Thursday, November 27, 2008

Inspired by interview with Lawrence Lessig

A friend recently sent me a link to Charlie Rose's interview with Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig has written a new book entitled "Remix" about the new hybrid economy between the sharers of the Web 2.0 environment and online commerical interests. He points out how such collaboration can be used to end the dependence of politicians on big corporate lobbyists - much the same way that Barak Obama did in the generation of money for his campaign.

He spoke very admiringly of the value of such resources as Wikipedia and how the energy of sharing economies can be just what is needed to infuse enthusiasm into economic ventures in the online commercial environment. He pointed out, though, that commercial interests need to gain respect for the intelligence and creativity of those engaged in producing user-generated content. He mentioned that people like George Lucas, who created a remix studio with Star Wars images and clips but claims copyright to any material produced by visitors - is an outdated "Hollywood mogul" approach and does not show proper consideration to the collective intelligence of the online community. I, personally, find it ironic that someone who is so adamant about defending their own copyright is so willing to rip off someone else's.

Recently I was reading about YouTube's problems trying to negotiate partnerships with the major studios because the Hollywood studios were disdainful of YouTube's millions of "amateurs" and how their user-generated content is viewed as cluttering up the YouTube site. I had also just read about a new feature YouTube has added called video annotation that includes the ability to link videos into a unique narratives. So, I wrote to YouTube and suggested they approach the studios about offering a remix studio containing clips of Creative Commons noncommerical-licensed clips for use in production of mini-choose-your-own-adventure type videos or alternative trailers using the new video annotation feature. All derivatives would not then compete with the studios commercial offerings, because of the noncommercial rights provisions, but would provide hours of creative enjoyment to site visitors, who in turn would be exposed to studio advertising for much longer periods while working in the remix studio than they would be simply viewing clip after clip of content. This would turn the demographics of typical YouTube site visitors to a definite advantage to the studios and a vibrant alternative to passive viewing of full length features on Besides, I know I would rather watch a full length feature streamed to a Netflix device connected to my big screen TV than slouched in my chair in front of my computer in my home office alone.

You will need some time to watch the interview with Mr. Lessig as its 38 minutes long, but I think it is worth every minute of it!

Pogue says Blackberry Storm a Dud!

David Pogue just saved me a lot of grief. I had just received a flyer from Verizon about their new phone lineup and was looking wistfully at the Blackberry Storm. Cell phones are like cars with me - I seldom get a new one unless my current one quits. In fact, this fall when I was visiting my daughter and her family, my grandson burst out laughing when I pulled out my cell phone to make a call. No, it wasn't one of the big clunky phones from the 80s or 90s, but apparently it wasn't as sleek as the newest phones either so I felt sufficiently chastened - especially being a technology professional. Anyway, I have started keeping my eye out for a new model that has everything on my want list - good camera (I never use it but it is meant to be a backup if my camera battery dies and I have a chance to take a one in a million shot!), GPS with voice navigation (I really want to try this out. My son-in-law has a full sized Garmin GPS navigator for his car and we used it to get to Gettysburg. I was quite impressed but don't see a reason to buy a separate GPS navigator if my cell phone can do the same job - especially if I can pay for it only when I need it) and overseas calling capability, so when I'm traveling I can at least call for a cab if I get hopelessly lost. But, it sounds like the Blackberry folks have suffered a major misfire this time:

Research in Motion (R.I.M.), the company that brought us the BlackBerry, has been on a roll lately. For a couple of years now, it’s delivered a series of gorgeous, functional, supremely reliable smartphones that, to this day, outsell even the much-adored iPhone.

Well, there’s a new one, just out ($200 after rebate, with two-year Verizon contract), officially called the BlackBerry Storm.

But I’ve got a better name for it: the BlackBerry Dud.

The first sign of trouble was the concept: a touch-screen BlackBerry. That’s right — in its zeal to cash in on some of that iPhone touch-screen mania, R.I.M. has created a BlackBerry without a physical keyboard.

Hello? Isn’t the thumb keyboard the defining feature of a BlackBerry? A BlackBerry without a keyboard is like an iPod without a scroll wheel. A Prius with terrible mileage. Cracker Jack without a prize inside.

R.I.M. hoped to soften the blow by endowing its touch screen with something extra: clickiness. The entire screen acts like a mouse button. Press hard enough, and it actually responds with a little plastic click.

As a result, the Storm offers two degrees of touchiness. You can tap the screen lightly, or you can press firmly to register the palpable click.

It’s not a bad idea. In fact, it ought to make the on-screen keyboard feel more like actual keys. In principle, you could design a brilliant operating system where the two kinds of taps do two different things. Tap lightly to type a letter — click fully to get a pop-up menu of accented characters (é, è, ë and so on). Tap lightly to open something, click fully to open a shortcut menu of options. And so on.

Unfortunately, R.I.M.’s execution is inconsistent and confusing.

Where to begin? Maybe with e-mail, the most important function of a BlackBerry. On the Storm, a light touch highlights the key but doesn’t type anything. It accomplishes nothing — a wasted software-design opportunity. Only by clicking fully do you produce a typed letter.

It’s too much work, like using a manual typewriter. (“I couldn’t send two e-mails on this thing,” said one disappointed veteran.)

It’s no help that the Storm shows you two different keyboards, depending on how you’re holding it (it has a tilt sensor like the iPhone’s).

When you hold it horizontally, you get the full, familiar Qwerty keyboard layout. But when you turn it upright, you get the less accurate SureType keyboard, where two letters appear on each “key,” and the software tries to figure out which word you’re typing.

For example, to type “get,” you press the GH, ER and TY keys. Unfortunately, that’s also “hey.” You can see the problem. And trying to enter Web addresses or unusual last names is utterly hopeless.

Furthermore, despite having had more than a year to study the iPhone, R.I.M. has failed to exploit the virtues of an on-screen keyboard. A virtual keyboard’s keys can change, permitting you to switch languages or even alphabet systems within a single sentence. A virtual keyboard can offer canned blobs of text like “.com” and “.org” when it senses that you’re entering a Web address, or offer an @ key when addressing e-mail.

But not on the Storm.

Incredibly, the Storm even muffs simple navigation tasks. When you open a menu, the commands are too close together; even if your finger seems to be squarely on the proper item, your click often winds up activating something else in the list.

To scroll a list, you’re supposed to flick your finger across the screen, just as on the iPhone. But even this simple act is head-bangingly frustrating; the phone takes far too long to figure out that you’re swiping and not just tapping. It inevitably highlights some random list item when you began to swipe, and then there’s a disorienting delay before the scrolling begins.

There’s no momentum to the scrolling, either, as on the iPhone or a Google phone; you can’t flick faster to scroll farther. Scrolling through a long list of phone numbers or messages, therefore, is exhausting.

Nor is that the Storm’s only delayed reaction. It can take two full seconds for the screen image to change when you turn it 90 degrees, three seconds for a program to appear, five seconds for a button-tap to register. (Remember: To convert seconds into BlackBerry time, multiply by seven.)

In short, trying to navigate this thing isn’t just an exercise in frustration — it’s a marathon of frustration. - More ...David Pogue, The New York Times
Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Netflix streaming device could spell the end of DVDs

It's kind of ironic that I saw the following article this morning after ordering my new Netflix streaming video device. HBO sounds totally arrogant but they had better be "newly afraid". Although HBO has made some outstanding miniseries like "Rome" and "Band of Brothers", I, like the man in this article, don't see any reason to pay a hefty subscription fee to have access to a channel that I, otherwise, rarely watch. Ditto for Showtime. I subscribed to Showtime just long enough to watch "The Tudors", then disconnected it as soon as the current season aired. If I don't have any other way to watch Season 3 in March, I will once more subscribe for the 9 or 10 weeks it takes to watch it then unsubscribe again. HBO and Showtime should take notice of Starz recent partnership with Netflix which allows Netflix subscribers (and there are millions of us!) to stream Starz channel movies and programs over our internet ready devices for no extra charge. Such devices include those that many people already have including wireless Blu-Ray DVD players and X-Box game systems. I don't have either one so I bought the basic streaming Netflix player for $99. (I've been thinking about a Wii because I like the movement integration but as of now it is not equipped for internet streaming).

I'd been catching up on "Heroes", watching on my computer, but now I can join the rest of my family in the living room on the big screen TV (no, I haven't coughed up enough for an HD replacement yet). Since I have a Qwest DSL wireless modem, I have wireless coverage in the living room and I was told by Netflix customer service that the player will auto detect it and no extra equipment is needed. I'll report back once it gets here.

As for watching streaming video as opposed to buying a DVD, I have actually lost interest in buying most DVDs. I made an exception for the Oscar-nominated foreign film, "Mongol", that I saw at the local Arts theater and really liked. I wanted to watch it again more carefully now that I have listened to Conn Iggulden's novel "Genghis: Birth of an Empire" that I found to be outstanding. I wanted to study the historical differences between the two films. Conn Iggulden was quite up front in his author's notes about where he diverged from actual history but I thought it would be interesting to see the differences. I am also interested in any supplementary material that was produced for the DVD. Quite honestly, I think it's going to come down to being the extra features as the only reason to buy a DVD in the future. If those are provided online as well, there won't even be that reason left.

MATTHEW BOWERS, of Chicago, has been paying to have HBO piped into his home every month for nearly two decades. He tunes in for the occasional episode of “Entourage” and every couple of months orders a movie on demand. Recently, the whole family watched “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

But when his company laid him off in September, he started to think about the value he was getting out of the premium cable channel. “It’s ridiculous to pay for this service I rarely use when I can get the same stuff online and save a lot of money,” he said. The result? HBO is losing a customer.

Does an economy in tatters slow down or speed up the shift to watching TV shows and movies on the Web and mobile devices? The entertainment industry doesn’t like the answer that is rapidly becoming clear: A global economic crisis almost certainly means a sharp acceleration in the move to new ways of consuming content, setting the stage for a new clash between consumers and studios.

Historically, the movie factories haven’t been terribly afraid of tough economic times. In fact, they have almost welcomed them. During the Great Depression, people continued to turn to the movies for escape. VHS rentals boomed during the recession of the early 1980s, while DVDs got a boost from the downturn earlier this decade.

And an HBO spokesman said he was sorry to see Mr. Bowers go, but he dismissed the notion that many other people would be joining him. “No industry is recession-proof, but pay television has performed very well in previous downturns,” said the spokesman, Jeff Cusson.

But the current gloom has the Hollywood establishment rattled. DVDs are now where the industry makes its money, and Nielsen VideoScan reported a 9 percent drop in DVD sales in the third quarter over the quarter a year earlier — before the economy ran into a buzz saw. In television, crucial car advertising is drying up.

Moreover, consumers now have cheaper ways to see movies and TV shows. Hulu. Vudu. YouTube. Netflix. Amazon Video on Demand. iTunes. Crackle. Movielink. CinemaNow. The list goes on. As a result, movie and television studios seem more intent than ever on protecting their established businesses from cannibalization by new media, which are growing rapidly but still generating very little revenue comparatively.

Warner Brothers Television, which supplies “The Mentalist” and “Eleventh Hour” to CBS, recently asked the network to pull full-length episodes from its Web site, along with the comedy “Big Bang Theory.” The thinking is that they were potentially too hurtful to old-fashioned syndication sales to television stations down the road.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s recent deal with YouTube to stream full-length movies and TV episodes did not include any of the studio’s prize assets like the James Bond movies or “Rocky.” Instead, MGM is giving YouTube movies like the flop “Bulletproof Monk” and reruns of the original “American Gladiators” series — a safe deal for this stage of the game. (MGM says that more-sought-after content will follow, and notes that it has been one of the more aggressive movie studios when it comes to disseminating content on new platforms.)

Studio experimentation in digital distribution is going by the wayside, too. When DVD sales were booming a couple of years ago, for instance, companies could afford to stream a TV show here and a movie there. But with operating income at 20th Century Fox down 31 percent in the recent quarter over the year-earlier period, and Walt Disney Pictures down 42 percent, studios are newly afraid..." - More at the NY Times

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BBC plan to create regional websites rejected

I found this development strangely disturbing. On the one hand, I can understand the "protectionism" but on the other hand I dislike a government agency interfering with internet content development.

British regulators rejected a plan on Friday to add locally focused
video news to BBC Web sites in Britain, dealing a setback to the
digital ambitions of the BBC, which has expanded aggressively on the

The BBC Trust, which oversees the public
broadcaster, and Ofcom, the British media regulator, said the proposal
would have hurt rivals in the private sector, including the Web sites
of newspapers. Under the plan, the BBC wanted to spend £68
million, or $100 million, and hire 400 people to provide news, sports
and weather for dozens of local BBC Web sites.

Commercial rivals
said the £3 billion in public financing that the BBC receives
each year gave it an unfair advantage. The BBC Trust, which was created
last year, previously approved other contested BBC Internet
initiatives, including the addition of advertising to the BBC News Web
site outside Britain.

The decision on Friday was “the first major example of the trust showing its muscles,”
Roy Greenslade, a British media commentator, said in a blog entry on
the Web site of the newspaper The Guardian. “In that sense, it is
a landmark moment in broadcasting history.”

The move drew
interest across Europe because regulators in several countries,
including Germany, are scrutinizing public broadcasters’ digital
plans. The European Commission, in a proposal published this month, suggests that governments impose stricter conditions on financing for public broadcasters.

“In as far as commercial broadcasters, and indeed publishers and
other media owners, were looking for greater certainty that this kind
of scrutiny can work, this is a very positive step,” Ross Biggam,
the director general of ACT, a lobbying group for commercial
broadcasters that is based in Brussels, said of the British decision.

Ofcom said that if the BBC’s local video plans had gone ahead,
newspapers and other commercial providers of local news would have lost
readers and advertisers. They would have also been discouraged from
starting new services on the Web, the regulator said.

Underlining the challenges facing British newspapers, Enders Analysis,
a research firm, said Friday that their advertising revenue would fall
21 percent next year. Newspapers have been hit particularly hard
because of the migration of classified advertising to the Internet.

The BBC’s local video plans “would have been a
disproportionate step into a market where the private sector was
already active,” said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of
the European Publishers Council. “Now local publishers can
innovate in this area without the fear of getting squashed by a giant