Recently in Technology Category

Music companies seriously need to send Pandora a gift basket or something. Pandora is a streaming music radio service that "learns" your preferences based on thumbs up/down ratings, and my experience so far is that it is impressively accurate. I created a channel based on Digitalism [Warning: spammy myspace page]. Great band in the electronic/techno vein. I proceeded to thumbs up/thumbs down (mostly up) about 10 songs or so, and now, about the worst Pandora produces is "tolerable", and I've bought several songs of Amazon.

This is what discovering music should be like. You indicate preferences, and something mixes your favorites in with potential new discoveries. Don't like one? It is skipped, on to the next one. Like one? Get a high bitrate copy of your own immediately, DRM free.

I picked up the Digitalism album off iTunes on the strength of the badass song Idealistic and the fact that it was itunes plus, so no DRM. Now I'm following from those songs, via Pandora, into the Chemical Brothers, and songs like Weak in the Knees by Bender (I couldn't even find a site). That latter song was like #eleventymillion in popularity on Amazon, but I *love* it.

The e-book, TV, movie industries have a lot to learn from how to get value from consumers.

This winning combo has me delightedly trying out new music, with a great "hit ratio" (unlike traditional mass-media radio), and makes it easy to buy a song I want. Bravo, Amazon and Pandora.

You can't legislate this sort of success - you can only earn it by serving the needs of consumers better.

This Generation

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"We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet," Mr. Gore said. "Every bit of that's got to change."

Every generation has an epic challenge it must rise to. Whether it is a struggle for a free Europe and a free world, toeing the line against the spread of communism, rising from the ashes of the Great Depression, or going to the moon. There are moments where we have opportunities to leave an imprint of positive change on the world. These moments are not free. They are costly, in blood, treasure, or both. But the cost of ignoring these moments is greater.

The time has come for every American to ask how they can cut back and save, to direct resources toward the building of a mighty green infrastructure, that can power us, and perhaps the world. We need to demand on every level that people work together to support this. Push our science departments to dedicate research resources to green energy. Push politicians to collaborate on green funding. If you can possibly do it, try to be an early adopter of green tech - and I don't mean a Prius, I'm talking about a roof full of Solar Panels. It is time to blend our determination, our hope, our expertise, and our drive to build an infrastructure for the next few centuries.

The future of technology may lie in the hands of a pair of Democrats, who are as different as can be.

The senior Democrat on the Subcommittee of IP and the Internet is Howard Berman. Berman is a longtime hollywood DRM pimp. He was behind the horrendous idea that we should let studios hack computers to stop P2P file transfers. Techdirt lists his wide array of anti-consumer initiatives:

Among Berman's proposed or supported laws were the ability for copyright holders to take vigilante action on those they believed were sharing their content allowing them to hack into your computer, a bill to strip away many fair use protections, a bill to let the entertainment industry use the FBI's seal when going after copyright infringers, a bill to give jail time to those caught file sharing (rather than just fines), a proposal to put people in jail for registering a domain with fake info and has been a big supporter of adding a broadcast flag requirement to consumer electronics.

In short, he's a shill for the content giants.

So, Robert Cringely has a piece on the death of traditional advertising. The nutshell idea: because pay-per-click revenue offers such a transparent view of its efficacy, it is stealing advertising dollars from print media and TV advertising.

Agreed. As a business owner (or co-owner), I find Google ads a very attractive way to spend my dollars. I am utterly certainly about the ROI for each dollar spent. And while the ads that work in the space (Scrapbooking Supplies, which my wife sells both online and B&M) are not "cheap", they are effective and measurable. Compare that to neighborhood fliers left on doors by hand, or to back-of-magazine classifies ads or even the more expensive traditional radio, magazine, and TV ads. They're all nearly impossible to track. Moreover, they clearly do not work generally in an immediate way. My father runs a jewelry store and did extensive TV advertising. He has learned, and I have heard advertising salespeople repeat this, that you need to advertise on TV reasonably heavily for about 6 weeks before your "message" "sinks in" and people respond. Compare that to my click throughs, where the majority of successful clicks result in immediate sales, and I can also easily know who signs up for a newsletter or such and orders later, and who returns to order more times in the future.

None of this is a new line of thought, but fundamentally, *this* is why TV content producers and distributors should be falling all over themselves to do TV on demand. Basically, people should rent a cheap box that lets them get VOD. The VOD should basically give them access to all content, with either a viewing fee, a purchase fee, or an "advertising viewing" ratio. But if the system has you "sign in", then data about you and your interests and such can be used to tailor commercials for you. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that everyone wins with more targeted ads. You see a smaller number of ads which you find either aesthetically appealing, funny, or interesting. Advertisers get interested consumers and better results. Win-win.

Let me take this a step further. TVs, equipped with videophones, can voice-recognize interest.

"If this sounds interesting, say 'Operator' and we will connect you with a WidgetHouse Widget Consultant now.... [pause]"

And if you don't say anything, in 3 seconds it hops over to your content.

Can you imagine a TV that can respond to an expression of interest by a consumer and connect them to someone who can help the process along?

This could happen tomorrow. All of the technology exists now. Heck, you could skip the video and just have voice recogniition. Register your TV with your phone number. You say "operator", and your phone rings. And API could even handle interest contacts for different mediums. Download a free show for your video iPod. It says "Interested?" and you say yes or no, and the yes triggers an email/call/etc when you reconnect your iPod. (or, in a world with a wireless/cell-enabled iPod, you get a call then, or an SMS message with a number or whatever)

TV is an awesome channel for entertainment, but pay-per-click has shown it really stinks for advertising. Sure, it has reach, but it doesn't channel consumer interest well, it is difficult if not impossible to evaluate advertising effectiveness, etc. Plus, with Text ads, you can try 5 different bits of copy and google will automatically gravitate towards the one that works best. Imagine if a big TV advertiser could show 5 TV ads and the ones people "liked" automatically moved more into rotation.

I can't go as far as Cringely and actually predict any of this will happen. There's no catalyst. I expect to see a move toward direct user-supported TV in the near future. Frankly, I have to wonder why I should pay $60/mo for digital cable... I already have DSL, don't I? I should be able to get my TV over one pipe, getting just the shows I want. Assuming the pipe costs $40/mo (that's more than the $30 you can get DSL for in a lot of places now), that leaves $50/mo that phone companies could claim a big fat piece of by dislodging cable. I mean, Cable companies are offering IP based phone service - why are bells not offering IP-based TV service?

From technewsworld.com:

The Digital Transition Content Security Act would embed anticopying technology into the next generation of digital video products. If it makes its way from Capitol Hill to the Oval Office and becomes law, the measure will outlaw the manufacture or sale of electronic devices that convert analog video signals into digital video signals, effective one year from its enactment. PC-based tuners and digital video recorders are listed among the devices.

As usual, the MPAA thought process is completely flawed. First of all, there are so many old devices capable of converting analog to digital that any self-respecting pirate will have a supply for the next century. Secondly, since when is it fair to place a multi-billion dollar burden on one industry (consumer electronics) to protect the profits of another industry (content)? And the MPAA hasn't even tried doing things another way. There's been no simultaneous movie/dvd/net release where you download a full-featured full-sized film via a custom BitTorrent client for $8. Where's the Napster-style service for movies? $20/mo and you access every movie ever made that's over a year old, and view just-released features for $2 more?

Content is crazy. The world is split into two people:

  • Those who have money and want convenience.
  • Those who have time but want value

Movies are currently not particularly cheap or convenient. Movie theaters are expensive, their food is worse, the seats suck, the picture is grainy and splotchy, they're inconvenient (showtimes always start too soon, too late), and that's to say nothing of the patrons you might run into. Now, some places manage to be cool like Alamo Drafthouse, but those are few and far between.

Meanwhile, movies cost $6-9 for 2-3 hours of entertainment, and they're over. Alternately, there's the DVD, paying $20, give or take, for something you've already seen. Or, alternately, if you're full of time and have $20, you can spend another month on World of Warcraft... they obviously understand their market, unlike the MPAA, which is why they're making millions (soon to be billions)? $4/hr, or $0.20/hr? Hit-or-Miss maybe of a movie, or psychological addiction?

When the revolution comes, the MPAA is first against the wall.

So there's some market research released by Nielsen about gamers.

Xbox 360 vs. PS3: While most are taking the wait and see approach, those that own and prefer Xbox are more likely to buy Xbox 360 than those that own and prefer PS2 are to buy the PS3

Ars Technica comments on this, saying:

Is this showing doubt on the part of the PlayStation faithful, or is this merely what we should except given the fact that so much more is certain about the Xbox 360 right now? My bet is on the latter.

My immediate reaction was: I bet you're right. I liked my PS2. I've never really liked Microsoft. The only reason I run Windows, at all, is because I want to play games, and I think trying to get my SLI setup running under Linux (where I spend more net time) would be a herculean task at best.

Then I realized: I don't like Sony any more either. How do I dislike thee, Sony? Let me count the ways:

  • You released the PSP with code signing and no open API, meaning I have to rely on a buffer overflow to use all the cool code out there. (This is why I do not own a PSP)
  • You demoted Ken Kutaragi, who called Sony's content controls "overly restrictive", in favor of promoting Howard Stringer, who headed the content divison and, unsurpisingly, supported DRM, leading to...
  • You started rootkitting people's boxes

BB notes what a fiasco this has become.

That, and you missed the boat as the industry swung away from tube TVs. You had the glorious Trinitron, and it didn't matter because of the sea change of LCD/Plasma/DLP. You've lost it.

Meanwhile, the temptation of the XBox is strong. I've lamented that I was never able to play Jade Empire because it was XBox only. Next up, they're going to XBox-only Mass Effect, damn them.

It's not that Microsoft has gotten any better, but you can almost sense them being eaten alive by the churning froth of web applications springing up all over the place. Soon, gaming will be the only thing keeping anyone on Windows. Hell, if we see Linux permeate some foreign market - say, China - we may well see Linux simultaneous release become mandatory. You want millions of Chinese people to play your MMO? Better make it for Linux. In a sense, it's one reason I've always hoped Microsoft successfully clamped down on privacy. I think 100% legal, authorized copies of Windows would make Linux a market leader in a matter of a year and change.

So even if you liked the PS2 - and I did - has Sony crossed the line? Honestly, how wants to buy a game system from the losers who slipped a buggy rootkit onto millions of CDs without a word? And Sony doesn't think they did anything wrong, and have said as much through their RIAA mouthpiece.

So, Sony, you unabashed, unapologetic, out of touch giant - here's to your recklessness... and my XBox?

TiVo to iPod/PSP coming

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Via PVRBlog I discovered that TiVo will allow you to move TiVoToGo video to your iPod and PSP. I have several observations about this.

It's a smart move, in that it helps differentiate from Set-Top offerings. One of the most dangerous things for TiVo will be set top DVR offerings. While I use TiVo at home, my wife selected Time Warner's DVR "service" for her office. It's laggy and generally inferior, in my opinion, but it doesn't require any sort of purchase and it's set up for you. Anything that differentiates TiVo from those set top boxes is good.

It gives you real value for your TiVo fee. As Ars Technica pointed out, being able to cheaply populate your iPod (or PSP) with video which might otherwise cost you $2 goes a long way to "soften the blow" of their monthly fee. Ars Technica also astutely points out that this is exactly why media companies want a Broadcast Flag. It isn't piracy, not while the "flag" is merely an instruction to consumer electronics that naughty devices could ignore. It's because they want to charge you many times for the same media.

This is likely to encourage content providers to get their shows up. Whether they do it via the iTMS or via something like TW/AOL's free In2TV service, they're going to want to get them up to compete with "free time shifting".

As usual, the question I ask myself is: if I'm a media exec, why am I not leading the charge? When Apple announced a video iPod, I'd have been the first one to want to slap my media library up for download. Can a 320x240 resolution show really cannibalize DVD sales? I think not. This is really about convenience. But frankly, networks could offer their own media player that forced you to sit through some commercials, and do distribution via p2p to cut their bandwidth costs, and essentially just expand their audience without any downside. Hell, if they put the stuff on a PC, they could even reserve some screen space for text or banner ads if they didn't interfere with the show. Hello, captive audience. But they won't think of that until there's another paradigm dominating the market - and it won't be long now.

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