Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Give it away now…

OR: The internet economy, doing stuff for free and why that will make you more profitable.  OR: Shift your channels, or they’ll shift you. 

Who remembers the ‘dot-com’ boom?  Fortunes made and lost over the idea that a website could, and would, make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice.  It seemed so logical – you have a website, you fill it with advertising and the money comes rolling in.  Easy!  So what went wrong? 

There is a very long answer, to do with speculative investment and venture capitalists getting over-excited, but the short version is that consumers don’t value (and therefore won't pay for) what they can get online for free. 

As an example, let’s look at one of the first industries to be hit by the immediacy and ease of online distribution as the dot-com bubble began to wilt.  Remember Napster?  Napster and the widening usage of mp3s and broadband internet forced the music industry to fundamentally change its business model, pretty much overnight.  According to The Recording IndustryAssociation of America (RIAA)

“In the decade since peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing site Napster emerged in 1999, music sales in the U.S. have dropped 47 percent, from $14.6 billion to $7.7 billion.”

Time was, a band got signed by a record label and got money up-front to be recouped by album sales. Music consumers bought the records or CDs (for around £15 for an album) and watched the bands on Top of the Pops.  Then napster and peer-to-peer distribution happened.  Virtually overnight, music went from expensive to free (subject to a pc and internet connection). 

The first thing the record companies did was to panic and stop signing ‘real’ bands, so the late 90s and early 2000s were a plague of Steps and Sugababes and Vengaboys.  But in the peer-to-peer world of the internet, something else was happening.  New musicians were able to bypass the bottleneck of the industry using free website and media hosting like Geocities, then Myspace, then Facebook and Youtube.

Ed Sheeran, the UK’s most pirated artist, stated on the BBC website:

I've sold 1.2 million albums, and the stat is that there's 8 million downloads of that as well illegally.

"Nine million people have my record, in England, which is quite a nice feeling.

"I'm still selling albums, but I'm selling tickets at the same time. My gig tickets are like £18, and my albums £8, so ... it's all relative."

Ed, and others like him, are happy to give away nearly 90% of their work for free.  It costs him nothing if someone who was never going to buy his album anyway downloads it from a torrent or a file-sharing site, and that person might well then spend the money they save on a concert ticket instead.  Nobody really loses, and arguably, we may all be richer for it.  In the old world of the A&R man, would Ed and Florence and Jessie have been signed?  Quite probably not...

Friday, 7 September 2012

I Still like Windows 8...

Which is why i've gone back to windows 7.  Er, what?  Well, after a flirtation with ubuntu (which died after they decided to make everything orange and take away the settings where you can't change the colours), i've been running preview versions of windows 8 for probably about 6 months thinking about it!  And i liked it.  It was pretty minimal, didn't get in the way too much, and just did its thing really.  Which was its downfall.

Thing is, i have a netbook. Or a 'cheap laptop' as the late Mr Jobs sneeringly referred to them (oh yeah? As compared to an expensive oversized ipod?), which was exactly what i wanted.  Ideally i'd run a version of chrome OS on it that had the right drivers for the touchpad and worked offline, and the closest i could get to that was actually windows 8.

So why have i ditched it?  Simple answer.  Screen resolution.  My dinky little Hp 110 has a 1024x576 screen, which is a massive 4 pixels short of what microsoft have set in stone as the bare minimum to run the funky (allegedly, i haven't seen it) interface-formerly-known-as-metro, which is apparently all tablet-tastic, so i've been using desktop mode exclusively, and removed nearly everything except what would normally be my desktop shortcuts from the start screen.  I liked it like that.  It made me less reliant on mouse clicks to open things, i used the windows key on my keyboard for the first time in my life ever, despite having first used windows when it was called 'Gem' and came on massive floppies.

Probably, at some time in 2013, i will buy a laptop.  I expect it'll have a touchscreen, and a higher screen resolution, but still be easily baggable.  And it'll have windows 8, and i'll be fine with that.

And by the way.  The infamous 'argh, they got rid of the start button' for windows 8? I hate the start button.  It annoys me disproportionately, with its menus and its hiding everything in massive 'ooh look how many programs i've got' lists.  I want what i need and everything else can sod off out of my way.  I killed my original windows xp install on my netbook playing with 'transformation packs', one of which accidentally managed to uninstall windows explorer while trying to get rid of it, and actually, opening a browser from the command prompt?  Slightly less annoying than that chirpy little 'start' label or 'orb' that sits in the corner of my screen.

So i suppose what i need is a windows 8 start screen for windows 7.  There's probably a transformation pack...

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Things that make you go: 'bloody hell, google!'

So, igoogle is going.  Damn it!  Apparently the reason is that not enough people used it, and er, you can get themes on chrome.  So that's alright then.  Except that: what if you are one of those people who use the damn thing?  I don't have an android phone, i have a blackberry.  I also use at least two different computers in the course of a day, my work pc and my netbook.  Do i want to have to install 'apps' on both of them to be able to access what i used to via a simple browser?  Not particularly.  I'm not really an 'apps' kind of girl.

Anyway google, i though we were supposed to be doing everything in the browser now?  Isn't that the idea behind chrome OS?  Ok, its your company and its a free service* you can do what you want, but seriously?  I had my google homepage set up just as i liked it, i use it mainly for RSS feeds anyway.  I like the fact that i can be logged into my email, and then go straight to a page that's got a list of updates of all my favourite blogs and news feeds.

An android weather app ain't gonna cut it.  Bad choice, google...

*subject to all those yummy metrics that actually make google their money

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Digital Nomads...

In the last few years, i've been through one or two changes... Moved house a lot, had a relationship go thud and started another one, re-discovered my ambitions and things like that.  So far, so life-changing.  And call me Ms. 'If life gives you lemons', but i'm coming round to the idea that there are no negative experiences, not really.

I mean, yes. Obviously there are. As the great man said, life's a piece of shit when you look at it.  But, every crappy thing that happens leads to something new that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

So, one of the things i've had to do in the last few years, is to make myself more portable.  Where that becomes relevant to a nominally-tech blog, is the fact that it's technology that has allowed me to do that.  Last time i moved it was that 'breakup' thing, where you take stuff with you because 'it's mine and you never liked it anyway!!'  And then 6 months or a year later, those CDs or DVDs are sat gathering dust because you don't have anything to play them on.  Will i take them with me next time? No.  They'll go to the charity shop, or the book/cd/dvd exchange shelf at work.

I was one of those people who resisted media downloading, because it 'just didn't feel the same'.  But the way we consume media has changed beyond measure.  I don't own a TV, and i don't need one.  I'm rarely in the mood for what's on telly when its on anyway, so regular things i watch get downloaded or iplayered.  If i want films there's a multiplex nearby, and all my mp3s are loaded onto my blackberry.  I listen to more music now than i have in years, because a 6gb card is small these days and can carry all my albums in one go, no need to pick one, no need to remember to play that song i'd forgotten i liked.  Shuffle does all that for me.

Backup? Dropbox, skydrive, and a portable hard-drive cover me there.

Basically, if i can't carry it on my bike, i don't want it.  And even my bike folds in half, so it's luggage when it needs to be.

So next time i move, it'll be capsule wardrobe in a big rucksack (oh god, ditching the shoes is going to be hard though!), and anything else that won't fit in panniers doesn't get to come.  If its got dust on it, its bye bye to that thing, because i obviously don't need it.

Get me my 3G dongle and my puncture repair kit, we're outa here...

Friday, 13 April 2012

Social Media: Industry is NOT the thought leader. Get over it.

At this point i can almost hear the industry going: "We have millions of pounds of research, focus groups and marketing telling us how to functionalitize this socmed thing!"  And yes, hypothetical suit guys, you do, and that's why you've got no idea how to deal with it.  And also, is 'functionalitize' even a word? 

So, here is an example of what i'm talking about:

The gap between  the story about a religious group and it's plan to advertise its 'gay cure' message on london buses appearing on Twitter, and Transport for London announcing via their official twitter that the ads would be pulled, was less than two hours.  Twitter broke the story (via links to the Guardian website among others), allowed an instant response from the LGBT community, and was the medium which TFL used to announce the situation's resolution.

How's that for consumer feedback engagement?

On the internet, and on Twitter  especially (other social media services are available), you don't need focus groups, you just need to be following the right keywords, #tags, and the right people.  The focus groups create themselves, and they're free to utilise.

Activists use Twitter because it doesn't just democratise their voice, it anarchises it.  They are the thought leaders, and they are the people the industry and governing bodies need to emulate if they're going to engage with social media properly.  The beauty is, they're already there, engaging with each other and anyone else who wants to join the conversation.

I am Not A Proper Journalist and therefore can't speculate on how many newsdesks called Mayor Boris Johnson on thursday afternoon asking for a statement, but that's the point.  I don't need to be, i just watched the story scroll down my screen as it happened on Twitter.  Once i read about it in the newspapers the next morning, it really was yesterday's news.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Sorry dave, but i'm really not that interesting...

So the UK government plan to monitor all email and internet traffic.  And it is, of course, to keep us safe. If we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear, right?

Now, as an internet-savvy new media professional type (no really.  I am.  Shut up!), i have two wildly conflicting opinions on this...  First of all, i'm not planning insurrection or terrorism or any of that malarkey, so that puts me into the 'nothing to fear' category, right?  Hell, there's not even critical mass where i live, and if i was i probably wouldn't go, and i don't actually believe that protest does anything, especially if it doesn't get on the news.

So, i don't really care, to be honest. Dave, if he cared to look, could already get masses of data about me already if he wanted.  The government already has access to the records of my birth, the medical stuff i've had through my life, it knows where i went to school and what qualifications i have.  It knows everywhere that i've worked, what i've earned, when i've lived with a partner and when i haven't.

Even my bank knows where i am most of the time, which is why they occasionally switch off my debit card when i buy something somewhere a long way away from where i live.  If Dave and Theresa don't already have access to this stuff, it's an IT fail which they really want to talk to GCHQ about!  I watch NCIS:LA, i've seen those swishy plasma touch screens they've got!  I assume we've got the same stuff, and if we haven't then someone needs to get onto Ebuyer, they're not cheap but i assume they can afford it...

The Man, to be frank, is deluged with information about me.  None of which is particularly of interest.  Track me if you can, i'm really rather boring.  And actually, i'd be impressed if you could, google maps on my phone can only get within a couple of miles unless i'm connected to a wifi hotspot.

But.  Yes, i said there were two wildly conflicting opinions on this one.  We don't live in a fascist police state yet. And it's unlikely really, that we will. Does that mean i want some private security contractor picking me out on CCTV as looking a bit unusual and watching me going shopping? No. It's harmless but it makes me uncomfortable when i catch the camera moving out of the corner of my eye.  Do i want all those emails and texts between me and my significant other going via GCHQ? No, it's none of their business what we say to each other, plus it'll slow the damn network down!

I don't have an answer, is what i'm trying to say here.  Like as near to everybody as makes no difference, i'm not a terrorist.  Like everyone else, i'm just trying to get through the day.  I want to be left alone most of the time, and when i don't, i expect the authorities to do their damn job and come running when i need them.  Doesn't mean if i post a blog about civil liberties or chat to a friend on FB about how useless the government are, that i expect a knock at the door...  Watch out for my safety, don't watch me for my safety.  See the difference?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Digitally Disconnected...

Last weekend, i had a monumental level of disastrous disconnect.  I was removed from the major part of my world, rendered unable to contact friends or family.

I dropped my blackberry in a glass of water.

This traumatic event got me thinking how much we rely now on not only the internet, but a constant connection to it from wherever we are.  I know, as long as i have my trusty phone, that i can call for help, take a photograph, pull up a map to tell me where i am, or most importantly, update my facebook status.

It seems five minutes ago that nobody had a mobile phone except yuppie poseurs, and the idea that you would walk round in the future with an always-on internet connection in your trousers was not even considered. Even in futures with flying cars, sentient androids and memory implants, if you wanted to make a call, you needed to find a phone box...

Now in 2012 we have gadgets on us that make even recent sci-fi tech look clunky, and rather than sentient AIs we have google.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing at all.  I love my smartphone, and the whole day i was without it while it dried out in a bag of rice, i was lost and confused and felt alone...

Twitter, facebook, this whole social media thing is just another way that humans do what we've always done.  Form groups and talk about interesting or cool or funny stuff we've just found.  We've just outsourced it to our technology.  The UK government's likely plan to monitor all that is nothing that new, really.  Conspiracy movies have been telling us that The Man is monitoring everything we do for ages.  We're told, of course, if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear, but who has nothing in their life that they don't keep from other people?

Being able to be seen doing everything we do is the price we pay for being constantly connected.  Is it worth it? I don't know.  But i know i hated not being able to use twitter on the train...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Freedom to be an idiot?

A student is in prison this evening for making racist abusive comments on twitter.  Googling around, its relatively easy to find what he said, and it is repugnant and disgusting and absolutely utterly inexcusable.  But its still a worrying development that it's possible to be arrested and imprisoned for, essentially, being a horrible person.

I don't like sexism, racism, homophobia, or transphobia and i really don't want to read or hear what horrible people have to say.  But actually, i'd rather they said it, then i know to avoid them.  It's easy to find areas of the net to get angry about, and its just as easy not to go to them and go somewhere more fun instead.

It doesn't take much to start wondering about 1984's Thought Police, who weren't really thought police, but speech police.  We have laws against racial hatred, religious hatred, inciting violence and more, but is social media a platform where these laws should be enforced? And if so, does that mean that works of art or music, or film that can be seen as incitement to riot or insurrection should also lead to arrest?

Would Chuck D be arrested if he wrote these words:

Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne

in the UK 2012 rather than the USA in 1989?

So where do we draw the line?  The internet is an anarchic medium; anyone can put anything up they like, and that's the beauty of it and it's greatest weakness. The UK doesn't have a constitutional right to freedom of speech as laid down in, for instance, the constitution of the US.  It has a tradition of it though, and that's something that's much harder to get rid of.

The wikiocracy is the voice of the average, and averages can't exist without extremes.  At the extreme ends of humans we see Stalin and Gandhi, both heroes to some and villains to others; we see the greatest levels of stupidity and the greatest leaps of human intelligence.  If we imprison people for saying what's on their mind because we disagree of find it offensive, what happens when someone else takes offence to something we've said?  Are we all ready to defend our words in court?

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Truth shall make ye fret!

Citizen Journalism is what i'm talking about, and the beauty of it is that it can be anything, blogs, twitter, youtube, or even 'proper' news sites like the Guardian whose 'comment is free' section brings blogging into 'real news' territory.

So is letting any old tallulah, delores or harriet write whatever they like going to bring the quality of journalism down. Possibly but i really hope not.  One of the worst things about traditional news outlets, is that they're not reporting 'news', they're reporting 'olds'.  Its confirmation bias, the reason why liberal types read the guardian, wealthy capitalists (or wannabes) read the telegraph, and xenophobic idiots read the daily mail.  Confirmation bias says: i knew that!  See, i was right all along!!!  Jeremy Clarkson agrees so it must be true!! note: if Jeremy Clarkson agrees with you, you're probably wrong.

And ok, blogging, tweeting, vlogging and podcasting, can easily do the same thing, and often does.  Just google an opinion and you'll find someone espousing it, with threads full of comments agreeing with them, no matter how misguided, toxic, or just plain wrong they might be.  So, what is a reader to do in this brave new world of pressless freedom?  How about, search for the question, not the answer, and look at conflicting views.  Remember everyone has an agenda, including you, and maybe, y'know, make up your own mind...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Controversy Corner. I like windows 8.

Yep, you heard it here first!  You'd think reading the shouting on the interweb, that microsoft's latest offering was in fact, anthrax packaged up in a nice shiny polonium sandwich and seasoned with, ooh, something else nasty that i can't think of off the top of my head.

So what has got the blogotwitsphere screaming 'worst operating system EVER!!!'?  The shiny new metro interface, that's what.  So yes, of course i then google around and find i'm not the only person who likes it.  So there's one other person, as far as i can see.

The biggest problem with metro is that it needs a minimum screen size of 1024x768, which rules out netbooks for 'metro apps'.  And i wasn't that impressed with that when i loaded the consumer preview (aka 'beta') onto my hp mini as, like your average netbook, its screen is 1024x576, which is great for watching movies on long train journeys or using as a telly (as long as its not too far away) but a bit of a pain for a lot of other things.  So while there are a number of hacks around and about for stretching screen size beyond what the native monitor can do, they generally result in the screen looking all horrible and squashed.  And in my world, while yes, functionality yada yada, lets face it, we buy netbooks because they're cute and look quite funky as well as being a 'cheap laptop', which is totally what i wanted when i bought mine, actually!

Tablets?  Well, so far, so meh.  I don't want android actually, i tried it and didn't like it, thanks very much, i want a 'proper' OS, its a computer, not a phone!  And chrome looks interesting and really close to what i'm after, but chromebooks are currently overpriced, although they seem to be coming down. Google aren't precious about dumping ideas that aren't working either, so long term support might be, er, not very long term as they don't seem to be catching on.

So yes, what i want, and what i broke my OEM xp install trying to get before mucking around with a bunch of linux variants, is basically a browser, with a media player, that'll run the vpn software i need to log into my work pc and will fit in a normal size handbag without breaking my spine.

And it has to look nice.  I know that'll probably upset a lot of techie boys, but hey, i spend a lot of time looking at this thing, nasty clonky boxes in shades of grey and blue don't do it for me.  Jolicloud was really close but it had too much extra mucking about, and most of the customise options that make linux great have been switched off.

And you know what's always drove me nuts about windows?  The start button.  The thing that suddenly there's all this mourning for.  I loved Mac OS X when it first appeared, for me the greatest thing about it was the dock, and i've spent any amount of mucking about trying the variants that are around for windows, but the start menu was still around and something i couldn't kill off.

So yes, Windows 8 start screen?  Love it.  Love. It.  So metro apps don't work?  So what, they're aren't any yet anyway!  And a bit of a right-click-un-install frenzy on first use clears the decks nicely for the stuff i want.

So, for instance, this is now my start screen:

Everything i want in one click, nothing that i don't.  If i do want to be able to get at the other stuff then a right click brings up 'all apps' and there they are.  Most are still placeholders, but seeing as i'm not using them, i just want them to stay out of the way anyway, unlike the massive long list in the start menu that i had to climb through to find anything that didn't have a desktop shortcut.

And anyway, if you do want the start button back, there's already an app for that.  I may even try it.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Delete, format, re-install

Here we are again...

I've had a few false starts on this one.  It was originally intended to be a mean and moody slightly orwellian-centred blog about the insidiousness of information management and control in the 21st century and how the surveillance culture and the internet's natural ecology of 'information wants to be free' are naturally colliding with each other in a way that's quite likely to end in a showdown of some kind...

And you may say (non-existent reader person), well, what do you mean 'false starts'?  Yup, well spotted.  There's nothing there.  Because the paranoia that led me to write the first few pithy and well-observed articles also led me to delete the whole thing and consider resigning from the information age entirely..!

But now i'm ready to give it another go...  Cos there's stuff that boings around in my head, and some of it is serious, political, sciencey, challenging, and some of it is wibble about pop culture and shoes and bikes...

And i'm not going to do a biog post either, cos you'll just have to work it out as you go along...