Mike NutleyVic KeeganNeil McIntosh
To Blacks for lunch with Mike Nutley, editor of New Media Age (forgot to take his picture!). We talked about blogging (what else?). I don’t know how he does it exactly, but he’s been in charge at New Media Age through both boom and bust and managed to keep the magazine healthy and interesting throughout.

Then on to The Guardian to meet with Vic Keegan, Guardian veteran and editor of Guardian Online. Vic’s been at The Guardian since before I was born and used to be the paper’s chief leader writer before he started the Online section. Twenty years ago he started the pioneering Computer Guardian section and was responsible for bringing near-legendary Jack Schofield to the paper. He still writes a leader ‘most days’. Also got to meet Vic’s deputy, Neil McIntosh, briefly. Neil writes Macintosh pieces and is a regular contributor to the Online blog so I always read his stuff.

Sarcastic link title of the month award

Via demented (in a nice way) Snackpot and branding newsletter LucJam I learn from Food Navigator that targeting kids is getting more difficult. The article is interesting (lifestage vs. demographic segmentation and so on) but LucJam’s link is much more entertaining than anything in the target article: ‘Generation Y not sure what they want to eat’.

Pants on Fire

Simon Hoggart is a treasure and if he ever actually leaves The Guardian the paper will turn to dust immediately. Today’s sketch on Blair’s performance in The Commons yesterday is brilliant.

My guess is that Alastair Campbell has had a silicone chip installed in Mr Blair’s Y-fronts. In his Downing Street office Mr Campbell has one of those revolving switches, as if in the cab of old railway engines. Usually he leaves it in the “slow” position. Now and again, just for fun, he swivels it round to “max”, if only to see what happens.”

A convention… How grand…

I’m off to the Oxford Media Convention tomorrow. The theme of the event is ‘Public Service Communications’. If my luvvie credentials were up to date I could probably tell you what the real purpose of the event is. Media types are the ultimate control freaks and would never dream of convening in such a high profile way if there weren’t some kind of ‘agenda’ behind the agenda.

Although I’d be thrilled to learn that the legislators, regulators and media owners present have made progress in redefining ‘public service’ for the networked era, I’m currently struggling to understand Oxford’s ‘Park-and-Ride’ arrangements, so I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’ll write about the event for The Guardian and I’ll post here too. The published programme includes multiple keynotes (what is a ‘keynote’ anyway?) from Mark Thompson (Chief Executive, C4), Lord Currie (Chairman, OFCOM), David Edmonds (Director General, OFTEL) and Tessa Jowell (Minister for Culture).

So what is next?

I wrote a piece for The Guardian. I was asked to to write about what I might do next but it was rushed and I wound up cataloguing the current buzzwords – Wi-fi, Social Software, Web Services and Moblogging. I mean it when I say these are the things that excite me right now but the problem with this kind of list is that what you actually wind up doing might belong to one or more of these big technology categories but what really defines your venture is impossible to capture in advance., for instance, belonged to the ‘web-based email’ category and also to the ‘identity services’ category but what made it unique was something else all together – something to do with personalisation, fun, youth, lack of deference and resistance to categorisation. You just can’t capture all that stuff in a ‘what’s next’ piece.

Mitnick on Markoff

The most interesting thing about The Guardian’s Mitnick piece is that he doesn’t seem bitter – except maybe about Markoff:

My argument is not that I shouldn’t have been punished, but that the punishment didn’t fit the crime,” he says. “I wouldn’t have sat in prison for five years, I wouldn’t have been held without trial for four-and-a-half years, if it wasn’t for Markoff creating this fear… When you write a story and it ends up on the front page of the New York Times, the department of justice is reading that. The director of the FBI is reading that, the director of the CIA is reading that. The government needs to send a message that they can’t just have some desperado hacker on the loose who could start a nuclear war.”

Sublime Audio

Here’s a piece I’ve just written for The Guardian about music.

For ordinary human beings, music is the closest we come to the sublime. The history of recorded music is the history of better and better access to the sublime.

We have the recording industry to thank for this. In little more than a hundred years, the stable musical universe of Church and hearth has been blown apart. Music is everywhere and anyone in any reasonably developed place can be exposed to hours of new and varied music daily.

Much of the music we listen to now would not even have been possible without the recording industry. Music and recording technologies have worked together.

As a result, the contribution of the recording industry to the fund of human happiness cannot be underestimated. Which other business can claim ‘bliss’ as a day-to-day value? There can be few better examples of the role technology can play in social and cultural change. Music, and our lives, have been immeasurably improved by the efforts of the music business. So it’s doubly disappointing to watch the recording industry missing an epic opportunity, perhaps on the scale of the recorded music revolution itself.

The latest giant misstep involves a new CD format called ‘Super Audio’. To understand why Super Audio is a misstep you need to understand how the listening habits of music fans are changing. And for this purpose I’m going to invite you into my kitchen. On the counter by the breadbin is a two year-old Macintosh computer with a flat screen – our ‘Kitchen Cube’. On the Cube Apple’s excellent iTunes MP3 application cleverly catalogues over 35Gbytes of recorded music – 23 days of continuous music, it tells me. Almost all of this music has come from the big stack of CDs now gathering dust in our sitting room. To call this Macintosh our jukebox is to hugely understate its meaning to us. To this machine my wife and I have entrusted 8,000 tracks by hundreds of artists – a vivid summary of our lives as influenced by music.

The kitchen is the social hub of our home. We spend most of our time there and since we’ve added music to the room we listen to more of it, from a greater variety of artists and sources than ever before and we listen to it in very different ways.

It takes a while for old musical habits to fade. In the early days, choosing something to listen to would be much like choosing a CD. Think of an artist, flick through the library for an album. Double click to play. With time, though, new ways of selecting sounds emerge. How about dialling up a mood or an ambience? Type ‘happy’ (65 tracks by 47 artists) or ‘light’ (37 tracks) or something more abstract like ‘you’re’ (32) or ‘red’ (24) into iTunes and see what you get – a playlist linked across genres, periods and artists by a loose, often surpising, theme – creating unexpected connections. Tighten the theme for something more specific or just ‘shuffle’ the entire library for one surprise after another. Or play only the tunes you’ve listened to most in the last few weeks – or only the ones you’ve never listened to. This is a radically different way of encountering music and one that I don’t need to tell you is not possible in any other format.

So we, like millions of others, are busy inventing a new relationship to music, weaving it more tightly into our lives. Remarkably, though, all of this has been done despite the recording industry – it might even be illegal. And Super Audio, the latest development in the ongoing drama of ‘geeks vs. suits’ is a particularly insidious twist. You see, Super Audio CDs won’t play in a PC so I can’t add the apparently pristine sound from these discs to my library. So, as the ‘digital hub’ takes hold and early adopters reorganise their musical lives around MP3s, the industry is planning to take us down a new technological dead end. Instead of adapting to new habits – coming up with a way to charge for file sharing, for instance – they have devoted millions to a spurious enhancement to quality inaudible to ordinary music fans and left the next generation of eager consumers out in the cold. Far from bringing us closer to the sublime, the record business is ready to close it down.

What’s wrong with being an elite?

A lot of the debate about the Best British Blog comp seems to centre on this word ‘elite’. Maybe I should have said ‘vanguard’ or ‘enlightened’ or ‘pioneers’ or something. Whatever, something unites the first wave of webloggers and it’s probably their general sort of twitchiness and irony and unease about being tagged ‘elite’. This I can understand. It can make you itch, being pointed at, and vanguard-status brings with it obligations.

The way I see it, elites of this sort are useful, important, probably essential. I reckon TBL is a good role model here. He invented the damn thing after all but his chief function now is as conscience or super-ego or ‘dad’. His moral ‘ownership’ of the web keeps those of us who grub around making a living from it humble. There will be someone like this for weblogs. Maybe it will be Tom Coates.