Wk18: Bandcamp – taking MySpace further

MySpace is in trouble. In  the last month or so I have taken my opinion back from “dead” to “slowly dying”. But even right now, it has become a forgotten destination.

MySpace leaves a big gap in the market. There were many things good about it. Most of all is the easy way for people to hear your music.

Which leaves me to Bandcamp. I really think Bandcamp will take over much of the gap MySpace leaves behind. And it’s really good.

What is the gap that MySpace leaves behind?

MySpace made social networking, but it didn’t realise, like Facebook, everyone would get involved. It was a place for music fans. It didn’t really have much for those who didn’t like music (or stalking).

On the other hand, Facebook is not a music site – and doesn’t want to be. And people don’t want Facebook to be one either – it’s about more than that.

Which leaves music fans, and young musicians, with a gap.

The thing that MySpace did best was make music immediate. You could put your new track, or demos, up on your MySpace straight away.

Which is the promise of the internet – that direct access to fans. That elimination of the middle men.

But the internet is full of music. I have claimed, for years now, the challenge of the internet for music is not discovering new music. It’s filtering it. And for some reason, being able to get yourself a MySpace profile is the first step. If you can do that, it seems, you can probably string a couple of chords together.

And it’s true. Spending a few minutes getting your MySpace profile together meant you were kinda serious about your music. And the brand was a good one. You could say, hey, check us out on MySpace.

The other key thing is music itself. Right there on the front page. Pretty much every band. If you wanted to hear a song – one that didn’t need to go through labels, publicists, CD manufacturers etc – just go to MySpace.

So that’s what we need. A trusted brand for musicians. A place to hear songs. One that is easy to sign up to, with no fees and complete control.

And I think Bandcamp has it.

Bandcamp isn’t a social network. I would argue MySpace in it’s last years wasn’t one either. Bandcamp us a sales site.

The core of Bandcamp is you can sell your digital music on their site. And it’s not a store where everyone is grouped together, like in iTunes. Every artist gets their own profile page. And it has taken a decade of learning about digital sales and made a fantastic system.

First and foremost is the music player. A by-product of album sales, every song is streamed in great quality. And not just 60 seconds – the full song. It is something that iTunes would love to do.

And from there, you can embed any track. I love the embed service because you can make the player look like anything. From a simple play button, to a large, pretty album player.

Here is the big player

And here is just a button

And there are several sizes in between.

I am working on building several sites, and I am recommending bands utilise Bandcamp as their music player. It was the one killer thing MySpace couldn’t do – make their player embeddable. With the large range of options, you can integrate music on any site.

(Which is much better than Soundcloud and it’s annoying wave form. Who cares about wave forms?)

It’s also not a Flash player, and works great on Apple’s iOS products.

The pages look great too. Taking in years of learning, it is customisable – but to a point. You can’t create real bombs like in MySpace. But it’s a neat modern design. And you don’t have to know html or any code to make something look great.

On the money side – Bandcamp takes 15% of each sale. They take the first sale, and you get the money for the next 14. And the cycle starts over again (It is less for more than $5000 worth of sales per month). It all hooks up to a PayPal account.

Although this started as the core of their business, it is secondary to the player. MySpace tried several times to integrate a sales mechanism to their site but couldn’t do it. Bandcamp have done it. If you like a song you hear, chances are you can buy it.

I say “chances are” because you don’t have to sell your tracks. You can disable downloads and just have your music up in their player. Not sure if this will keep Bandcamp in business, but it’s a good trick.

You can do a lot more with Bandcamp.

They will handle transactions for physical goods for you (you just pop them in the post). You can also add other digital products such as booklets as a bonus for digital albums. They even allow for hidden tracks.

Other pros – There’s a great stats page that can tell you what tracks people listen to the most. Every profile page has it’s own URL. If you wanted to be a metadata nerd and input ISRCs and UPCs, you can. If you don’t know what those things are – doesn’t matter.

It is truly international too. Any currency can be supported. And it takes PayPal and credit cards.

It just works.

But there are faults. Every profile stands alone – it’s not a site for discovering music on it’s own. Artwork size is small, which is odd because you can buy FLAC files for audio. There’s not a place for band profiles and info. None of the sales are chart eligible.

But the biggest con is you have to know your rights. If you have a digital deal in place – you can’t be on bandcamp. Is your label or distributor going to allow you to sell without them?

I have discussed this with PayPal and there is a possibility of splitting finances. But chances are your label would have to do it for you – leading to an accounting nightmare.

But for indie bands, why not?

Or, why not upload your demos on there? Why not just put any and all of your music online? Don’t need them to be downloadable.

Because there’s another problem approaching.

Streaming, cloud computing and all that is coming. But it is coming from above, with big businesses like Google, Amazon and Apple heading the charge. And you kind of have to be a big business to be in.

Major labels, major distributors – they can get you onto those services. But what about everyone else? And why do you have to go through someone to get your music online anyway?

That’s surely what Sufjan Stevens and Amanda Palmer are thinking. And a whole slew of indie Australian bands. Almost every indie artist I talk to. And we just need a couple more medium level artists to jump on board to really create a groundswell.

Bandcamp is going to be big – and in the next year. And I’m excited about it. It’s going to fill a gap left by MySpace. And it’s going to put money in the hands of indie artists. And it’s free entry – and a breeze to set up.

So get involved. The sooner this joins the public consciousness like MySpace did, the better it will be for everyone. Go check it out and if you’re a musician, get involved.


Wk17: Why We Pirate – the big debate

Here is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Is this really what the piracy debate has come down to?

This is a complicated issue. And first we need to define some terms.

This is not a piracy fight. It’s a debate.

And the term “Piracy” is a bad one. Because it suggest people who download illegally are “pirates”.

For me, the term “pirate” suggests someone who profits from illegal downloading. And a big, big, big majority of people who download illegally do not make money from it. They just enjoy the content.

We don’t pirate because we want to go out of our way to screw musicians, actors, directors, screenwriters etc. If anything, we pirate because we don’t want to get screwed ourselves.

So, why do we pirate?

Here’s what I can think of.

We don’t want to wait
We don’t want to over pay
We don’t want to run around to a shop
We don’t want to search through a shop
We can’t get what we want
We don’t want a physical copy
We don’t want to pay at all

If you can defeat all those points above, you will end digital piracy.

It’s that simple.

But sometimes it isn’t.

Why must we wait?

It is worse for TV. Boardwalk Empire premieres in Australia six months after the US. Why do they make us wait for it?

Even a week is too much. The latest episode of Doctor Who had a big twist in the first ten minutes. They kept it secret till the UK broadcast, but it’s a week before the AU one. And if you wanted to keep the surprise, you would have to literally stay off the internet.

I have Doctor Who as one of my likes, and one of my news feeds. I am a fan. And as soon as I logged onto my Twitter, my Google and my Facebook, I saw the twist. Luckily, I downloaded and enjoyed the episode already.

I didn’t do this in the UK. I didn’t watch it on TV their either, but the second after the episode finishes, it is available to watch, free and on demand, on BBC’s iPlayer. I would say that there is no downloading of Doctor Who in the UK at all. Simple none.

Why must we over-pay?

Books are full price in digital, and it’s cheaper to buy them in shops mostly. DVDs can fall into this trap – big movies selling for £3 in the UK, but £15 on iTunes.

And that’s digital vs. digital. Paying $30 for an album for one track? Please. Who wants to do that? Then if you have advanced tastes, there’s the imports game. We’re talking too much money – and we know you are ripping us off.

Why must we go to a shop?

Video stores and CD shops are going if not gone. The video above suggests we should buy DVDs because they are better. How do I even do that? How do most people do that?

And why get a DVD and sit through trailers and crap? The video above suggests that downloading is dodgy and takes a long time. That has not been my experience at all. It’s easy, fast and reliable. Why can’t film companies be like that?

Especially as you still screw me with region codes!

Why must we dig through a shop?

What stores that are left are badly stocked. Where the internet is an infinite shelf.

Even if you live near a store. Even if you live IN a store. Will that store have everything you want?

Why can’t we get what we want?

Why the fuck is Nashville not available on DVD here? Why did I have to search high and low for Sweet Inspiration, the Songs of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldman on CD? All those sweet Criterion DVDs….unavailable.

How can I get them then? Well, why they are right here online. At my fingertips.

And let’s go beyond official releases. The internet has such great live sessions, bootlegs and more. I want to hear it – why can’t I?

And then there’s TV. Why can’t I watch the Daily Show? Because of some archaic contract and red tape?

Why must we own physical copies?

I have thousands of good CDs on crap jewelcases. I have ripped them, and thrown away the cases, keeping the discs and booklets, for a lot of them. You want me to go buy some more jewel cases now?

I watch and listen to far more now than my house can fit. We have seen how much stuff is out there (thanks internet). You expect every home to own every CD and DVD? Insane.

Why must we pay at all?

This is the tricky one.

I think most people would like it if the people who created the things they’ve enjoyed gets paid for it.

But we don’t necessarily want to be the ones who pay them.

But there are ways of hiding that cost. Advertising. Subscriptions.

There’s no easy answer to this one, but think of it from another angle.

Can we really go back to a model where we pay for everything individually? We are just into too much music and TV these days.

My 8 points for why we pirate. We need a solution that covers them, and piracy would end. A global BBC iplayer. With every show ever. As soon as they are released. Ad supported perhaps? Or subscriptions.

The solution is not that impossible. We can almost see it. Let’s go for it.

Or else the world will just keep on downloading anyway.

UPDATE – James rightly points out that another reason to pirate is so you don’t put up with that stupid trailer to not pirate just to watch a DVD you bought.

I have to say, this expands out into another reason it is not easy. Stupid trailers and ads are coming into DVDs. Stupid menus I never liked. And then just the fact the DVDs might be a box downstairs. Sure, I can go get it, pop it in the DVD player, wait for it to load, play me an anti-piracy ad, navigate the menu and make it to my show.

Or I wish I could have subscribed to something where I can just type in a name and click it and play.

That video above is so bad. And it misses the point completely. And the point is this.

Piracy is easy.

And we like easy.

If there was something easier than piracy, we would take it.

But it’s not as hard as that exageratted nerd in the video. And it’s about the content. I’ve watched downloaded TV shows with my friends in a living room and enjoyed it as much as a DVD.

People often ask – how do you compete with free?

The answer is you’re not.

You’re competing with easy.

Slashfilm podcast about the PSA video – http://www.slashfilm.com/filmcast-dark-ep-143-antipiracy-psas-tragedy-commons-guest-scott-mendelson-mendelsons-memos/

Wk16: Up In the Air – the battle for Cloud Computing

Just a really good album with the word cloud in it

Amazon opened up a Pandora’s box a few weeks ago in the US. They offered a “cloud service” to their customers for music. A 5GB (or 20GB with conditions) “locker” where you can upload your music and stream it back to your devices. It opened up a larger debate about the legal issues – what new rules are needed in this new space.

But does it matter? Will technology once again speed past the ability for lawyers to make decisions. The conversations around cloud computing – are they the right ones?

And the fight over the rules for music – how does it effect the internet as a whole? Are we short changing the idea of the cloud for something as small as music?

Tech heads have been talking about “cloud” computing for a long time. But it’s been with us for a while now – in the form of webmail. No need to download your emails to a computer – it’s all online to be accessed from any net capable device. That is the idea behind Amazon’s service – for music.

Record companies and Amazon immediately locked horns. Amazon didn’t seek permission from labels to do this – they just did it. Whereas Apple and Google have been talking to labels for months about doing the same thing.

This has good and bad consequences. Good that progress is made by those willing to drag the rest of the world to it. Bad that the pressure is on and some snap judgements could be made in hot blood.

I will say this – at this level of business, and with the money at stake, it’s pretty silly to imagine any new business ventures involving music can be done without talking to lawyers. Which makes Amazon’s move much more interesting. Is it bravery, or bravado? Have they decided this is the way the world is going, and they might as well get there first?

It is the way the world is going, and it’s interesting once again that the fight is over music when it could be over anything. And it will affect everything.

Cloud computing should ultimately stream anything. Documents, videos, books and more. The ramifications for what Amazon is doing will affect everyone. The laws put in place now will govern all other industries.

It’s surprising that it’s left to music lawyers to clean this up. With the record companies barely the bones of what they once were, are they really the best team to be doing representing all content? Especially in their desperate state?

And like piracy before, will we wait another ten years before the might of the TV and film studios get involved? Or books?

Because here’s the problem – if the cloud is our only way to “own” content, should we be paying for each play? Or should there be ads in that space. Should everyone have access to my locker to see what I bought so they can advertise to me?

Above and beyond retail (like Amazon) and industry (like the Music Industry), who is protecting the consumers?

Another big pro for cloud computing is we don’t have to worry if we drop a harddrive on the ground. My friend Bret recently took his hard drive into work to copy a few things and ended up corrupting it somehow. It is this sort of stuff that will seem as hokey as those circular dialers on telephone. The idea of losing a file – ever – will be gone.

This is a wonderful thing – yet we still have to argue about red tape.

What the hell are these companies complaining about?

It’s a bigger issue than music.

I have seen some discussion about how “cloud computing” validates piracy. It seems a petty thing when the ideas around ownership are challenged.

Music is also in a unique place when it comes to the idea of ownership. It is one of the few “media” we are used to owning. For decades, the music industry has fed itself on the revenues of sales – music fans buying a record or CD outright, playing it as many times as they wish.

In TV and film, this is new. Movies still make money at the cinemas, and TV on the box (although that money is quickly going away). We as consumers don’t really have that sense of ownership with movies. Many of us are happy to watch a film and not buy it. And then there are years of video rentals. This is a bit more like what music companies want from streaming – a bit of money per play, not per customer.

Then there’s books. Libraries have started to stock e-books! And the idea of accessing a book for free for a read has been around for centuries. Should publishers get money per “play” in the digital era?

Everything in the digital world comes down to ones and zeros. Books, films and music are all the same. All can be placed in a cloud.

We approach each media differently, but someone will have to come up with a rule that fits everyone. And someone is not going to be happy.

Of course, it all comes down to money. A recent Guardian article (link) published that Lady Gaga made only £167 for 1 million plays of Pokerface on Spotify. A figure used by recrd companies to show how unviable streaming and the “cloud” space are.

But lets unpack that figure. These are PLAYS, not SALES. In the CD era, how many times do you think people would have listened to this track per sale? Once? Twice? Ten times? Considering how beloved she is, and how some rabid fans probably listened every day, lets say it was ten plays. That’s 100K of listeners for £167.

Still seems like very little, but Spotify only has 1 million customers anyway (as of March this year). Might seem like a lot, but last year Apple had 50 million. Facebook has 500 million. We are dealing with global figures, and huge internet properties.

Think of it this way. If there was ONLY a Spotify version of Pokerface, worldwide – what would the plays be?

Would it be 500 million users? Lets follow our above formula (one in ten Spotify users listened to Pokerface ten times).

500 million plays.

500 x £167.

£83,500 for one track.

Now forget it’s Lady Gaga for a second. Does that not seem like a kind of reasonable amount of money for one hit pop song?  We are supposed to be moving away from flash-in-the-pan one hit wonders. And Gaga – with many singles, touring, YouTube royalties, publishing etc – sounds like it’s leading to a reasonable pay day – not a ridiculous one.

But we are so worried about now. And now isn’t going to matter in a couple of years for music. Everyone else will fly by us, and we will still be arguing about rates and royalties still. I looke at Metallica’s continued boycott of iTunes and laugh. And wonder if the entire music industry will go the way of Metallica.

There’s still a long way to go. Amazon’s opening salvo has it’s limits. It doesn’t play on Apple devices for example.

But it’s a start. And it’s a start that could get stifled really early. And push back cloud computing for a few years – or hamper it with stupid licensing rules forever. Luckily, I have faith in the piracy and boffins sector to circumvent any rules. With any luck, industries will remain short sighted about technology loopholes.

So if someone doesn’t build lockers for us, we will start building them ourselves. The beauty of the open internet.

Technology moves on. We can see this now, more than ever.

Yet big companies, especially in entertainment, still try to hamper progress. They have their reasons – money, rights – but they are trying to hold back a wave.

It’s time to ride the wave, and while you’re on the beach metaphor, look up and see how wonderful the clouds look.

Spotify sales article in the Guardian – [http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/apr/18/sam-leith-downloading-money-spotify]

Apple’s iTunes number – [http://www.informationweek.com/news/storage/virtualization/225800173]

Spotofy’s One Million users – [http://www.spotify.com/int/blog/archives/2011/03/08/spotify-reaches-one-million-subscribers]

Wk15: Rip It Up – Time to become paperless

Books are pretty, but aren't the only paper...

Most people I know are generally caring for the environment. They don’t litter, they make some effort to recycle, they care about the planet (Liberal voters aside). But we are nibbling away at the edges when we should have swallowed the problem whole in some areas. The biggest one is paper – and what is stopping us from becoming a paperless society.

I love the term paperless. And I love the idea of it. God knows how many trees die for printing every day.

Digital ink should be the perfect solution to the paper problem. The computing tablets and e-book readers makes that solution even perfect-er. There will always be those who long for a physical book. But many wont care.

For my mind, e-book readers now are ready for the mainstream. They are mostly pretty good. Simple and powerful enough for prime time. A lot of people have them, of course, but they are far from ubiquitous. And even though the technology is there, there are many things still lacking in the e-books world.

Worst of all is the lack of actual e-books. Apple’s revolutionary iPad is great, except for the almost non existence of books on their store. And then there is the pricing. Physical books have been bargain basement fodder for years. But now they are back at full price in the digital world. When a book is not on an e-store, or it’s more expensive than the physical, then we are moving away from our goal of the paperless society.

When people get their backs up about e-books, and missing a physical copy, they think of well loved stories in beautiful editions. But not all books are beautifully bound volumes of Hamlet.

Magazines. Comic books. Instruction manuals. ANYTHING. Like I said, e-books are ready for all this content, but for many reasons, print companies of all sorts are slow to get their act together.

But they face a growing piracy scene. Magazines, comics, and even computing manuals are all online if you can dig around illegal download sites. Which shows people are using them. And once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s tough to put him back in.

It’s the same old red tape that has crippled music – royalties, contracts, pricing, rights. And if they don’t get their act together, piracy will.

Books, magazines et al are well and good. But at least there is some thought and some movement towards going paperless there. But Look around at your life and see how much paper is around you. And ask why that needed to be printed out.

The worse for me is receipts. And it is yet another area that Apple is innovating. Go into an Apple store and they can email you your receipt. No need to print it out and stick it in your wallet for easy losing later. And no trees lost. Some people claim we need physical receipts or else they are not valid. But again, I get my iTunes receipts by email and don’t print them out.

It brings up the people problem in the paperless mission. Some people still want paper because they think it’s more ‘real’. This of course, makes no sense. If I was going to doctor a receipt, I could doctor it then print it out anyway. Some perceive paper as something that is solid and forever, when I think the opposite is true. Files are backed up so many times now. And you can’t destroy a word doc in the washing machine.

Then there are people who still need to get faxes. FAXES! It’s 2011! The main reason being the need for a signature. Digital signatures are slowly becoming accepted. But even then, you need to scan in your own signature and attach it to badly set-up word docs (something I’ve done a lot of). I always try to email when I can. In fact, I made a hard line in my old department to not send faxes and not do business with people who need faxes.

One UK venue were particularly insistent on a fax, and we did not pay them for six months, with full support of my old management. I understand some people still use faxes, and that you have to cater to the stupid. But if fax is the ONLY way you do business, you don’t deserve to do business. Frankly, fuck you.

Receipts might seem like a small thing, but similar issues arise with business cards, train tickets and other small bits of paper.

Business cards are utterly redundant these days. They are used once, to enter contacts into an email for the first time. Once that email is set and the connection is made, the card is never needed again. Yet, we still make them. Because it is easier to hand someone a card.

How do we get around it? Sure, I can text my details but that’s cumbersome also. But at the end of the day, I just want to get people’s details into my smartphone’s contact list. Perhaps there is a bluetooth solution. At the end of a meeting, you can scan for what digital “cards” are available nearby (i.e. Everyone in the board room), and select the ones you want.

Maybe there can we a web solution. The way bands could, for a while, say, check out our MySpace. We are called Some Band. And you would know to go to MySpace.com/SomeBand to find them. That might be too much effort for the receiver, and maybe the card-giver wants more privacy. But those issues could be worked out. If we tried.

What is clear is there is a need to transfer “Small Documents” between people. Perhaps email is not even the way to go. I am really leaning towards a net work solution.

“I am going to send your my reciept/my card to the cloud. What is your Small Docs pin so I can send it to you”. I use an app on my phone that finds it in a click or two and downloads it for later use.

That technology all exists today.

The one that really bugs me is train and bus tickets. I have, in only a few short months in Sydney, clocked up hundreds of these. Some cities in the world have excellent scanner card systems instead, and that’s what we want.

But the ticket system brings up the most important hurdle of paperless. The initial cost. How much would it be to get rid of all those paper machines at train stations in favour of a scanner card system? Millions if not billions I assume.

But what is the cost to not do that? I think of the rolls and rolls of ticket machine cards delivered a day, and how that seems hopelessly outdated, even today.

Big companies do not care about making their services paperless (Apple is an exception). Because there is no reason to.

Do even people really care about Paperless?

Maybe not, but they should. We are really being too careless about paper. And with a bit of thinking, we can solve it. What do those bits of paper do anyway? Sure, keep Hamlet on the shelf, but everything else? It’s the everything else that is the problem.

I think there are really simple ways to start. For me, when I see people printing out a large receipt – say at an electronics store – I ask for them to email me instead. Of course they will usually say no. But I ask anyway. Second, I don’t accept business cards anymore. I actually find myself sometimes telling people to find me on twitter. But I usually take people’s numbers and give them a missed call.

The environment and technology sometimes seem naturally at odds. But with a bit of thought and a change in thinking, we can walk towards a world where we enjoy the benefits of both. And those steps can be very, very small.

Wk13: Lost In Translation – The Treachery Of English

Languages is still a challenge online

I consider myself, pretentiously, an international citizen. I speak a couple of languages and I’m learning another. That, coupled with travel has made me aware of what I call the “Treachery of English”. Why is technology so inherently English?

In the futuristic TV show Firefly, everyone speaks the only two languages that are left – English and Chinese. It doesn’t seem so much like science fiction anymore.

It seems an odd by-product of the internationalisation of our culture. That language seems to be moving to a Highlander model – there can be only one.

Digital success favours the English. How many great digital products have come from non-English properties? Perhaps only Spotify. Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, YouTube, etc. All from English speaking countries (mainly the US). No wonder some countries see the internet itself as Western Imperialism.

How did we get here?

Sometimes the language itself is the problem. I worked for two years on a project to create a Chinese version of a website and was thrown head first into the problems of double byte. After we spent thousands, we would have had to rebuild the whole thing from scratch.

URLs are in English. HTML uses Roman characters. The whole internet would have to be reinvented to make it otherwise. To work in the digital space you have to learn English. And sadly, this battle may have been fought and lost. Maybe some future iteration of HMTL may change it but I think not.

But there is a bigger threat. That framework of English washes down river, with major consequences.

New technologies start in English or Roman characters. With luck they expand futher, but usually they don’t. Twitter is reliant on English. iTunes only has one store that displays non Roman characters – Japanese. And most computers can’t disply it correctly because it uses a plugin for Windows. Even the Chinese keyboard on an iPhone, a device of infinite possibilities, is clumsy.

But it isn’t just east versus west.

Everything starts with one language – English. How far down the list is Danish? Czech? Or French Canadian? These are the languages that are dying out.

These smaller languages always get screwed. Movies, even big tentpole ones, don’t get translated into many languages. You might get a French, Chinese or German, but Serbian?

But here is the point of all this:

The digital revolution should destroy these market concerns.

We can reach anyone who can speak any language – online.

I am going to use Harry Potter as a barometer for languages. Those books were published in over 65 languages (including language variations like French Canadian, Cantonese and more). This says to me that there is a) a market, no matter how small and b) a translator probably looking for work.

Point a), the small market, should be big enough to support the zero printing cost of digital. And hopefully the profits from that small market can support the wages of Mr b).

And if that market is there, and it’s attended to and supported – it can grow

Then there are the books that already exist. For some reason, my iTunes/iBook account doesn’t let me buy any French books. Why? Why can’t I get the Serbian digital version of Harry Potter. Or at least the French one?

Like most things, it’s a hangover from the old world. Why would you print up French Harry Potters in the UK, when there is a small audience for it? But now it’s clicks of a button, the changing of territory rights in a table. Yet no one is looking at this. Or worse, someone is still thinking it’s not worth their time.

This might horrify right wingers who believe in one language for one country. But I believe otherwise. How great to be able to access books, movies and music in their original language.

Film, books and music companies are bleeding money. And online sales are healthy, but they are still missing out on a massive financial trick. All because we are still used to promoting and selling one language version in one country. Everything else is a niche market.

If we are all looking for money, surely catering to all language speakers everywhere is the first step.

Let’s look at it from another angle. I want to buy Roald Dahl’s works in French.

It exists. It’s been digitised. iTunes has it on their servers. I have a credit card. You want my money. I want to give it to them.

What’s the hold up?

How do we avoid the vision of the future from Firefly? How do we stop culture from sliding into a single language monotone?

We have to make the internet admit that there is more than just English. And the underused, under appreciated non English market could be a critical key in making digital products more profitable.

It’s a world wide web after all. Lets reflect the whole world.

Wk 12: I’m So Tired – Digital fatigue and retirement

"This Angry Birds game is brilliant!"

When I was young, I would program the VCR for my family home. I don’t think this was a rare occurrence. Most kids I know were better than their parents at it. They were old and didn’t understand how these new machines work.

Years later, I realised that I didn’t know how to tune a VCR anymore. The technology passed me by. I would sit there holding a tune button on the player. But now it was on the remote. And little cousins of mine were better than it than me.

For years this thought has haunted me ever since.

What if technology passes me by completely? How do I stop it?

The idea of “digital retirement” is taking, ironically, some strides in my life. Having just turned 30, many of my friends are wary and against Twitter. They just don’t ‘get’ it.

What is annoying is the arrogance of this statement. It’s almost as if they’re saying “Hmmm, I think the world is wrong on this one.” When the opposite is true. It is the point where you have retired from the digital world.

How does this happen?

There’s a Douglas Adams quote that is often used out of context:

– Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

– Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

– Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Adams used this in a piece about technology, and the DANGERS of perceiving things as wrong or weird just because you happen to be born at the wrong time for it.

But there is a deeper reason tied to another old quote.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

My problem with the VCR came because I already learnt how to program a VCR. And it is harder to forget something than it is to learn something.

Most people I’ve spoken to will not get a different phone from an iPhone on their next upgrade. The main reason seems to be – I can’t go back. Regardless on where you stand on the iPhone, learning a whole new mobile operating system is a pain. I was once given a Sony Ericsson phone for free, with a camera. And kept my old two colour camera-less Nokia because it was too hard to learn a new thing.

This is an important side point. People can get stuck in their ways. Apple has gotten there first with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Yet they struggled for decades against Windows because who could be bothered learning a whole new operating system? The digital world – although ever changing – is ruled by habit.

The other great example is when Facebook changes anything. Oh the complaints.

But the world is going to change with or without you. And pretty soon the technology and networks that support my old Nokia (let alone that sized sim card) will be gone completely. Do I rally against the future? Is it against the natural order of things?

If there is such a thing as “digital retirement”, something I personally want to avoid at all costs, then it comes from “digital fatigue”. That all this new technology is getting too much. And technology just grows faster and faster.

So, the way to defeat it might be the thing that keeps normal retirement and fatigue at bay.

Exercise.

Try new things. Keep active in the digital space. Try out new things. Get the blood flowing in those muscles.

The people I’ve met who I think are the best thinkers, and are ahead of the game, are naturally curious. And they have dozens of logins to try out every new service they hear about. And they don’t always understand them, but who does.

You don’t have to love it – the general opinion of chatroulette was that it was crap and a fad. Most people agreed, but who actually tried it?

It’s that attitude I love – constant discovery.

I am still excited by new technology all the time. I don’t always understand it, but I don’t understand all new music either.

What I am worried about, is if I ever get to the point where I say “I don’t get it”. If I hate it – fine. If I don’t even understand, that’s a worry.

Once again – take Twitter. We all knew that the first people to hop onto that would be those with the most free time and the least to say. We saw that with mIRC. Then with forums. Then on MySpace and Facebook. But those who never thought any of those things were worth their time were never going to ‘get’ Twitter.

I wonder what Albert Einstein would make of an iPad. Would he “get” it? I know my parents are amazed I have a French dictionary on my phone. Maybe he wouldn’t understand it – but he would understand it’s usefulness – maybe? Or maybe it would be too much for him.

But that retirement is bound to happen to me. And in a way, I’m looking forward to that too. I love tech, digital and inventions. That in my lifetime there may be something so new, so different that my mind just gives up on it – that’s exciting.

Until then, there is so much to explore. And to explore FOR THE SAKE OF EXPLORING.

Travel keeps you young, they say. And adventures in new digital technology can keep digital retirement at bay too.

Wk11: Close To You – the open and closed debate, and do we care?

Open source, open platforms, closed ecosystems – seems these terms have been bandied about A LOT of late. They are very technical terms, and very important causes, with plenty of pros and cons on both sides.

But what about outside of the technical world?

For the music fan, the movie fan, the culturalist – where should we stand on the open vs closed debate? And should we even care?

I think we should.

But there are lots of arguments for and against either side. But maybe we can boil them down to some clear and simple headlines to keep in mind.

Open.

The idea of it is built upon one of the very foundations of the web – that all data is equal.

Open-source, open-standards, open-platforms – it all comes from that core idea. That we share information. That we remain transparent. (I’m going to refer to open-anything as “Open”).

Did you know that you can “View Source” on any website? It brings up the code for that website. Not that many people had code websites from scratch anymore, but I can see how anyone created any part of their website, and replicate that. And by doing that, learn a new skill.

A lot of great stuff has come from the world of “Open”. Firefox is probably the best example – built on a system that is completely open. The great thing is people can create more stuff that fits right into Firefox. I have an All Music Guide search bar, for instance.

This blog is created on WordPress, one of the best examples of “Open” when it works. WordPress is a “distributed company” – it’s employees all work remotely, around the planet. And they all develop for this blogging software separately (or in teams). The whole thing is open, they don’t need to worry about permission from the boss or others.

Here. Take it all. Go make something.

Closed.

Essentially, the idea that something (software, hardware), is protected, mostly as intellectual property. And you can’t screw around with it.

Even though the web is built a spirit of “Open”, computing has been ruled by “Closed”. Microsoft Office is the most famous. If you want to create an add-on for Office, you had to pay Microsoft to un “close” the door for you.

And it works. It protected the program’s integrity, and helped make it perhaps the most popular computer program in the world ever.

Similarly Apple, with it’s “closed” iTunes systems means that there is only one way to use it – Apple’s way. You don’t really own the program. You pay the company for the use of it.

But to understand it better, there is a very clear example of the spirit of “open” vs the spirit of “closed”. It’s MySpace vs Facebook.

Although not completely open-source, MySpace certainly came from the place of “Open”. You could, if you knew HTML coding, change your MySpace profile into almost anything. You could move stuff around, change all the colours and more.

Facebook, however, is very “closed”. Although they allow for some development, they a cordoned-off sandboxes in a larger, unchanging ground. You are just borrwing some space, really.

But the success and failures of both are at the heart of what “Open” and “Closed” means for us – non programming, no techie types.

“Open” is great for the technically savvy and inventive, but for a majority of us wh don’t know what we’re doing, looks shit. “Closed” traps us to conform with everyone else – but at 500 million users – maybe we’re ok with that?

The “Open” vs “Closed” fight has now gone to the tablet world. Google’s Android system is “Open”. Apple’s iPad is “Closed”. Android supporters, Apple haters and techies all attack the iPad’s “Closed” spirit. Over and over in announcements and press releases, the “Closed” point is beaten home.

But does anyone care?

Because Android has a big, huge, fineprint. Android is “Open”, and that means open to everyone. Including a simple Wallpaper App that was sending user’s personal data to somewhere in China. And it’s against the spirit of “Open” to stop it.

On the other hand, iPads and the iOS securoity measures is akin to censorship. Sure, Playboy can’t get on the store. But neither can iTunes competitors. Or clever programs that don’t fit Apple’s incredibly strict guidelines.

Yet, the iPad is the success. As is Facebook.

So who wins?

I think we have to all accept that there has to be both.

Further – that most people will go with “Closed”.

And early adopters and techies will go with “Open”.

There’s no use pumping out PR about how much better “Open” is, and how it is better for innovation and creativity. Most people don’t want innovation and creativity. They want robust and reliable. And they’ve voted that way time and time again. They voted to close.

As for “Open”, it is hugely important to keep it around. Not only as opposition – although there is a sense of “keeping the bastards honest”. But as a place for those who are more innovative, tech savvy and creative than the average bear to out those big ideas to use. Create it for the world, and the world will follow later.

I think it’s time to stop those silly articles about which is better – “Open” or “Closed”. It confuses people. And it distracts from what is truly better or worse about your product.

And in the end, there will always be a audience for both. And one far more than the other. Get over it. Case closed.

Android App sends data to China – http://www.cultofmac.com/android-app-sends-personal-data-to-china/52929

Recent discussion on Digital Planet about the “Closed” iPad. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00f32rt

Wk10: Let’s All Turn On – Loading time woes.

How long do we have to wait?

Some people say computers are a waste of time. And they really, really are.

In 2009, I had a job where my computer was very slow. But also, we were trying to be green (ta, Trish), so we did the right thing and we turned off our computers every night (including monitors). So one day I decided to time how long it took my computer to boot up.

It took 6 minutes.

But not just 6 minutes. It took 6 minutes for the desktop to appear. But with all sorts of autorun systems in the background, it took closer to 9 minutes before Outlook could launch, and I could start being productive.

We all knew our computers were slow, but what could we do about it. Most days there would be people in the kitchen, making coffees as they waited for their computers to start up. The usual thought about this was – well, if only we had new computers.

But would that really do the trick?

It is something I’ve been looking at with most computers I come across. And trying to measure beyond “boot-up” times, but when you can really become productive. And new computers are good mainly because they are empty. After a few weeks off adding your favourite programs they turn to shit – boot-up time wise.

Add to that the time it takes for programs to start. The worst ones are Microsoft office and Adobe programs. Sure they only tale 30 second to a minute, but they are used often in most offices. Are we losing around 5 minutes a day on these things?

(Don’t get me started on Flash websites. Why is your website so important that I have to wait?)

It all adds up. 15 minutes of watching things load a day means over an hour a week. Over 50 hours a year. Multiplied by the hundreds of millions of people who are in similar positions.

But this has always been the case. Computers have always taken ages to start up. Word and Photoshop have built-in launch logos. We are supposed to wait. This is the way it’s always been – but is it the way it always has to be?

If I stuck a modern processor chip into my computer 10 years ago and ran Photoshop 4, it would launch in an instant. If moore’s law is true, my computer is 32 times more powerful that it was 10 years ago.

How can we cut down or eliminate waiting times now?

As with most things in this column, it’s the place where human culture meets technology.

I don’t think (most) computer manufacturers and software writers care about making people wait.

And we as consumers accept it as an artificial given.

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

The idea of “instant on” has started to kick around in the last few years (and standard on the new Macbook air). But it’s more a novel feature than a productivity claim. We need to demand this feature of our hardware manufacturers. Software makers are not even on the map.

I can already hear people say “why can’t you just wait a few minutes?”. Firstly, fuck you. If you think this way you are an idiot. There are a hundred reasons.

Productivity leads to faster advances in our lives. Better ways of communicating. Faster overthrows of dictators! If we can do more faster, then maybe we wouldn’t be so taxing on the environment. But mostly – because we can. Because we have reached this point. Because we were smart enough to invent this, we should be using it.

It seems anti-progress, but if we simply took a break from adding new features for a second and let processors speeds catch up, we could achieve instant-on for almost everything in a year or two.

But instead, developers assume you have to wait about 1 minute or two, they might as well throw features in there until the wait times become unbearable.

How about working on “instant-on” as a feature? I personally would sacrifice new splashy stuff on Word like xhtml crap for a faster loading time.

It’s why I like the App world so much. It is streamlining many features of programs to their essential core. If we can bring that to laptops and desktops, we could cut down the wait. Sadly, in looks like loading screens have been built into many Apps as well.

Computers are doubling in power every two years (according to Moore’s Law). But we are using that speed to pack things on top of existing hardware and software. But we need to go back to the core.

It’s like spending money on a car for a new paint job and speakers but ignoring the engine.

We need to remember why computers were great in the first place. Because they could do things quickly. And there’s no use having a fast computer if it takes you ages to get into it.

I am sick of waiting. In the vast improvements that happen every day, it seems I have always wasted 15 minutes a day just waiting for things to load.

Let’s open up the hood and do something about it.

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