Monthly Archives: September 2006

Britain’s only authentic geek brand

Why did Britain’s only authentic geek brand never translate into a tech publishing empire or a social media powerhouse? Why didn’t NTK become Britain’s Digg or Slashdot (or LinkedIn or flickr or Meetup for that matter)? What stopped Danny and Dave – substantial brands in their own right – becoming Britain’s Sergey and Larry, ploughing their millions into, say, digital advocacy and hypermodern sweet shops? I don’t actually know, of course (I’m not asking so I can give you a glib answer in the payoff). I don’t know why they didn’t raise eight or ten million dollars, get Esther Dyson on the board and rush to an IPO.

It’s too depressing to think that it might be because they’re too ironic or because they lacked the confidence to go large on one of their billions of clever ideas. Or, worse, because it didn’t occur to them. The rest of the net, of course, never really caught up with NTK’s distinctly unimpressed worldview and NTK has almost gone, reduced to an occasional bulletin. Is that the kind of thing I should be feeling sad about? Probably not, I suppose.

At Olympia

Big Blue Mouse at Ad:Tech London, 27-28 September 2006

Most of the Snipperoo gang spent the last two days in the smelly, decrepit Olympia 2 exhibition hall at a show called ad:tech. London doesn’t have any decent exhibition venues and Olympia must be the least pleasant on planet earth. The atmosphere was… er… enhanced by the presence at the show of dozens of gaming and casino businesses with their retinues of semi-naked babes and sweaty blokes giving out lap dancing flyers.

The shabby, inaccessible venue was built when trade exhibitions typically featured a hall full of steam looms and tweedy men demonstrating agricultural machinery. The silver lining? We met loads of a) developers whose creativity will flood the widgeverse with… er… widgets (including several real, live beta testers) and b) lots of media owners and potential distribution partners who really seemed to get the Snipperoo doctrine. We’re inspired.

Podcasting saves radio?

If podcasting is going to yield a real business model for the media owners and broadcasters it probably won’t involve stations centrally creating podcasts and giving them away or selling them.

It’ll more likely involve building (or badging) a big rights-cleared library of music and other content and then making it available with some funky creation and distribution tools to the wannabe DJs out there. They’ll use it to create twenty-first century mix-tapes for their friends and – if they’re good at it – for larger audiences – true ‘long tail’ stuff.

Take Astrid. She’s got a terrific music podcast over at Switchpod. I’m pretty sure that a healthy proportion of the world’s music fans would rather listen to stuff like this than to the seamless, playlist-driven stuff provided by local radio or the Beeb. Switchpod doesn’t offer anything in the way of rights-clearance but it surely can’t be long before services like this start to kick back a percentage of their no-doubt booming revenue to the rights groups in return for allowing their users to thrash around in the archive without penalty.

In fact, the next wave of downloading services would be well-advised to add a rights-cleared roll-your-own radio toolkit as a basic service on launch. Fans obviously still want to listen to music radio. It’s just that they’d quite like to be making their own too. The good news is that – at least in Britain – the rights owners already have a legal framework for this stuff.

They’ve just spent some time coming up with a new legal concept they’re calling the Value Recognition Right (VRR) whose purpose is to stretch the threadbare rights envelope to cover currently unrecognised intermediaries like P2P networks and (let’s say) podcasting rights aggregators. My advice: get on and ratify the VRR and get your comprehensive rights-cleared content databases out there now. You never know, the podcasters might just save your business.

Electrifying

I’m not a reporter. No one relies on me for my opinion. I’m not sought after for my angle. Still, I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to fire up RealPlayer and listen to the quite amazing Peter Mandelson on this morning’s Today Programme. The smell of political cordite is strong here. The man’s been off the British political scene for half a decade and yet he can fly back into town and secure the Nation’s premier political interview slot as if he’d never been away and, while he’s at it, exercise real influence (as if from beyond the grave) on the succession. Some things make me glad I didn’t choose a political career. Peter Mandelson – modern politics’ most formidable operator – is one of them. This is the kind of breathtaking political media you know you’re going to want to save to play back to your kids.

People getting married

Flickr is filling up with pics taken at gay weddings since they were legalised in Britain. They’re not as prominent as they might be – people, annoyingly, don’t seem to use sexual orientation tags when they’re uploading wedding pics. Anyway, the thing about these pics is that they’re pretty much like heterosexual wedding pics: good, bad, indifferent, funny, cheesy, grand.

What I find moving about them, though, is the emotional freight they carry: the arbitrary stupidity of making people who are in love wait for so long to enjoy the simple pleasures of an old-fashioned wedding.

In these pics I see people who didn’t want much – a list at John Lewis, a cake, invitations, a proper do – but were, for stupid, small-minded reasons (mostly now forgotten), denied it for decades. Congratulations Jim and Greg, by the way!

Remembering (trying not to forget) 9/11

At Slate.com they have a 9/11 Flash slideshow with photographs and audio commentary by the Magnum Photographers who were there on the day. It’s a breathtaking thing. You should watch it. I hadn’t seen it before (and I’m a junkie for these morbid artefacts) so I guess if it must have gone up for the fifth anniversary. Anyway, it made me think about all this again.

Was 9/11 over-recorded? Maybe so. The sheer density of camera crews, photographers and reporters on the scene (or nearby) dilutes the effect of work like this. In any other context almost every one of these amazing Magnum photos would have stood out as among the best news pics of the year. As it is they’re swamped… by other amazing pics.

Magnum still means something. I know a few years have passed since these pics were taken and there was no flickr or YouTube back then but these pics – their cogency, their astonishing, effortless artistry, their communicative power – are timelessly good. The old-time, analogue photographers who made them are still relevant.

Are we forgotting 9/11?. Jesus. In the welter of incompetence, negligence and venality that followed 9/11 it wouldn’t be surpising if we were. Its numbing impact has certainly been mitigated by half a decade of grim and grimmer news from the bleeding edges of America’s increasingly indefensible War On Terror (in which we serve). I’d argue, then, that we need to continually remind ourselves of 9/11′s wickedness and nihilism – even if only because otherwise the Bush regime’s stupidity might lead us to arrive at erroneous conclusions about the origins of this war. It’s worth a reminder that Al-Qaeda’s out-of-a-clear-blue-sky attack on thousands of innocent New Yorkers was an act of almost perfect wickedness. Nothing must every be allowed to subtract from the immeasurable ugliness and ignorance of an attack on a great City’s busy downtown by an amoral egomaniac like Osama Bin Laden .

Has Flash come of age? Looks like it. ‘Slideshow’ hardly does justice to this brilliant and immersive mini-movie – it really is like a mini-documentary. Well done to its creators.

The beards and the purple robes

Mediaeval Clerics need Mediaeval Clerics. Mullahs of the old school need pre-enlightenment Popes. Benedict’s perfect foot-in-mouth intervention into Christian-Muslim harmony is really just getting into character. Not Rome nor Avignon but Constantinople. The symmetry is perfect: a Crusader Pope takes on the modern-day Saladins. They deserve each other.

Vatican Radio has that lecture in full and, from the hilarious Vatican web site, here’s a helpful press release (my favourite bit of the site is the prominent link to the Vatican’s Secret Archives on the home page)…

Helping Darfur

While the UN’s member states dither and – almost inevitably, it seems – drastically fail the suffering people of Darfur, it’ll most likely be the UN’s refugee agency that picks up the pieces. They’ve got 6 offices in the region and about 100 staff and they need a lot more money. Click here to make a donation.

Has the music business escaped the denial phase?

Fascinating evidence – in a paid-for supplement to this week’s New Statesman – that the record business has reached the acceptance stage of the grieving process. The Smith Institute, which is the Think Tank set up in John Smith’s memory, set up a round table for the industry to discuss ‘Copyright reform: bridging a gap between music and technology‘.

And a strangely hermetic event it was too: lots of intelligent and influential people and every one of them from the business (a couple of friendly outsiders are permitted). The result is unexpectedly radical (especially given the total absence of genuine copyright reformers). Speaker after speaker essentially accepts as orthodoxy that the era during which it was possible to defend rights in a recording is now finished.

The industry’s response is something called the Value Recognition Right (VRR), an intriguing attempt, if I understand it properly, to legitimise digital intermediaries like ISPs and P2P networks by creating a new class of contractual relationship that recognises the value of the assets carried over their systems. The most interesting thing about the debate, though, is the obvious ambivalence of the industry to the new measure.

Even while Emma Pike, Chief executive of British Music Rights, is busy giving the VRR its first public outing, others around the table are just as busy urging the industry to adjust to the impossibility of defending the value in a recording at all. Pike’s VRR extends the scope of existing copyright law and seeks new sanctions against ‘secondary copyright violators’ (the P2P toolmakers and networks, presumably). The music business seems ready to acknowledge that it can do no more than delay the inevitable.

Adam Singer, who used to run cable programme maker Flextech (now part of NTL), and who now runs The MCPS-PRS Alliance, makes it explicit:

“The conversation has to follow two lines. The first question is: “How do we use copyright now to buy ourselves some time?” The second is: “How do we use copyright in a world where recordings no longer have any value?”"

If the music business really is finally ready to adjust to the boundaryless, post-scarcity world of digital music, then maybe it’s time for the rest of us – thieves and scumbags all – to return the favour by more generously acknowledging the value created by artists and their labels. Let the great reconciliation begin.

What do I object to most about DRM?

People object to DRM schemes on the basis of ownership – “it’s my music and I’ll play it where and when I want!” I usually stay out of this argument (it’s boring to be saying the same as everyone else isn’t it?). I’ve been thinking, though. I think my principle objection has more to do with memory. Especially, I suppose, as I get older, music for me is about memory as much as about immediate experience (it was probably standing outside the Hammersmith Palais the other day that got me thinking like this).

What terrifies me about downloading DRM tunes is the prospect of losing access to them in the future. What am I going to do in twenty years time when I’m sitting at my cute/retro PC staring at an encrypted vault full of music I can’t access because my DRM key has expired and the business that sold it to me went bust in 2021 (funky riverside loft cut off by the first great Thames flood, most likely)

More to the point, how are my kids going to recover the tunes that first made them quiver and swoon under the balcony at the Hammersmith Palais when the DRM technology, the hardware it was embedded in, the OS that ran it, the business that developed it and the label that sold it to them are all history?

Are we allowing the labels and the industry bodies to quietly wall up digital music in an inaccessible concrete tomb to which future generations will have no access? By permitting rights owners to fixate so ruthlessly on the short-term are we risking the creation of a decades-long digital dark age from which we’ll retain no memory at all?