21st Century Communications

So it turns out there’s been something wrong with my email. For a couple of weeks about half of my inbound mail has been routed to a trench in the middle of the North Atlantic. Fish have been reading it. Something to do with my dns – and all my own fault apparently. Anyway, I think it’s OK now so you should write to me again if you were expecting a reply (like you were writing to me in the first place).

By the way, I’ll take this opportunity to tell you that I just heard a trailer for a programme about climate change on Radio 4. The presenter signed off like so: “we’re at the very precipice of a runaway train”. Cool.

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Honk if you don’t blog

There are still a few non-bloggers left in the world. I’d like to hear from them.

I’m writing a piece for a DCMS web site called Projects Etc. Working title: ‘Autobiography is the new rock ‘n’ roll’. Thesis: ‘self telling’, autobiographical writing, journalising, blogging, diary keeping, confessional media etc. are taking over. We’re obsessed. We can’t get beyond ourselves. We’re technology-mediated egomaniacs.

So, in writing about the developed world’s obsession with autobiography, I’d like to talk to people who don’t participate, people who don’t blog, don’t keep a MySpace page, don’t obsessively update their flickr photostream. If that’s you I’d really like to hear from you. I’d like to understand why you don’t blog and what you think of your mates who do. If you’d like to help, drop me a line. I’ll come back to you with some questions in an email and I’ll credit you if I use your material. Thank you!

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Learning how to use Snipperoo

A screen from Ivan Pope's 'how to add a flickr badge' Snipperoo.com howto
Ivan’s put a nifty ‘how to‘ movie up over at Snipperoo – explaining how to use Snipperoo to simplify adding a flickr badge to your site, to be specific. Go on. Give it a try.

In Ivan’s how to he adds a flickr badge displaying pictures of his kids to the Widgeteer demo blog. What I like about this badge is that it features – apart from lots of pics of people who obvioulsy are Ivan’s kids – a picture of me! I feel obliged to tell you that Ivan Pope is not my Dad.

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Winding up MPs

Proper exciting to hear Stef Magdalinski talking about They Work for You on Today in Parliament Friday. MPs of various stripes are pretty pissed off with They Work for You because it exposes them to the kind of performance measurement they’ve been imposing on the rest of the public sector for years. Stef acquited himself perfectly, especially since the TWFY volunteers walk a tightrope. What they’ve built is powerful. Misuse would be easy. They mustn’t come over as anarchists or vandals but, at the same time, they can’t be seen to be too chummy with the legislators.

Emily Thornberry, the MP on the show (and a pretty gentle critic, really) suggested allowing MPs to provide some context for their voting records by adding their legislative priorities to the site. Kind of: “I’m not asking many questions about X or Y because my big priority for this session is Z”. This would be a mistake. It would be far too easy to read MP participation as collusion.

Since the Beeb will overwrite the show in a few days here’s an MP3. It’s also worth signing up for the Today in Parliament podcast.

Sheila Duke, neé Bowbrick, 1930–2006

Sheila Duke, nee Bowbrick, in 1957, aged 27
My Aunt Sheila (in the front of this picture), a funny, generous, rude and slightly loopy Cockney who always cheered me up and was a proper anchor for the Bowbricks in good times and bad, has died. She was born in 1930, one of seven. She was my Dad’s older sister by about a year (and often his proxy guardian during the war and evacuation and hop picking and all that South London malarky).

She led a difficult and sometimes chaotic life like many working class women of her generation, married twice and had two kids: Cath and Val. She loved a good row, with a shopkeeper, usually – a class of person she didn’t have much time for. She also liked a good party (most recently celebrating her Aunt Kit’s 100th birthday). She leaves behind a lovely (and equally loopy, if you ask me) crowd of children and grandchildren – and one lovely great granddaughter. I know they’re all missing her hugely and I will too.

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Stock markets booming. Stock exchanges failing

Stock exchanges evolved from informal institutions – places where blokes in top-hats swapped cash and promises. Since those early days they’ve acquired some respectability – although they’re still stuffed with barrow boys and upper class spivs – and, in addition to providing the majority of the world economy’s capital for business, they do a lot of statutory donkey work. After the Great Depression it occurred to some bright spark that organised equity markets could act as proxies for governments and their agencies by applying various anti-crash regulations. As a result, and with a few important exceptions, stock markets have been essentially robust and have produced trillions of pounds of value for their host economies and customers alike.

Stock markets are efficient (as efficient as an institution that pays out billions in annual bonuses to its top traders can be) and they’re transparent (relative to the ways privately held businesses go about raising money). Still, they’re unlikely to survive in their current form for much longer.

The only reason they’ve not been replaced by eBay-style networked trading environments is their role in screening out fraud, crappy investments and other unsuitables. I can’t believe it’ll be long before the next generation of capitalist-grade social networks takes on those trust and guarantee roles too. Listing on one of those gold standard exchanges (Frankfurt, London, New York) will be redundant in a decade. This will be good news for companies (cheaper capital) and for investors (cheaper trades) but bad news for traders and exchanges. As before, the middlemen are going to get it in the neck.

This medium- to long-term angst, incidentally, explains NASDAQ’s bid for the LSE (and last week’s announcement from a consortium of investment banks that they’re going to do it themselves). Booming indices make stock markets look like a good bet but the smart money is on whatever comes next.

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These men could make it all better for the music business

Paul Sanders and Paul Hitchman from Playlouder.com at The Beyond The Soundbytes conference, 15 November 2006
At yesterday’s Beyond The Soundbytes music biz conference I ran into Paul Sanders, a major blast from the past (like it says on his web site: “since 1994”) and the man behind State51 and all sorts of other music-related online thingies. Anyway, he was with Paul Hitchman, his partner in Playlouder, a clever broadband ‘Music Service Provider’ that really ought to be vast by now but has found progress difficult since their model depends on striking licensing deals with stupid record labels.

Playlouder‘s model is simple and persuasive. I’ve always liked it and will certainly sign up like a shot once they’ve got better coverage with the labels (Currently Sony/BMG and the indies are covered). You pay a monthly subscription for your broadband including an approximately £10 per month additional charge which entitles you to download all the music you want. Playlouder passes a sensible proportion of this levy onto the labels – and therefore to the artists – thus magically ‘decriminalising’ your hideous file sharing naughtiness. Additional benefit to you the shameless music thief: no DRM.

Benefit to the labels, artists, collection societies et al:

• a predictable annuity return on their investment in new music
• recognition for the value of the music that’s already circulating in the file sharing networks
• some measure of control over what appears there (they could start to seed the networks with good quality, properly marked-up copies of their music instead of the rubbish that’s out there now)
• a business model that’s actually in line with what their customers want

I could go on…

I guess the encouraging thing about the conference for the Playlouder boys ought to be that the various music biz types present enthusiastically backed the idea of a shift to a subscription model (or at least an experiment in that area). If the industry’s devotion to ‘unit sales’ is finally fading, then a business like Playlouder ought be well-positioned to help them make it happen.

Fly in ointment: as Jeremy Silver, another old-timer, pointed out in one of the panels, only one of the four majors is a UK-based company so the owners of the majority of the world’s recorded music couldn’t give a damn what happens here.

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From acceptance to accommodation

Speakers and attendees at MusicTank's Beyond The Soundbytes conference, 15 November 2006
So I went down to Carlton House Terrace for a MusicTank conference called Beyond the Soundbytes. Fascinating. There’s a sort of melancholy thrill to be had from watching an industry nervously coming to terms with its possible extinction. Media orthodoxy says that new forms don’t replace the old ones, they just amend and inflect them, adding to the rich tapestry and all that.

I’ve always assumed that would be the case with recorded music but this time I’m beginning to think the orthodoxy may not apply here. The music business – or at least the part of it whose income depends on the ownership and exploitation of rights, is seriously contemplating its own annihilation. Music will, whatever happens, survive and probably thrive in the networked environment. The music business, on the other hand, may really be doomed.

Here are the main points from my notes, some of which I found very surprising from a music business audience:

• Essentially universal acceptance of the failure of DRM and TPM
• Something close to an admission of defeat on illegal downloading
• Readiness to accommodate the old enemies from the technology world: ISPs, manufacturers, portals…
• No interest at all in copyright term extension
• Enthusiasm for proposals to rework copyright for the networked age
• Plenty of interest in a move to a subscription model of some kind (mostly out of desperation, I guess)

The event’s main purpose was the launch of MusicTank’s report on the state of the UK music business, written by Peter Jenner.

Here are some photos from the event and here’s the Irish Guards, performing Copacabana (no kidding) outside in The Mall.

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More information about that eBay widget

Like I said the other day we’re looking for someone to develop a clean, usable web widget for eBay. We’ve had a number of promising responses to our request but I’ve now got a nice two-page tech spec for the widget from Jay, our tech head, so if this gets you interested, do drop me a line. We’re looking for a fixed price.

Download the widget spec (PDF).

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