cheaper and Blu-Ray is starting to look like it’s here to stay. And 3D TVs are coming to our homes.

Which leaves 3). The release date. It used to be that cinema got a clear 17 weeks if not more before anyone could see something anywhere else. Last year, Alice In Wonderland was almost banned from Odeon Cinemas in the UK because they were going to release the DVD 12 weeks after release date. At the time, I thought it was a backwards move by luddites (owned by Guy Hands, btw).

But when you break it down, that release date is so important to cinema, and no wonder they fight for it. But the fight is getting harder. So many movies get made, and not all get a cinema release. Docos and indie films are getting DVD releases closer and closer to their cinema date. They are the kind of films that make their money on DVD anyway.

People are talking about movies going all “day and date” in all formats. It will be an interesting world. Fewer cinemas (hopefully good quality ones) for those who want to head out. A stream or a DVD for those who want to watch at home. It would destroy the maths of how these things work. Will it earn Hollywood more money because more people are seeing new releases at their convenience? Or without those expensive cinema tickets, or the wide audience that cinema draws, will it mean that budgets have to go down?

If you don’t go to the movies, and you watch at home, then what’s the difference between TV and movies? It seems the idea that hundreds of millions also watch that movie, and hence it was made with more money.

Can the digital revolution increase TV audiences – and more revenue? Why does TV shows have to be tied to TV sets anyway? And are budgets starting to catch up? The pilot or Lost was the most expensive at the time. Now we have Game Of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire blasting it out of the water. And more to come.

There’s an audience expectation. There used to be an idea that TV production quality was well below the movies. Not anymore. Look at the best special effects shows on TV and they are great. Not Avatar great, but still pretty great. And the talent is going to TV. The planet’s best crew, writers, directors and actors can be seen on TV.

Distribution gave Movies the advantage over “TV”. Those distribution models are merging. When Lost ended, the producers claimed that you will never see such high production quality on TV ever again. They were wrong. We are going to see more of it than ever.

(They said the same thing about the Matrix too.)

On BBC’s wonderful iPlayer alone, Doctor Who gets around 1-2 million viewers an episode. As this platform grows, that figure will grow. So how soon til we get to the point where we can sustain a decent quality show that is never broadcast on TV?

Webisodes exist, tied to regular TV shows or movies. Some have their own stories. But they don’t have huge production costs because they use the same sets and stuff. Then there was the web only Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. It used an existing set and low budget, with a great script to make something great. And it’s sister show, the Guild, fits in the same world.

It is only going to get easier to make these shows, if you have a head start on the production. If you have access to cameras, set, and actors. You can get something made, and out without dealing with TV channels or film distributors.

And then the next step is for completely punk rock, no production skills stuff to make it onto these channels.

The shape of movies, TV and video in general is changing. It is all becoming one big visual blob. Take Michael Winterbottom’s recent project “The Trip”. Was it a movie, or a TV show? Depends what country you’re in. In the UK it was a 6 episode BBC series, in the US and Australia it was a movie. And there was absolutely no difference in the production for either.

And that might not be the only production that could be recut. Could they make Cloudstreet into 6 half hours? Or one movie? Game Of Thrones into a 3 part movie trilogy like Lord of the Rings? It really comes down to how you want to send it out into the world. And even that is starting to feel the same.

Amazon and many places online still splits up “Film” and “TV”. They put them in the same place, but it’s a double term. Maybe we need to start thinking of one term that groups it all. Video seems the obvious one, but seems to talk more about a format than a work. We don’t call music “audio”. So Audio is to Music, as Video is to….?

Someone has to come up with something soon.

A nice Dr Horrible fansite – http://doctorhorrible.net/

* I think it was Reznor. I’m sure it was. But can’t find the source. I have used this line for five years. If anyone can find a source let me know.

Wk25: Pay Your Money Down – the fear of the Scam App Store.

Some Apps are no better than a pick pocket

I am scared to buy Apps. For one really simple reason. In-App purchases.

Perhaps I’m being overly paranoid. But so many Apps on the App-Store tell horror stories of fraud and swindle, it’s hard to not be scared.

Take the Smurfs. A quite high profile case. It is nothing but a swindle. Bright colours for kids, with up to $100 of in app purchases. Buy for free for your kids, and the kids will click on pretty things that are charged to your credit card.

It is an absolute scam. It makes me wary of buying Apps. It’s a surprising move for Apple. And it raises questions about the quality of the Apps in the App Store and Apple’s approach to pricing policy.

Some Apps to avoid like the plague.

Smurf’s Village. Who the hell owns the trademark for the Smurfs? Why would they let people shit on their brand like that? It’s a very typical version of this scam. A simple, inane game. Aimed at children. During this game, you need some sort of element – in this case “Smurfberries”. You can acquire some for free. But the game prompts you to buy them. Like pop-up ads, they are deliberately confusing. And you’re a quick click away from spending $60.

Pokerist is another one. This one is based around poker. Very simple – buy chips to play. The odds are so stacked against you anyway, you have to buy chips to keep up. This is nothing but a pokie machine, with no regulations. And more expensive and more confusing to understand when you’ve spent money.

The really evil ones are the kids one. Fashion Story is designed to trap young impressionable girls. You have to buy “gems” at every step to continue the game.

Lots of “farm” and “animal” apps – growing something and cute characters. Zoo Story. Farm Story. Zombie Farm. All free to enter. All aimed at kids. All aimed at your credit card.

In fact, just go to the App Store and look at Top Grossing Apps. And then see which ones are free.

So, don’t buy them eh?

That’s fine to a point. And it’s that we have these Apps that are designed to steal your money, just hanging around. And there’s already cases where some people have ,managed to install Apps without their knowledge. Sure, it’s not easy to do and you were probably napping, but however it gets on your device, it could have you. And you wouldn’t even notice.

Now, some caveats. Here’s how it actually works.

You buy an App on iTunes. You buy with, with everything else on iTunes, with your credit card, protected by a password. Then for the next 15 minutes, you don’t need a password again.

Initially, in-app purchases were not allowed for Free Apps. Why this has changed is beyond me. It would solve all the problems with this scam.

There is a new App industry. The In-App Swindle. It kills the image of the App-Store. Apple claims to have a competitive advantage over other phone platforms because of the number of Apps they have. But a majority are Scam Apps.

The whole point of this blog is to bring new ideas to light. And calling out this credit card scam seems to be curbed from all angles. And I’m giving them a name – Scam Apps.

Why can’t we call this a scam?

First fight is on the App-Store itself. Many of these Scam Apps have paid stooges who give it five star reviews, despite hundreds of one star ones. So these Scam Apps are hard to spot from within the store. A good solution to this would be an eBay feedback model. A simple positive or negative rating. Too many negative ratings can easily flag someone for a scam.

But maybe it’s not in Apple’s interests to do so. They have quietly refunded some people who have been ripped off – which seems to be a clear sign that something is wrong. But they have yet to get rid of these Scam Apps.

It’s a store after all. And everyone is making money. And these Scam Apps are making a killing – definitely enough to make a difference to Apple’s marketshare figures. They make a cut of every In-App purchase too.

Nowhere is this clearer than the fact there even is a Top Grossing Chart. They have a Top Paid chart app, but this is for Apps that have made a killing from In-App purchases. Those Apps that have no In-App stuff, well, they would be in the Top Paid Apps Chart, no?

And in these Right Wing times, it seems like it’s not OK to take people to task for making money in any way. These people found a way to outsmart you, they deserve your money. It is one of the things you see in comments, possibly from paid stooges. A “you deserve it” attitude.

There’s also an anti-App buyers attitude. A real “well if you can afford an iPad, you can afford to get ripped off a thousand dollars”. And even better – “shouldn’t have bought an iPad at all”. And the good ol’ “computers are not for kids” one. Oh and let’s not forget “First world problem”.

Really unhelpful, missing the point and all it does is put money in the pockets of scamsters.

Ok. So there are valid uses for the In-App purchase.

In fact, this tech was likely invented for one industry alone – magazines. And then there are various plug-ins and upgrades that would qualify. But anyone and everyone can hide a little buy button, anywhere in the App, and swindle you. Yes, there are notifications now, but people don’t know what they are – they are trying to avoid Apps that do that too much to identify them.

Shopping at the App Store as it stands right now is much like a markets at Las Ramblas. You are constantly looking for pick-pockets.

And it’s not just Apple. They are the biggest store so they deal with these issues. And less Apps on other platforms means there’s less people to keep an eye on. But security around those stores are even worse than Apple. Android has already had a high profile App scam.

Apple also seems to be setting the precedent on how Apps work. So it is essential they address this soon. Or this whole App thing will become $2 shop fodder. Cheap, shoddy products that is likely a scam.

There are answers. Don’t make Apps with In-App purchases free. Sure, I can see how Marvel comics wants their reader to be free and to charge for their books. But charge me 99 cents for the reader. Or do a LITE version that is free with a selection of Free books to hook me in. In short – FREE should be FREE.

Apps with In-App purchases should be clearly marked. With a big dollar sign. They are a different sort of App. Tell people they are only buying into part of something.

Clearer negative feedback will improve the quality of the store. I have a lot to say about the quality of Apps (in regards to music), but that is for a later time. But the star system is irrelevant and too easily swayed.

And be careful of ANY Free App you buy. Look on the left of your screen for what is the In-App purchases available.

Finally, there needs to be an attitude change. This shit is not OK. I can’t believe the shit we put up with. Leave bad feedback. Email developers. Warn your friends. Demand your money back. Kick back. For God’s sake. They are stealing our money right our of our pockets.

Smurfs swindling $1400 – http://www.tuaw.com/2011/02/09/smurf-it-all-to-smurf-in-app-purchases-ring-up-1-400-in-charge/

Android App security holes – http://www.informationweek.com/news/security/vulnerabilities/229218789

In-App Purchases Driving Top Grossing Apps –  http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2032615/-app-purchases-driving-grossing-apps

 

 

Wk24: Ten Questions about iCloud from a music fan.

Will we be trying to get off the cloud?

Apple announced, to much fanfare, the iCloud last week. A dynamic way of controlling files across all your devices, all stored on a central server.

I’m worried. Apple has really let their music business fall away in recent years. iTunes LP. Ping. They’ve been living on the success of 2005, and have done very little to expand their audience. iCloud was supposed to be their new way of revolutionising the music experience.

In short, everything you buy on iTunes can be re-downloaded to any device free of charge. You can also use your own music, uploaded to the “cloud”, and treated like purchased music, at a cost.

One of the things the music industry sometimes forgets is not everyone wants to own music. The CD era seems like an anomaly these days, because people had to buy music that fell out of a conservative radio format. So iCloud could be good for them.

But what about the music fan?

I have my questions. About how it will work. How it will cost. And what it will mean to give up control.

1) What about deleted music?

This is the first one that came to mind for me.

Music catalogue move around every day. Things fall out of print for many reasons. Does this effect my collection, if I don’t own it?

Take Paul McCartney for example. His solo material just changed hands again. I’ve uploaded my “McCartney” album from 1970. It hits a match on iTunes, and now the newly remastered version is what I own.

What if McCartney moves again, and the album is unavailable. As a previous buyer, can I download it anyway?

The problem is, iTunes owns the tracks. Not me. That is whole reasoning behind their deal with the majors. So if they lose the rights to something, will I?

2) What about pirated music?

Music leaks. And leaked music can get played on iPods. Can Apple restrict this?

Say Arcade Fire’s next album leaks. Two weeks before release, I upload it to Apple. Can Arcade Fire’s label work with Apple to block those tracks? It is illegal for me to have them. And for Apple to have them. Will the enforce this?

And if they do, what if people have a valid reason for uploading? Could be members of Arcade Fire themselves. How can Apple tell?

3) Demos, bootlegs etc?

If Apple go down the path of restricting what you can listen to from their servers, then there are a whole can of worms here. Artists canning liver bootlegs of performances they don’t like, for example.

For the record, I don’t think Apple will go down this path. But they don’t own the music, and record companies could insist on it.

4) Can they hunt pirates down?

Especially in America, they are not afraid to sue consumers for piracy. With Apple’s new insight into your music library, can they spot a pirate if they see one? Can the RIAA compel Apple to hand over that data?

5) Will they use other uploaded versions?

Let’s look at a band that is not on iTunes. Say AC/DC. If I upload my AC/DC tracks, will it match with someone else whose uploaded it, saving me trouble? Or will they keep hundreds of thousands of Hell’s Bells on their servers?

Multiples go against what the cloud is about. And for a real music fan, I’m sure lots of your music is not available on iTunes. It would still take weeks for me to upload stuff. For something like AC/DC that a lot of people have, matching is the preferred option.

But they might have to. What happens if I have a version that is badly ripped and skipped, and that replaces all other versions?

6) Will my metadata be locked?

Anyone who has worked with iTunes knows they have a team of people who “fix” metadata to suit their own needs. I’ve had entire albums unreleased because iTunes didn’t like the metadata.

For the record, iTunes, you don’t call Abbey RoadAbbey Road – LP”. So similarly, you shouldn’t add “EP” to the end of every EP. Or “single” on the end of some singles.

If I upload something from an EP, am I stuck with Apple’s naming conventions every time? Will it now by iTunes way or the highway?

Also, what albums will things be tied to? Will “Something” be on Abbey Road or a compilation? Who’s to say?

I also make my own stuff up all the time. Various single tracks on my collection, I make a one track single with the 7” artwork. Will Apple wipe this?

7) What happens to international versions?

Will America trump again? I have an awful feeling if I upload Ash’s Nu-Clear Sounds album into iCloud, I will get the US album cover.

Or what if I want the US cover?

What happens to the Raconteurs/Saboteurs? Will the Saboteurs suddenly not exist?

8 ) Will it destroy bandwidth?

Sure, we will save storage space. But we are expecting to download a lot of stuff?

Music fans have lots of music. Moving the music around used to be free, with the use of a cable. If I had no cable, then I am using up my bandwidth on music I own and have.

And is it so revolutionary? I was always able to re-download apps that I bought with the same log in. Emusic also allowed for re-downloading.

I guess this question is, how much does cloud re-availability actually mean to people?

9) Is there a limit?

So far, the biggest number Apple has mentioned is 20,000. Is there a limit? I have 50,000 tracks (a lot of crap, sure). I can easily up that immediately. And thousands more a year.

Will Apple limit the space?

And why would I not let someone else log into my iTunes and use my collection to “match” as theirs? I should just spend a few weeks matching friends collections to my Apple ID. I’d break 100K in no time.

Which brings me to another problem. Why not use Spotify? That’s millions of tracks, that you can stream from lots of devices.

10) Finally, what if I leave?

Living in various countries, I’ve had a couple of Apple IDs. This has caused me lost of problems, and I’ve had to re-buy stuff.

So what if I leave Apple? Will I lose everything? I bought it, outright! I am only really subscribing to Apple’s music service, not buying it. Or am I?

It’s the final worrying point. If a spend years cultivating my collection with iTunes, will I lose it all when I leave?

There are a lot more questions. Sound quality? Wave files? Who gets the money? Is this financially viable?

It seems the iCloud is great for the mainstream. But less so for the music fan. And for us, we are waiting to see how it all works out in the wild. There are kinks, but maybe they can work out. Hopefully Apple can keep the repertoire owners at bay.

Wk23: Close Your Eyes – the flagging power of advertising and clickthroughs

Ads are getting quite silly these days

Is anyone else worried that there might not be enough advertising money to fund the internet?

By all accounts, the online market is STILL growing. Yet, right now, I am already sick of advertising covering just about everything I see online. Is it only going to get worse?

Be it apps, social networks or websites, everywhere is an ad. Advertising funds the internet. It funds Google, it funds Facebook, it funds Twitter. It funds newspapers online, blogs and more. It’s almost to the point where if you don’t have ads, it’s not a real site.

But it is lowest common denominator stuff. Pop up ads. Expanding video ads. Ads with sudden audio. Plenty of scantily clad ladies. Ads before videos. Ads before websites. They might as well hit you in the face with a coke can.

It is all about eyeballs and click-throughs.

Eyeballs is how many people see the ad. Click-throughs are how many people click on a follow through.

Which has turned the internet into one big game of eyeballs. And plenty of under-handed tricks are around to make you click on things just to add to someone’s eyeball count.

Take the Huffington Post. Possibly the worst site on the internet. Amongst the many under-handed and sly tricks they use is pumping out list after list that means nothing, just to get people looking at their ads. They are really, really good at it too.

Some topics bring in more hits than others. The Dark Knight, Harry Potter and Radiohead seems to draw bigger numbers, despite the value of the news. Constantly reporting about these topics, even when there is no news, makes more money than reporting on actual news.

It is not good for journalism. But it is how the internet has been running for years now.

Are we getting sick of ads? I know I am. In fact, many small ones I tune them out completely.

But ignoring them also leads to a worrying slide.

The more we mentally block out ads, the less we click on them.

The less we click on them, the less effective they will be (and… cheaper to buy too).

Meaning? There could be even more ads.

People say they want digital content for free – but it’s not free. It’s crowded with fucking ads.

You have artists like Tom Waits who take a hard stance against the use of their music for advertising. But when Waits’ music is already on Spotify, paid for by their ad clients, is there any difference?

And will anyone make a Tom Waits-like stand in the online world? Will any site with hundreds of thousands of readers refuse advertising on a cred argument? I’d like to see it but I doubt it. I think the online world has decided that ads are the way to make money.

And so we get to things like Content Farms. These are sites that are surrounded by ads, with one small piece of content. Say – how to tie a tie. Because people type those questions into search engines, you have these sites pop up and they will make money off someone.

Shitter still is the current run of “free” Apps filled with ads. Even when you buy games, some decide to show you ads as well.

Can anything be done?

Maybe.

I am toying with building a website naming and shaming annoying ads and boycotting them. Maybe it wont work, but I know I do it. But so far it’s all about dishwashing liquids and stuff where the audio pops up. Although if I was John Safran or the Chaser, I would go to the homes of these people and suddenly pump these ads at them at volume.

I am also careful where I click. It might seem stupid but I avoid shitty sites that are all about the ads. I also boycott the Huffington Post’s stupid lists. Or looks slideshow lists that make me click ten times. All these stupid tricks to get me to see ads.

I would list the sites but it might inspire curiosity in you, and get you googling.

But look out for these shitty sites. They use headlines like traps. They republish articles by others and hype them up to get traffic. You will notice them more. And if we all made a bit of an effort to avoid them, they wont grow.

Basically, the internet is moving away from the Encyclopedia Britannica and more like a Big W catalogue.

But back to my original worry. Is there enough internet money to go around?

How much stuff is there to advertise? It was a 2.3 billion dollar market in Australia last year. Will there ever be a ceiling? Or can we actually hit 5 billion? Or 10 billion? Is there that much to advertise?

Or if we hit the ceiling, what happens then? Then will there be even more underhanded tricks to get your eyeballs?

If we expand our number of readers, can we grow beyond a reasonable amount for anyone to advertise with? It’s the problem YouTube has. What do you advertise next to a cat video with 20 million views? What one product has any chance of appealing to 20 million people from such disparate places?

And then there’s the places they don’t advertise on yet. Like my operating system. Like my mp3 program. Apple’s iCloud perhaps? When the money runs out, you know some bastard will get there.

Hopefully the era of advertising paying for the internet will end before any of that happens. Google, Facebook, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo make billions a year in advertising. They are not going to let that go. But if there was just ANY other way to make money, we could solve this.

Which is maybe the first step of asking if the internet is free. People pay for Spotify to get rid of the ads. Or if a site takes a stand as ad-free, we should support them. And perhaps subscriptions is the future after all.

I don’t know. All I know is that I’m sick of being sold things every second of my online life. And it’s only getting worse.

Wk22: Radio, Radio – The TuneIn App and International Broadcasting

The golden age of radio?

In any given era, there’s always a certain type of music freak that knows about what’s going on in radio somewhere beyond their hometown. Be it the wonders of John Peel, or Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW – word of great shows gets around. As people talking of the death of traditional radio, it has actually never been a better time for a show to cut through. Because you can cut through worldwide.

There’s a really, really wonderful app on iOS called TuneIn Radio. Like all great Apps, it’s built upon a simple heart. All the radio streams around the world, grouped together. OK, so not all, but many – and all the big ones.

One of the great pleasures of radio is turning the dial and hearing what’s on. For many years now, most radio stations have supplied live streams. But that dial-surfing has been missing. You had to be on the BBC site, and use their own pop in player. Switching to NPR means another pop-up player. Or another for another station. The content was there, the delivery was messy.

Some places tried to bring it together with varying levels of success. But TuneIn Radio have really nailed it, and brings it all into the simplicity of an iOS App. No mucking around with settings and a cursor. Just jab your fat finger on the BBC6 Music logo and play that station.

Radio streaming always seemed like an easy win, but there are all sorts of challenges and problems. On a technical level – there is no universal streaming format. On a commercial level – stations prefer their own branded players. On a legal level – there are new fees and new laws regarding international radio broadcasting.

But now that it’s (mainly) here, there is still plenty to do. Song tagging for example. Some streams have metadata and song info. But some don’t – and Shazam already exists. Links to band’s websites. Buy links. Album artwork. The ability to see what’s on another station without switching. And some stations have webcams that can’t be accessed in the app – but that’s a whole new can of worms.

TuneIn already does some great stuff (the fast forwarding and rewinding is a breeze). It also has plenty of recent programs to listen to. What is really lovely is the TuneIn Radio alarm clock.

It’s really a great app, and it’s cheap too.

TuneIn Radio boasts over 50,000 stations. But is there room for 50,000 stations in the future?

There is one train of thought on the future of newspapers. That there will, ultimately, be a handful of recognised international papers online. A series of regional or national ones. And local community blogs. But it will be a pyramid, with a handful of big powerful papers servicing the whole world (like, for example, the Huffington Post).

Is this a possible future for radio as well? Why would Arcade Fire do dozens, if not hundreds of radio interviews, when they can do 3? If everyone’s tuning in from similar aggregated radio services, why does it matter if you get played on hundreds of stations?

Radio is a big challenge for bands. And one of the classic ways to break up a young band is to put them on a long slog of radio promo. Crossing big countries like the US, and shaking hands with dozens of DJs and station programmers in the hopes you get radio play. Those dozens of stations translates to many thousand listeners.

But if all those listeners can access the same international stations, then they are accessing the same radio sessions by this one band. And if there was just one of those radio stations – well, hundreds of thousands of listeners can still hear it.

What will the role of regionality play in the future? Sure, a classic rock station in Sydney and Melbourne will cancel eachother out. But what about one from America? Creedence and Led Zep get played on both, but the Australian stations also play Australian content. Will that be lost?

In many countries, the battle against the soft power of the US and UK is a big fight. Australia has laws in terms of mandatory Australian content to be broadcast. Canada has CanCon. But I can now access stations in Australia that play no Australian content at all – online. And stations with bigger audiences and hence bigger budgets, better exclusives and higher quality content.

Or will it go the other way? Will big international stations open up to a more international audience? I doubt it – Huffington Post is still makes no concession to it’s large international audience. What does it mean for big fish in small ponds? Perhaps they will need to get even more regional to survive.

Or perhaps that regional content will come from elsewhere. TuneIn Radio has limited support for Podcasts, but I don’t think podcasts have really reached full power yet.

They’ve been around almost a decade, and many people I talk to follow a couple at least – if only shows from existing radio. But there are ones not tied to radio stations, mainly tied to sites, that is guerrilla broadcasting. They are the blogs to online newspapers. And they have all the potential that implies.

Lately I have been loving the Slashfilm podcast (called Slashfilmcast). Not tied to a station, it streams every Sunday night regardless. It’s a film review show, as good as any I’ve heard on an actual radio show. It is focussed on film geeks and genre stuff. It is a huge audience, but no big station has a film show that can explore such niche as the new photo of Bane.

It gets easier to make podcasts every day, and the delivery method is pretty sound. And at it’s best, it can make some “proper” radio programming redundant. But more often, it offers something equally compelling but would never be played on radio.

Podcasts have issues with playing music, but if we can get that resolved, it opens another door. Niche programming for actual audio content. Live sessions of bands that can’t get on radio. As station playlists get narrower, podcasts could be a fertile ground for madness to grow.

But radio and podcasts have yet another fight on their hands coming up.

Spotify (and similar programs) should be a one stop shop for all your audio needs. Sure it has gaps, but that is the aim. Cloud services, like the new one from Amazon, streams your music. But what about programming?

Can Spotify and TuneIn Radio exist side by side? Or should they merge? Forget flicking between stations. Should I be flicking between my collection and radio stations? And add podcasts in there. It is silly that Spotify doesn’t support podcasts as it is.

Or will Spotify kill radio altogether? It’s not impossible.

Everyone is talking about streaming, and mainly streaming your own music back at you. But if we can merge it with radio, all new possibilities exist. Like a song you hear on the radio? Why not go straight into listening to the whole album at a click? Like an album? See what radio live versions there are.

Possibilities abound.

I love radio. I think as a format, it’s even more relevant today than ever. Be it over the air, streamed or on podcasts, it has a place. TuneIn Radio has simplified it and put international radio access easier. It’s a great app.

But there is still a way to go, and a discussion on where radio will sit in our digital lives.

TuneIn Radio – http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/tunein-radio-pro/id319295332?mt=8

The Slashfilmcast – http://www.slashfilm.com/category/features/slashfilmcast/