Archive for the ‘Technology and Software’ Category

How to be a Toolbox and Complain about Success

this is what got my attention:

Pete Waterman, the force behind dozens of multi-million selling chart hits, claims he is being “exploited” by internet giant Google.

say what?

oh yeah. and he goes on…

The 62-year-old said the Rick Astley classic Never Gonna Give You Up, which he co-wrote and which was the subject of a YouTube craze last year, had earned him just £11 from Google, despite being viewed 154 million times

and on…

“Panorama did a documentary on the exploitation of foreign workers in Dubai,” he said.

“I feel like one of those workers, because I earned less for a year’s work off Google or YouTube than they did off the Bahrain government.”

okay, tool. lemme explain how this works to you really, really quickly and easily.

  1. for the last 15 years, your song was lounging in obscurity. we’re talking “6-digit amazon sales rank” obscurity.
  2. google “exploits” you with rickrolling.
  3. you can actually see a trend line tying rickrolling with a sales rank increase of “Never Gonna Give You Up” — yes. sales of the single, not just ad impressions.
  4. in fact, it puts your track at number 77 on the amazon charts selling up to 2500 units in a week. that’s money from a sale of your song every… 4… minutes….
  5. you are worth £47 million. ($68 million for those of us in the colonies.)

just for kicks, let’s look at what being 77 on the amazon download store means. as of right now, that’s more popular than artists like kayne west, kenny chesney and the killers. all (despite your taste in music) much, much more relevant today than rick astley.

wtf, noob?

by the power vested in me, i hearby declare you a toolbox and revoke your ability to complain about anything, ever on the interweb!


The Case for Both Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Relationships

sorry i’m so late with this.  i know i threatened to write it up last week, but, you know.  spare time being what it is.


there are quite a few smart folks out there putting forth theories on why followers (vs. friends) are the “right” way to go.  it’s good stuff.  you should read it as a preface to this.  it’s the kind of stuff i churn over all the time as chief web dude over at metaplace.

the crux of the discussion is what’s better? friends or followers?  friends where, through granted requests, you explicitly create a two-way relationship with someone or followers where, by you “following” them back, you create an implicit two-way relationship.

and here’s my official thought, social media sites. (twitter, friendfeed, facebook, myspace, etc.)  so listen up — you need both.

here’s why: both methods, regardless of how they are implemented, are dual purpose.

purpose 1
you create an important relationship between you and another person.  you want to know what they’re doing.  you want to keep in touch.  it’s someone you care about.  you know — that whole “social” thing.

purpose 2
it’s a scoreboard, man.  who has the most friends?  who’s the most popular?  who has the biggest network of contacts?  you know — a social leaderboard.

“so?” you say.

well.  it leads to a problem.  mostly, it’s all about the extra noise. 

someone requests a friendship with you, either by clicking “add friend” or simply by following you, and you say “oh, i casually know that person” or “that was nice of them to follow me” and you confirm the relationship.

pretty soon, you have hundreds — even thousands in some cases depending on your notoriety — of friends.

well, as it turns out, that dunbar number isn’t really a lie despite facebook’s best efforts.  you don’t really care intimately about all of those people.  but, there you are, with a huge polluted friends list that you can’t really trim down without looking like a huge douche.  (celebrities are mostly exempted from the “trim means douche” rule just because of the sheer number of fans they have)

you start dropping all those people you knew back in high school or your friend’s parents or whatever from your public friends list, you’re gonna get called on it.  just ask kevin rose.


this is a lot of words to really explain something pretty simple: we need to use something akin to the rss model.

you have private friends.

and you have public subscribers.

this still gives you a public scoreboard number that you can show off like a freakin’ badge of honor and yet, you still can have a smaller, more manageable list of “important people” that you care about.

subscriber is easy and carefree.  very asymmetrical.  like twitter’s followers.  you subscribe.  they subscribe.  everyone subscribes!  it’s free love and big points for all my friends!  … er… followers.  er… subscribers.

friends, however, is an explicit declaration by both people to “become friends” or promote the simple subscriber relationship to a full-on “lemme know ALL your dirt” relationship.  nobody outside of you two has to know about the relationship.  it can stay clean and pure.

best of all, it gives you a chance to filter the data accordingly. (this is where i pwn all you who are saying to yourselves “why not just use followers and groups, noob!”)  the data you care about is going to be different from friend to subscriber.  you have two different buckets where data pours into.

let us use facebook as an example.

raise your hand if you hate, hate, hate getting all the retarded app requests from every single person on facebook that you’ve friended.  *scans the room and sees everyone but crazy aunt hilda in the back has their hand raised*

if you merely subscribe to someone, you wouldn’t get those.  you’d get explicit updates (comments, photos, direct messages, etc.) they put out, but not all of the app spam we all “love.”

all that goes into a subscriber bucket (prolly more like a lake, really) that you can dip your toes into and pull out memes or themes every now and then or just submerge yourself and let the noise of it all just wash over you.

however, your newly minted m3mnoch-proposed friends would be sending you full feeds of everything like normal.  all the subscriber stuff, plus app notes or anything else that they’re doing that would implicitly be interesting to you.  because, if they’re one of the 10 or 20 friends you actively follow and they update their facebook bowling app (is there really one?) with the turkey they just threw, dude — you wanna know!  cause you’re prolly playing the same game!  right now!  (i promise i won’t tell…)

…especially if that saves them the email they’d have to send to you bragging about it anyway.

and then!  then, you don’t have to worry about spammy updates!  the people who you are real friends with would now only include the people you’re prolly on im with all day anyway.

and once you can get the wires that tight, there’s all kinds of cool integration you can do.  automatic trust-type stuff you just can’t assume with today’s friending setups.  not to mention awesome data mining and discovery stuff you can assemble from a developer’s standpoint.

hell.  you might even be able to pull all that external im conversation onto your site.

i mean, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about how many people billy sends an app request to because you would know that all his friends — not subscribers — are honest-to-god interested in it?


Content has Nothing to do with Channels

so, mark cuban’s got this post about how cable subs — yeah, that’s a term “the people” would use — should unite agiainst the freeloaders!

so, lemme get this straight.  you just come off back-to-back tirades about how a la carte is stupid and cable operators — you know, “content people” — should get paid and the internet suxors.  aside from cuban not being a content person (you’re a content distribution person!), he seems to think that a la carte is bad, the devil and every other evil reference you can think of.

the problem is that he’s thinking a la carte channels.

that’s not what we want.  we want a la carte shows.  i could give a damn about the other 98% of tv on a given channel.  choosing between bundled channels and a la carte channels is like choosing between bad and worse.

that means channels are soooo dead.  and, if channels are dead, then distribution and bundling deals are dead. (long live filters and recommendation services!)  and, if traditional content distribution is dead, mark’s out of a job.  my prediction?  well, knowing mark’s track record, this is what happens:

  1. the amount of content online starts growing exponentially.
  2. a successful filtering/recommendation service rears its head and pwns the online video market.
  3. cuban realizes his mistake and pours more cash into hdnet and apes the successful service.
  4. hdnet still doesn’t gain traction.

(just basing all that on icerocket‘s history…)

again, a la carte shows, not channels.

and, by the way, mark.  i can answer all of your questions for you.

“How many people have really given up cable or satellite for internet only delivery of content ? 100k at the most  ? Based on company reports, it seems like people are giving up their wired telephone lines at home long before they give up their cable/sat/telco TV”

this is exactly what the phone companies said 10 years ago.

“Why are DVR sales continuing to climb ? if the internet is a better solution, why buy, lease or even use a DVR ? Shouldn’t DVRs be immediately obsolete ?”

again, a la carte shows, not channels.  people are building their own channels.  and dvrs are easy.  always bet on easy, cheap, and choice — in that order.

“Technology doesn’t always move in the direction you expect it to.  Anyone for faster airplanes ? The return of the Concorde ? More efficient electricity grids ? More fuel efficient cars ? You can blame the lack of progress on the incumbents or their industry, but doesn’t that make my point ?”

what on earth are you talking about?  those examples sound like the old guard holding others back.  i have no idea what you are even trying to ask much less whatever the hell your point is…

“Read this great post from the NetFlix Blog Why do people ignore in last mile and  home bandwidth constraints ? More devices at home, more utilization,  more hard drive storage, require more backups, which consume bandwidth, whether local or online.”

um.  okay.

“Why do people think that bandwidth to and in the home will grow faster than applications can consume it  ?  If you believe in the inevitable progress of technology and innovation then shouldn’t you believe that this collective genius will come up with better uses of increasing bandwidth than replacing TV ? I certainly do. Health Care, Security, Who knows what, have to be a better and more rewarding use of bandwidth than just TV.”

i can’t think of a single person who says “awesome!  i have plenty of bandwidth to run all my games, tv and sufing all at the same time!”  i’m sure there will be a “better” use of bandwidth than replacing tv.  but, hey, it’s the internet — we can do both!

“Always remember that the long tail of content, whether audio or video, never gets paid. Thats why its on the long tail.  One hit wonders do not disprove the rule. Creating hits is hard and very much a numbers game. Any content game that is a numbers game is expensive to play. Which explains exactly why there are so few internet video only companies (our friends at Rev3 being hopefully a shining exception) making money.”

never gets paid?  huh?

you should read about niche markets.  then, go tell the couple who started they aren’t making money.  or maybe talk to jill sobule or kristin hersh or the guys from marillion.  or, if you want tv, how about the guys from the guild or yoga today or star trek: new voyages.

you’re wrong.  you don’t need hits.  selling 1,000,000 copies of one piece is the same as selling 1 each of 1,000,000 different pieces when distribution costs (people like you) are marginalized to zero.

it’s only expensive to play when you think like a cable operator and not an web publisher.  niche markets work because, unlike specialty cable channels, a small percentage of dedicated customers finance the entire thing.  this is because the costs associated with it are so low and with the a la carte web, you can get your show — not an entire channel — in front of the people who want to pay you for it.  you just can’t do that at cable operator scale.

as you are ever conjuring the image of music execs of the last decade, here’s a quote from robert pittman, cofounder of mtv: “When I talk to people in the music business, most of them will admit that the problem is they’re selling songs and not albums. I mean, you do the math.”

people want shows.  not channels.

“P2P has been around for how many years ? It has yet to find commercial success anywhere. Its not a solution to any problem and in fact is a huge risk. Anyone with any sense of fairplay knows “free bandwidth” for commercial distribution of content is inherently wrong.”

you’re not paying attention.

every single mmo video game uses it as a distribution method for downloading clients, content and patches.  yes.  all 12 million world of warcraft subs who pay $15 a month for example use it.  why?  because it marginalizes the cost of bandwidth for content delivery.

now, imagine if the online video marketplace’s biggest complaint — cost of delivering high quality video — was marginalized!

“For all those that think there will be an explosion in bandwidth, remember we are in at least a recession, if not worse. Don’t expect any capital to be invested to take the last mile to multiples of current experiences. In fact, you might see the opposite as capital constraints encourage networks to try to manage as best they can with what they have. It could be far worse on the wireless front as lack of capital could shut down installs”

again.  you sound like the music industry execs 10 years ago.  or the movie industry execs 5 years ago.

you are just in denial if you think tv is different than movies (who said they were different than music) or music (who said they were different than the printed word) or newspapers.

you wanna see what people want?  go cruise the torrent networks.  the reason the content is out there is because it’s the content people want.

there are entire categories devoted just to tv shows, dude.  a la carte is here and delivered via the internet already.  why?  because it solves a consumer pain point.

if you don’t give us what we want, we’ll get it ourselves.  (see the lambasting of the music industry for reference.)


Digital Rights Backfire

for those of you who’ve been living in a cave, spore’s got itself some hellacious drm.  there’re rumors it’s so bad it rewrites your dvd drive’s drivers, it installs a rootkit and probably even purposefully throws out a bsod for good measure.  i hear it’s so bad that it even kills kittens!

anyway, pc gamers of course hate, hate, hate this.  duh.

but the funniest part?

Ironically, the game was leaked several days before the official released date and a quick search seems to indicate that pirated copies, along with mechanisms for bypassing the copy protection mechanisms, are freely available on the Internet. So it seems that the copy protection schemes only inconveniences legitimate customers.

so, by trying to prevent piracy, they’re driving legitimate users to pirate their games because pirates make a better product — one that’s not wrapped in malware.

please take note:  drm doesn’t stop anything.  and, the money you save by kicking your legitimate customers in the collective groin, you lose because you pay to get them on a first-name-basis with your technical support people.  meanwhile, pirates are still pirating your game.

and they’re doing it with possibly with even more bile and determination because YOU threw down the “screw you pirate!” gauntlet.



Missing the Browser as an OS Point

chalk another one up to completely missing the point of my explanation of the browser as an os.  business week aparently doesn’t understand the idea of applications as plugins that run in a local execution space directly against the underlying os.

Let’s start with the operating system. What’s your favorite flavor? Windows, OS X, Linux? Whichever your allegiance, for at least the next several years, you’ll need an operating system to boot your computer and store the applications that are still too large and unwieldy to run from inside the cloud. Take iTunes, Photoshop, or PowerPoint. While online equivalents exist, they just can’t match the processing power and functionality that come from the applications you run from your computer’s operating system.

in other words, in the “browser as an os” world, photoshop is a browser plugin.  it’s really about the separation of logic and data.  the application runs and is installed locally, but the the data is stored in the cloud.  not all applications will run in the cloud.

i’m pretty sure they would have said windows couldn’t exist because it can’t run directly from your motherboard like a standard bios can and has to be installed to this clunky thing called a hard drive.


When Does a Browser Become an OS?

there’s much hub-bub about the new google chrome being a threat to ie… wait, no.  it’s a threat to firefox and opera and safari.  afterall, it’s a browser.  or even worse, it’s not even a threat to ie6 much less windows!

and then, you have the guys who are saying that it’s a threat to windows.  they, of course, are right, tho none of them have really articulated why it’s a threat to windows.  there’s some “google os!” talk, but no one really lays that out.  it’s kind of a tricky thing to explain it, really.

and, you know me…  i’m here to make things that are hard to explain simple!

so, why is chrome a threat to the traditional os?

1) it has the web.  duh.  the primary activity people do on their computers these days is surf the web.  commerce, entertainment, news — chances are most of your computer-ing day is spent in a browser.

2) it has installed applications.  they’re just now called plugins.  (especially chrome’s new compiled, accelerated javascript!)  and, with google’s new sandboxed, tabbed-process, compiled, hardware-accelerated, non-traditional-browser-windows, non-crashing uber application thing, you have an os.  developers can now have their plugin fire up in an entire, stand-alone tab — erm. excuse me.  an entire, stand-alone “window.”  that means, you have local, “applications” that are “installed” and run in an “os”.  so, imagine a “microsoft word” plugin that runs in the browser.  they can do this where other browsers can’t because each tab is a separate, multi-threaded, hardware accelerated process — just like in a real os.

3) true write once, deploy anywhere.  just like today’s adobe flash player is very, very write once, deploy everywhere type of thing, so too will be plugins.  this is EXTREMELY true with these new-fangled compiled javascript applications chrome allows for.  think about that last bit mixed with #2 above.  so, there will only be ONE application that needs to be written and everyone — no matter if they’re on a mac, windows, linux, whatever — can use it.

4) the flavor of traditional os underneath won’t matter anymore.  just like the bios and drivers and all the other computer plumbing underneath your traditional os doesn’t matter, windows, linux and osx won’t matter.  nobody (other than the occasional SERIOUS nerd) cares about all that stuff because they don’t actively use it.  it comes pre-installed on their computers and worst case, they have to click some sort of “update reminder” thing.  windows, linux and mac will all become boring middleware that the average person doesn’t care about.  because, as #3 above states, they just get their full applications as plugins that work on every single traditional os.

still having issues visualizing all of this? just read back through that comic book and where they talk about a tabbed browser bar think “windows task bar” and where they talk about plugin, think “installed windows application like outlook or word”.

we are on the very cusp of a brave, brave new internet os enabled world and it has nothing to do with any of the profit centers up in redmond.


Phone Providers are Officially "On Notice"

if you missed the deluge yesterday, you must have been in a cave.  i’ll recap.  the 3g iphone is here and it’s only $200.  service and hardware providers?  you’re officially on notice. you have a month to figure your shit out.

what does that really mean tho?  lemme offer a couple bits of advice.

  1. do you make smart phone hardware?  you are no longer allowed to sell it for more than $200.  gone are the days of the $700 treo.
  2. do you run a cdma network?  you’re screwed.  the only way you can compete now is with a cheaper data plan AND cheaper smart phones.

ignore this at your own peril.  doing so will result in a mass end-of-contract exodus.  period.


p.s.  apparently the world is already going to hell in a handbasket for verizon and sprint.  o2 is actually giving away the iphone for free.  others in the u.s. will surely follow.

UPDATE: a fleshed out version of this on business week:

From the "Dragged Kicking and Screaming" Department

you may have heard about this nonsense being foisted on the freakonomics blog.  the quick recap goes like this:  the nytimes decided to “partner” with the freakonomics blog.  in exchange for this extra clout the times brings to the freaky blog, the steves have to swap out their previous full rss feed for a “summary only” rss feed.  the freak-world then exploded.

the nytimes wants to (bless their little hearts) lure people to their website where they can get paid for all the eyeballs.  that doesn’t really happen (or so they think) when your rss feed contains the full articles and people don’t need to come to your site for the content.

silly “old media” giant.

while there have been a couple of fail attempts at explaining exactly why it’s better to have full feeds, they really only amount to a steamy pile of “it’s the network effect, dummy” or “just put ads in the feeds!”

you have to spell things like this out for stodgy old bastards, guys.  like usual, i’m here and ready to help.

(already covered) reasons why full feeds are better:

  1. people just like it better.  engender love in your users and they’ll end up being happy users and sharing the content — whether that’s someplace like digg or redit or just their own buddy email list.  this is basically the “warm and fuzzy” network effect.
  2. it doesn’t matter because you can put ads in your feeds anyway. poynter talks about this one.
  3. another poynter goodie is this: “full-text feeds make your content much more findable via all kinds of search engines”

elaborated reasons why full feeds are better:

  1. the web really is a read/write place.  what the hell does that mean?  it means that content (the stuff the times likes to wall up) is just the starting point for the conversation.  people not only like to read the original content and post their own comments, but they like to read other people’s comments.  even full conversations!

    the “full feed” isn’t the full content.  the full content is story + comments.  there’s a reason why of the top 20 sites on the web, 4 are search engines and the other 16 are social media sites.  the web has turned into a read and write kinda place.

    people don’t read stubs and feel compelled to comment.  people don’t read stubs and wonder “what does everyone else think about this?”

    putting stupid little stubs in your feed is like training people to skim the headlines.  you need to engage them in the content if you’re going to hook them into being interactive on your site.

    page views come from reading/posting/following in the comments.

  2. people hate ads.  even moreso, people hate ads in their rss feeds.  depressing, eh?

    i should clarify — people hate bad ads.  people LOVE good ads.  people LOVE being part of a movement or a community.  there is no better advertising than word of mouth advertising.  it’s an ad that comes with a credible recommendation.  (maybe there is hope for ads.)

    that being said, there is only hope for good, targeted ads.  how do you produce targeted ads?  well, by fitting the ad in with the context of the content on the page.  the more content on the page, the better targeting of the ad.  google does this all the time.

    take this freakonomics post: Cheating to Be Hot

    what ads would probably automatically show up on that post?  maybe a bagel shop ad?  or a political fundraiser ad for george bush’s rivals?  (somebody should put it next to some adsense blocks and see what ads actually show up.)  both of those ads would be fairly targeted and i’m sure have a decent click-through.

    now, take the times’s feed version of the story:

  3. Cheating to Be Hot
    Is cheating really so bad, particularly when there’s no punishment involved? Dubner discusses the vote rigging scandal behind the winners of Fishbowl DC’s “Hottest Media Types” contest.


    that’s really all there is. 

    what the hell kind of ads show up there?  media ads?  fishbowl ads?  one thing is for sure, it’s nothing targeted beyond (cross your fingers) at least a “typical demographics for the times’s readership” type of ad.

    “but, but, but…  ads in our feeds don’t really work!”  well…  no shit sherlock.  i wonder why?

  4. so, have you been noticing what i’ve been doing throughout this post?  scroll up and count the hyperlinks.  see?  that’s how the web works.  you put these things called “links” in your “html document” and it does this [i’m waving my hands around until finally settling on some air quotes] “hyperlinking” thing.

    “so?” you say.

    well.  in a stub-filled, crap feed with 10 articles, you have 10 links from 10 little paragraphs to 10 stories on your site.  with full-text rss hawtness and some sexy cross-story hyperlinking IN ADDITION to putting in “related story” links based on the article’s context, i bet you could pull together 10 links per article.

    and, yep — you guessed it — all 100 of them point to your site.

    that means, for every 1 piece of content you give away for “free,” you get to put 9 other links to “non-free” content within the same context of the first article the reader is interested in.  (assuming they are interested in something they choose to read, that is.  people are crazy these days….)

so, there you have it.  just a few reasons literally off the top of my head, blathered down in a stream-of-consciousness list on why full-text feeds are better.

and the best part about all of these reasons?  your readers love you because you aren’t treating them like criminals or trying to be their ad pimp.  i mean, maybe there’d even be a community-sponsored….


Morgan Webb Alert

i’ll be damned.  webbalert is actually good.

what is the world coming to?


PS3 Can Record TV and Play Games

… but will it do both at the same time?

commenter rjcc over on makes a very, very good comment. there’s a reason the xbox 360 is a media extender and not a pvr. you can play games on your 360 while your media center is recording shows. they just playback through your network from your pc to the 360.

in the ps3’s case, what’s the point of having a dvr if it can’t record shows while you’re playing games?

and, if the ps3 does both at the same time? uh… that sucks. let’s do some math!

data rate of a compressed hd video stream: about 19 megabits per second.

that’s 2.375 megabytes of data written to the hard drive per second.

that’s 142.5 megabytes a minute.

that’s 8.35 gigabytes an hour.

so, a 120 gig ps3 hard drive can hold about 14 hours of compressed video.

ew… that’s not very much nor very effective for a shared device.

and, not only is the write pipe to the ps3 hard drive gonna suck when your game has to share bandwidth with your video being recorded, but, what the hell is compressing the video? that’s right! resources in the ps3 — the very same resources that play your game. (that assumes, of course, you’ve got a pure, uncompressed hd feed. more likely, you’ll already have a compressed cable or satellite feed coming in. that way, there’s just transcoding issues…)

so, compressing/storing video and playing a game at the same time? not so much. looks like you’ll just have to buy another ps3.

and, we won’t even mention that they can choose to not compress/transcode hd video. that’s somewhere around 417 gigabytes an hour…. heh.