All the world’s a blog

Ravings of a recent convert

When you think about it, everything’s a blog. Blog-form seems to be very basic – large parts of the web can be neatly analysed down to blog-form. It (obviously) took me years to figure this out but the original bloggers understood it instinctively. Once you remember that the web is and was always meant to be a post and publish medium, that TBL’s first web client was a combined editor-browser (who first took the editor out? Was it Andreesen? Microsoft?), you can begin to imagine the whole web refigured as a blog.

My day job (cult favourite easily decomposes into a dozen or so discrete blogs – Robin even thinks you could present the email itself in blog format (is that stretching it a bit?). I can see a toggle on every page: blog view-standard view. Logging in essentially opens your editing interface. When you’re composing an email you’re just posting to our mailblog. Your inbox becomes a threaded, reverse-chronological web site – a blog. Very few web sites are not amenable to this way of thinking. Very few don’t meet the ‘post and publish, new posts at the top’ entry qualification. Can you imagine the entire web remade in blog-form? Have I lost it entirely?

(Incidentally, TBL’s Weaving the Web is a thrilling read and a useful reminder of the web’s founding principles).

Blogging – is this the hypergrowth phase?

Apps that add comments and notes to blogs and web sites are booming but some can’t take the demand

I got comments working – so now you are required to tell me what you think about all this blather. Enatation was the only site still accepting registrations when I researched annotation. Presumably all the other guys have stopped accepting new users because they can’t afford the bandwidth for the epic number of clicks their hobby sites are now attracting. Of course, two years ago they’d have called a venture capitalist and drawn down two or three million dollars to fund them through to IPO. The slightly flustered ‘closed’ signs swinging behind the plate glass at the annotation sites are telling us something. I don’t have any figures to hand (do you?) but I think the blogosphere is probably just entering the scary hypergrowth phase. The phase that comes immediately after the dogged pioneers and just before the steady flow of settlers – when the network effects really start to bite. Enatation was so trivially easy to install that I surpised myself. Copy, paste, copy, paste, save. Done. Blimey. Why did we ever spend all that money hand-crafting web sites? Don’t answer that.

A chink of light for file sharing

The FT reports that, in one market at least, file sharing may finally be damaging CD sales. In the US, three years after downloading became widespread and a year after the total number of tracks downloaded first exceeded the number sold, CD sales are down only 5% – the jury is still out. In Germany, though, sales are sharply down (9.2% year-on-year against a European background of increasing sales) and CD burning looks like it’s become a national hobby (a quarter of households has access to a CD burner).

Assuming that the German numbers are real and that cause and effect are established (not a done deal), this is big news for the music industry in its war of attrition with the file sharers. The people of Germany are replacing their CD collections with MP3s – real, mainstream economic substitution is under way. History tells us that once a new media technology becomes popular the terms of engagement must change – from pitched battle to subtler combat and ultimately to accommodation. This has been true for all of the existential threats perceived by rights owners – from the gramophone to radio to minidisc. The people who run media businesses are not stupid and, once the customer has spoken, the damaging legal phase of the battle must end. Product and business innovation must now take over. The labels will quickly adjust to what is becoming a mainstream consumer activity. Although nothing can be taken for granted and you probably shouldn’t bet your last tenner that any viable media businesses will survive the MP3 era, precedent is eloquent. Record labels (and movie studios, for that matter) will survive, adapt and thrive.

No real good could ever have come from this period of conflict. Now that it’s coming to an end, we should see more cool applications ? an ocean of legal content organised and interconnected by the tech upstarts’ clever code ? and more humility from the RIAA. Incidentally, Universal Music just announced an extension to their downloading experiment. They’ll permit their eMusic subscription service to distribute a thousand neglected albums from the label’s back catalogue. This makes sound, undogmatic, commercial sense. Back catalogue was always going to be the starting point for the next wave of digital distribution – returns have withered and investment is long finished so commercial risk is low. It’s directly analogous to the way the movie studios created a new source of revenue by packaging movies as VHS tapes. Is this the beginning of the end of the file sharing wars? It’s a start.

(you may need to be a subscriber to see the FT article).

New words


Kids living in Cricklewood in glorious but unglamorous North West London have borrowed some South London style from more newsworthy Brixton and renamed their neighbourhood ‘Crixton’. How old is this new word? Google offers only five links – it must be brand new. The language is alive and well.

Not whining but drowning

Hard copy from March’s PC Forum makes compelling reading (how do you blog hard copy?). The pace of change in the real world adds melancholy footnotes to the proceedings. Joe Nacchio was CEO of Qwest and an undisputed knight of the new economy until he joined the list of (super-rich) casualties in June. Questioned in a hostile conference session (incidentally the session during which Dan Gillmor blogged Nacchio’s ‘whining’) he essentially admits defeat, three months before Qwest’s effective bankruptcy.

“…you’re going to need a model that recognizes the ability to get returns on capital based upon who spends it. You’re also probably going to need a subsidy.”

Nacchio says it’s impossible to make a profit from telecoms infrastructure without subsidy, the ‘Internet model’ of open access and unbundled content and services leaves nothing for the carriers. Game over.

Konrad Hilbers is CEO of Napster. His account of the company’s attempts to arrive at a sensible licensing arrangement with the majors while keeping his off-the-air business alive is almost poignant.

“The brand is not suffering yet, though we’re watching it very carefully and balancing the quality of licenses that we get versus the time that passes by”

This is two months before Napster sought bankruptcy protection and was sold to Bertelsmann for $8M. Hilbers’ balancing act is a delicate one. The implication is that there’s a deal out there but that Napster might be dead before it’s achieved ? or, worse, that the record labels might deliberately stall him until it’s too late. Although, in principle, it’s still game on for Napster, are the labels any more ready to deal now that Bertelsmann owns the firm outright?
What do you think?

an obvious money-spinner Introducing the

an obvious money-spinner

Introducing the Cage-o-Gram

Today’s silly idea is to sell thousands of copies of this astounding recording of John Cage’s diaries and thus bring the planet back into balance. I reviewed this one elsewhere, so I won’t go on about it here. I’ve made it my mission to bump the album up the Amazon charts, like Andrew Sullivan does with those big, fat books. Obstacles to the achievement of my goal are many ??not least: the album seems to be unavailable in the UK right now and is a preposterously expensive 8-CD set (although this will, of course, maximise my sales commission if you do buy a copy). There’s also the potential to mix up this John Cage with the stammering lawyer in Ally McBeal. So I’m adding a new feature to my weblog called the ‘Cage-o-Gram’, which you’ll find over there, on the right, above all the other links (there must be a better way of editing that bit of the page than twiddling my template?). Every now and then, I’ll pull a gem from the diaries and quote it there. You will inevitably (although perhaps not straight away) click one of the Amazon links (choose a country near you) and buy it. It will probably change your life.
What do you think?

Indirect Current

The North London Line (timetables here) is one of London’s marvelous oddities – it doesn’t go anywhere. Or at least not in the purposeful, busy sort of way that the main lines do. It sort of idly wanders through North London, going all the way from Kew by the river at the Western end to North Woolwich, also by the river, at the Eastern end. It doesn’t pretend to a giant Central London shed like the great 19th Century lines, all of which point urgently out into the provinces from their expensive land on the edge of the West End. It’s more modest. When I first lived on the North London Line (in West Hampstead), it was a very shabby affair – creaky slam-door trains, run down stations and never a ticket collector to be seen. Later Ken’s GLC annexed the line to his grand transport strategy – it even made it onto the tube map –?and then rail privatisation brought new trains and video cameras and a new name (Silverlink – everyone still calls it the North London Line).

The line still occasionally makes it into the news when nuclear waste is moved along it from the docks to a junction somewhere in North London for the journey to Sellafield but the big time was never really going to arrive. The North London Line is never grander than two tracks wide and the embankments and cuttings are so thickly lined with vegetation that you could easily be in the Cotswolds for most of its route – church spires glimpsed through trees, men leaning on shovels in their allotments – all observed at approximately walking pace. It’s this dilatory, not-at-all thrusting progress that always makes me wonder where passengers on the North London Line are actually going. I fantasise that they’re all flaneurs, poets (lots of them seem to be reading Blake, Auden) – or at least on their way to auditions. Of course, this is silly. They’re doing the same as me – going to work – but this is my reverie.

Anyway, to get to the point, standing on the platform at West Hampstead the other day – watching the guy who stands on the platform edge singing, as if the people waiting on the other platform were his audience – a train going in the opposite direction pulled in and I noticed that it had a name – one of those heavy-looking plaques (reserved, surely, for the grander cross country Express trains, not sliding door locals). The plaque said ‘Nikola Tesla’. For some reason I found this collision: electrical visionary – inventor and engineer of genuinely mythic stature (Google him if you don’t believe me) – and the ever-so-humble, hidden-away North London Line mind-blowing (I’ll leave the irony of the fact that the train carrying the name of this practically religious pioneer of alternating current is powered by direct current to someone who knows what they’re talking about). Whose idea was it? Are all the trains named after pioneers of electricity? Or famous Serbians? Or inventors? Did someone pay for the inscription? Did I imagine it? If I carried my camera around with me for the next five years would I ever see that train again? London still has the power to amaze.

Categorized as Uncategorized Tagged

industry awards Strike a medal,

industry awards

Strike a medal, hire a band

New media awards come and go ? these days mostly go. Most of them are thinly disguised promotions ? wobbly coat-hangers on which to hang sponsorship ? or your basic industry knees-up. Since 1995, though, Milverton Wallace has been running a useful conference and more recently a genuine annual awards programme ? together called NetMedia. Although he does his best to get down in the trough and scare up the sponsorship dollar, he doesn?t seem to have noticed that these events are supposed to be run for the sponsors and ?partners? and that when the money runs out (as it tends to do in an industry crash) you?re supposed to beat a retreat and hide out until the money comes back. NetMedia is a Europe-wide programme for online journalists and media owners. The honours go to obscure articles in Norwegian local news web sites, to massive media conglomerates who rewrite the landscape and to cross-disciplinary teams who work together to break important news or inform the public ? real achievements. The whole thing seems to have been kept going by the force of Milverton?s will and a persistence that must have its origins in his life as a journalist (if my mobile rings after ten at night, my wife says ?that?ll be Milverton?). I think he deserves a medal or a plaque or at least a holiday.
What do you think?

Now this is a good idea

According to the FT, a new DTI report on speeding broadband adoption is not very optimistic. It concludes that wider availability and falling prices will not be enough to persuade most households to try it. Starting from the premise that a more thoroughly broadband Britain is a social and economic ‘good thing’ (one of those assumptions that?s crying out for a good kicking ? no time here, though), the report contains one very good idea that I?d like to see acted upon. The authors recommend a Government-funded pilot for a sort of ?broadband Channel 4? ? a ?5-10M year one investment in public service broadband content. So far, so worthy. Why is this classic piece of pump-priming a good thing and not just more fiddling at the margins (the Government?s track record on broadband has been widely rubbished and Britain still lags most Western economies in take-up). It?s a good idea because it should provide a healthy counterweight to the BBC?s own effort to redefine public service provision for the networked era.

With charter renewal efforts under way (the first hurdle is two years away), there is much good work being done within the beeb but it?s taking place against the thin (and getting thinner) background of commercial broadband content and an independent content creation sector wiped out by the crash. What?s needed now is someone to compete with Auntie for funds and talent while we work to define an industry and a medium. Half a dozen really good public service broadband projects from outside the BBC would soak up a lot of under-used talent, raise the creative temperature nicely and might just put Britain on the broadband map. According to the FT, ministers are luke warm about the whole report. Pity. If we moved on this recommendation alone, ?Broadband Britain? might sound less hollow.