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.

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.

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.


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]

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.

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

Wk2: To Infinity and Beyond: Google Maps and the Infinite Canvas.

A rather finite canvas

Scott McCloud coined the term “the infinite canvas” in 2000, a hopeful vision of what the internet could become. I have waited ten years for it to come to life, and it’s only occurred to me that Google Maps has done just that. Maybe, just maybe, others will follow.

The infinite canvas is based on a basic idea – your computer screen is not a PAGE, it’s a WINDOW. Linking is a basic building block of the internet, but too often websites split an article over several ‘PAGES’, when it’s possible, even easier, to let an article run as long as you can possibly want.

It’s not just articles, of course. The net is a digital world. The infinite canvas can be anything. À la recherché du temps perdu can run completely uninterrupted. Andy Warhols 24 Hour Movie can be one file. There are no limits. Except the limits we create.

And it’s interesting how many limits we create for ourselves. For all the noise made by certain musicians about how their albums should be heard in order, they don’t supply their albums as one 40+ minute sound file. There is no reason they couldn’t – but right now, the online world is still replicating the CD.

Most interesting is print. The idea of flicking pages seems to go against what digital technology is about. Yet there’s not an eBook reader in the world that doesn’t tout it’s ‘page-turn’ functions. For me, it seems a bit like my iPad having an image of a vinyl album spinning, and I have to place the needle on record at the right point to play a song.

Magazines are the worst. The Branson owned iPad only magazine The Project is an awful hybrid of the worse of print and digital. It was far too easy to get lost in the magazine, as every page had it’s own links that lead to videos, pop-ups and other madness. Suddenly you found yourself three clicks down, on page 8, and no way to get to page 9. It was like Inception.

It’s as if the people behind The Project took a magazine and made anything that could be annoying into something very annoying. The cover flashes and buzzes – for no reason. Other than it looks cool. There are also full page ads in these new magazines. It has completely lost sight of getting a consumer to be wow-ed by the content – the articles, the photos etc.

(It will be very interesting to see if the second iPad only publication, Murdoch’s The Daily, is any better, or if they are still tied to the physical page)

It’s a 600 year old fascination with flicking pages that needs to be lost. But there are things standing in our way.

One of the reasons sites make you click through several pages for one article (something Rolling Stone Magazine online [link] loves) is because of their page view numbers. Those figures lead directly to their advertising rate-card. And money talks.

Also, we are not used to it. Long, long blocks of text seem scary. But we have been inventing ways of making text more readable for centuries. Type-setting. Margins. I personally use bold text mixed in with little breakers (“—“) to try and break up the eye.

Another is computing power. Loading a 7 volume, 1.5 million word Proust collection is still going to dampen your computer’s resources. But computing power is not slowing down any time soon. The same goes for internet connection speeds – another obstacle that will be defeated in time.

I still argue that the problem is our cultural memory. I look at digital booklets for albums and I see multi page pdfs that replicate a booklet. When I could have one big graphic that looks like the back of an album cover. I wont have to flick through and get lost.

We forget that pages were a compromise, not an advantage.

Which brings me to Google Maps. It is the purest form of the infinite canvas.

Think about it! It didn’t try to recreate a street directory with pages. It doesn’t ask you click on the left to go left. Or to flick an imaginary page. You simply SCROLL. You use your screen like a WINDOW (or magnifying glass), and you naturally scroll up to go up, down to go down.

As anyone with a smartphone can tell you, maps are super cool on mobile. They are so easy to use, no pages involved. And everyone I know uses them with ease.

And maybe Mobile is a key. It’s annoying to drift through 6 pages to read one Rolling Stone article on a mobile. The advertising model needs to be recreated anyway.

More importantly, with both computers and mobiles providing different experiences of the same site, hopefully content will become more powerful than form. And we can finally exterminate every bit of Flash on the internet.

Google Maps is an infinite canvas. Utilising and embracing the limitless, barrierless landscape online, they have created the best mapping experience humanity has ever, ever had.

Now it’s time for everyone else to embrace that limitless-ness. Imagine books, music, movies without our own artificial breaks. Less clicking around, more scrolling around. It is my hope for the web going forward. Literally – a world without end.

Scott McCloud is a pioneering technology thinker and a comic book writer and artist. His website is: – http://scottmccloud.com/

Rolling Stone Magazine – a style of web formatting that needs to die off: http://www.rollingstone.com/

The truly awful The Project, but really needs to be seen on an iPad – http://www.projectmag.com/

If you need a link to Google Maps, the  you probably never came across this article in the first place.