Archive for the ‘Media’ Category:


Replacing RSS

The death of Google Reader has made it clear to me that there is a gap in the market.

No, not a gap for another RSS feed reader, that has been well and truly satisfied by the mass of new contenders for the previously unloved RSS Reader throne.

The gap is a gap for control over your information.

You see, the reason we have to assume Google have dropped Reader is that they think Google+ is where all your reading should happen.  Facebook is much the same.  Like reader it is both a reading and a writing platform.  And when you develop a platform you can read and write to, you have very little incentive to keep it open so that other people can read from it, or write to it elsewhere.

Oddly, we tend to try to resolve this by imagining new read/write platforms that emulate Facebook and Google+, but are more open.  And any such system is destined to fail because of network effects.  Or friends and families are already using Facebook, so if we want to read what they have to say, and be read by them, then we have to go to Facebook.

But what if we decided to break the link between reading and writing?

Most of my Facebook posts are actually just copied from Twitter.  But Twitter is Read/Write,just like Facebook (and becoming more so every day).  Also, I don’t actually care where people read my posts – I just care that it is available to them to read.  But it would be better if it was also available to the world to read in other, better, more open ways.  Ways which are under the control of the author, not the reader provider.

Now, the way we used to do this was via blogs.  And blogs are a good thing – but I suspect blogging is to some extent dying, and the loss of Reader might, potentially hasten this demise.

My suggestion is that someone produce a write only microblogging, blogging, photo and video sharing platform.  The business model is simple – you charge people a recurring subscription for their account, and you ensure they are in control of their data.  But you make it easy for them to share the data they’ve provided.  You make the system automatically be able to post to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, whatever network you want.  You also make sure it provides RSS feeds so that people who want to aggregate content .  And you make sure it offers an ‘email people’ option, so you can push your content to friends and family who haven’t yet grasped what the internets are for.  You probably also want to allow people to read your content if they come to your site directly.  You could also provide the ability to be better at deciding who gets to see what content – by letting the publishing platform understand how private your various accounts on different social networking sites are.

This would never be popular.  Facebook and its kin are good enough for most people.  But every time they betray their users by tightening their locking, or tilting things further in favour of the advertisers, a social publishing platform would make it easier for people to begin to opt out.  And it would mean more content was available outside the gated walls of the big social networks, which would be good for those of us who prefer more powerful and personalised ways of accessing interesting things to read.

What is Miracast?

I’m sitting with a bunch of friends, at Greg’s house.  Greg being a friend.  One of the bunch of friends.  Who I’m sitting with.  You get the picture.  I mention a particularly hilarious YouTube clip.  You’ve probably seen it, it’s the one with the cat.  Oddly neither Greg, nor any of my other friends have seen it.  So, in an effort to educate them, I summon all twelve of us to crowd around my phone and begin to play it for them.

This is life 12% of the way through the twenty-first century.

But what if things were different.  What if, instead of playing the video on my phone, I could beam it to Greg’s TV?

That’s where Miracast comes in.  With Miracast I could do just that.  We could all watch YouTube cats to our hearts content from the comfort of our Lay-Z-Boys.

So, why isn’t it here yet?

Well, as I write this, Miracast is quite a new standard.  And in a standard’s early days it takes time for things to begin to work well together.  But let’s look at what Miracast actually does:

Firstly we have to find out about the TV.  And we don’t want to go through all the hassle of connecting to Greg’s home network.  So we use WiFi Direct (which I’ve explained elsewhere) to create a peer to peer connection.

Now, for Miracast both devices have to be WiFi Direct compatible and both devices have to support Miracast.  So it will be a time before Greg gets all the bits of kit necessary.  Nevertheless, several companies have certified Miracast TV adapters, so we might be able to start playing with this quite soon.

There have been previous attempts to create video streaming solutions:  Apple have their proprietary AirPlay – which does the job, but requires you to tie yourself both to an infrastructure network (though I’m hearing rumours that this is going to change soon – hopefully in a WiFi Direct compatible way) and to Apple proprietary devices (and I’m hearing this will change just after snowflakes decide to remove their travel advisory about visiting Hell).  Everyone else has been playing with DLNA – but the manufacturers of DLNA devices have failed to play nicely with one another, and DLNA relies on everyone being able to decode every format of video.

So what Miracast does is specify one video format (H264 – which is pretty widely used) and then provides HDCP DRM wrappers around it which are identical to those used by cabled interfaces.  Miracast essentially becomes a cable in the ether.

And this will solve all our AV problems, right?

Well, Miracast doesn’t support audio only (which is a bit of an oversight), but the WiFi alliace certification does at least mean there will be some interop testing going on.  The key thing to remember though is that Miracast is just a virtual wire – it doesn’t control who can access a particular device, or allow you to control anythign about the device other than what is shown on the screen.  In short, its a technology which could well be useful in home AV, but it isn’t the complete solution.

I don’t want my, I don’t want my, I don’t want my Apple TV

In the late nineties, I worked for a dot com startup doing some early work in the digital set top box space.  Video streaming, personalization, web browsing.  It was the sort of thing which only became popular in the home about a decade later.  We were too early (and probably too incompetent).

These days its popular to think that the TV set is due for a change.  Some sort of revolutionary rethinking in line with what Apple have done to the tablet computer, the phone and the mp3 player.  Apple are usually considered to be the people who will lead this revolution (the rumours it will happen any day now have been around for years).  Others think Google might manage it.  And I’ve suggested Amazon could be the black horse.

But the more I think about revolutionizing the TV, the more I realise, I don’t want it to happen.  At least not like a TV version of the iPhone.

There are a few things I have realized about the television:

1. It’s a device for multiple people to watch at the same time
2. It’s about showing pictures and playing sound.
3. UIs for TVs are hard.  And generally ugly.  Your best bet up till now has been to control things with a IR remote control.  Ownership of the remote, and losing the remote have become the cliches of ancient stand up comedy routines.  We are just about entering the period when people might consider replacing their remote controls with mobile phones and tablet computers.
4. No one wants to browse the internet, read their email or post to twitter through their TV.  We might want to browse the web in order to get to YouTube or some other video playing site, but generally people prefer to read things they can hold in their hands.

It has gradually become clear to me that the home user isn’t going to be looking for a magic box – or for extra capabilities of their TV – which will allow it to take advantage of all the new content opportunities the web provides.  No.  They are just going to use their TV to watch programs with other people, together.  They won’t be installing apps on their TV. They won’t be browsing the web on it.  And they won’t be controlling their viewing with the TV’s remote.  They will be doing everything from their phone or tablet.

Think about it for a moment.  You can already watch TV on your phone.  And with airplay you can send anything you’re watching to your TV.  This is fine for an ‘all Apple’ household, but until lots of people get in on the game, I don’t see this as the future.

No the future comes with WiFi Direct and Miracast (plus a lot of extra work).

I’ve explained WiFi Direct and Miracast elsewhere, but to put it simply:  Miracast lets you beam video from your phone – or from any other device – to your TV.  Its like a wireless HDMI cable.

So imagine, if you would, the TV of the future.  It will be a box with no buttons, just a lovely display and a power supply.  Inside it will be WiFi direct ready.  (Hopefully WiFi Direct has some sort of wake on lan functionality, so that you can plug your TV in and put it in a low power mode awaiting a connection.  If it doesn’t, we’ll stick a discrete pairing button on the top)

You come in with your phone, or tablet.  You install an app – which might be something like iPlayer, Hulu or Netflix, but might also be a specialist app perhaps ‘Game of Thrones’.  How you pay for this (one off, or subscription) is up to the app publisher.  The app publisher can also decide if the app contains all the audio/visual data, or if the data will be streamed from some external source.  You play the app, and are offered a number of screens to play the video on.  You select the TV and you are away.  The video is streamed from your phone to the TV set… or better, the TV set.

This world is already (just about) possible with Miracast.  But it isn’t quite enough.  Here are some ways we can improve on things.

Your friend is also watching TV with you, and decides to turn the volume up a bit.  The volume is a feature of the TV, so your friend needs to tell the TV to play sounds a bit louder.  So your friend reaches for his phone.  Now, he doesn’t live at your house, so he won’t have an app for controlling your TV.  There are two solutions:
1. We insist every TV provides a common interface, so that lots of people will make TV control apps.  In which case, he can then just pair with the TV and control it that way.  But this sort of standardisation doesn’t seem to work well.  So the odds are low.  My preferred alternative is to encourage the following:
2. When your friend pairs his phone with the TV, he is told there is a web service available (providing a web server ought to be a common feature of WiFi Direct devices that need to be interacted with) and goes straight to the front page.  At the front page he is given a web ui, and a link to download a better app from whichever app stores the TV company have chosen to support.

What would be even better is if the web app worked by communicating with a simple web service.  Each Web service could be different, but so long as they were simple, hackers could work out how they functioned.  And as a result could develop control apps which work with hundreds of different TV sets – just like multi-set remote controls work today.  In short everyone would have an app which would quickly be able to decide how to control whatever TV they came into contact with – while also having a web app ui workaround in case of failure.

So, this is fine for controlling the TV.  But what about if my friend wanted to pause the show in order to say something?

My suggestion is that along with WiFi direct linking devices, you want to make some other information available.  Possibly provided by a web service as above – but ideally in a more standardized way.  I would want the TV to tell me which device was currently streaming data to it.  And I would want to be able to join that WiFi direct group, to communicate with the sender.  Finally I would like the sending device to also provide me with a web interface – so that I could control it remotely too.

In short, the TV becomes far more dumb than your average Apple TV box is today, and you rely on the smarts of the tablets that control it.  Especially since the apps on the tablets can ensure a far better user experience in the process.

From here we need to consider other devices.  I’m pretty sure the PVR as is will die.  Broadcast TV will gradually wither, and the PVR won’t be supported.  But until this happens, the PVR and cable box will be part of the home entertainment system.  And increasingly we will get video servers which will hold the video data of films we have purchased – or even, perhaps, caches for external video providers.  In any event, we will control these devices in the same way we control the TV: pairing via WiFi Direct, then a web UI and potential app downloads to get to the functionality.  These boxes will stream the video straight to the TV.

We also need to consider audio.  Right now many homes have a TV with speakers, and also a HiFi of some sort.  Let’s rethink this:  Add a few wireless speakers, and let them be sent audio by a protocol similar to Miracast (but perhaps with some additional syncing technology)  Your phone could even become a remote wireless speaker – especially useful if you want to attach some headphones without laying out wires.

At this point we have everything we need to allow app writers to revolutionise television.  I still feel there is a lack of a central TV guide – but perhaps that will be forthcoming now we know we have personal touch interfaces and no longer have to assume everything will be controlled via the screen.

Whatever, we don’t need smart TVs.  We just need good displays, and sensible use of wireless technology.  The Apple TV as is, both is too smart, and not up to the job.  Lets make it simpler, and make the interactions between devices work well.

Rethinking Social Media : A Self-Contradictory Opinion

Stamp US 1977 2c Americana

Should the USA nationalize Facebook?  Um, no.

To be more specific, aside from it being the USA – a country which tends to believe in the market doing a better job of looking after people’s interests than the government – there are any number of reasons why you don’t want a state running a social network.  A good example would be “People from other states use it too”.

Should any other country nationalize Facebook?  Still no.  If you can explain why having a public social network is more important than good public transport, or good public healthcare, or good public education, you are a better person than me.  No wait, you are a far worse person than me, and you don’t deserve to have an opinion on anything.  Go away.

But the article makes a good point that it would be nice to have a trusted social network – one that would support people in countries where they don’t have freedom of speech.  Of course, no government would do this, because it would either involve being seen as siding with enemies of states you might want to still pretend to be friendly with, or it would involve coming up with a system which would be as useful to enemies of your own state.  The terrorists would have already won (even if all they won at was Mafia wars… which presumably some of them would be quite good at.)

However governments are not usually the protectors of free speech.  In general they tend to protect ‘the sort of speech we want, but not that other speech which tends towards the nasty and evil’.  To protect free speech, I would look instead towards various charities – the Amnestys, and EFFs and CPJs of the world.

And, in thinking of those charities, it occurs to me:

Would there not be some place in the world for a ‘free speech social network’, supported by a non-profit foundation, and presumably grants from both right on for-profit organisations and charities of the sort I’ve described before?

Here is my thinking – if I were to set up this sort of social network, it would have to have the following characteristics:

It would have to compete head to head with Facebook and Twitter and whoever else.  You want this network to be the place everyone goes to, the place everyone knows about – because you don’t just want freedom of speech for specially equipped activists, you want freedom of speech for absolutely everyone.  You want it to be easy and safe to say what you want as and when and why you want.

Because people wish to shut down free speech, and because there is no legislature that could be trusted with protecting a free speech social network, it would have to be distributed.  In saying that, I worry too much that I’m contradicting what I have previously said about social networks not needing to be distributed.  I would like, if I may, to plead a technicality:  There would be a core site for the social network (or perhaps a core site in each country).  All the sites would communicate to each other.  And all would interoperate with each other.  And, if you wanted higher levels of security still, you could run your own version of the site.  Now some of these sites may need to block particular content for legal reasons – but that wouldn’t be a problem, people could simply go to other sites (which would be well known about) hosted in other jurisdictions if they wanted that content.  So what I’m talking about here is not ‘lets build some distributed software, and try to get a network to take off based on it”, I’m talking about ‘lets build a good social networking site, and by the way, you can mirror some or all of the content, and interoperate with it in a distributed way if you want’

To achieve the goal of distribution, its going need cryptography.  Things like ‘only distribute this to my friends’ can only be done with crypto in a distributed system.  But crypto can also be used to solve other issues like ‘this proves who I am’.  The trick here would be to hide the crypto from the end user as much as possible – which is to say, they should never need to know that crypto is involved.

It should play well with TOR – some people who would want to use this network would need TOR – but the site that most people see would be hosted on the open internet, because that is the obvious place to host such things.

It would have to be free to everyone.

I’m optimistic that this could be done.  The wikimedia foundation has worked, and has managed to produce not just Wikipedia, but the software which powers it.  I see no reason why similarly generously spirited people shouldn’t get together to create the ultimate social network.  One which cares about its users, and which is free, because it is funded by people who care about freedom, not by people who care about adverts.

Will it happen?

It could.  And possibly it should. I think it might just be an idea whose time has come.

Rethinking Social Networks : The App.Net move

Social Network

Social Networks are high in people’s minds right now.  Twitter is annoying its developers, trying to become an island rather than the convenient platform it used to be.  Facebook is a mess, a jumble of confusing options, an unfriendly interface, and adverts jumping out at every corner – it reminds me more of the pre-Google Altavista than anything else.  And there is reaction to this.  The Diaspora project seems to have gone nowhere, but newcomer App.Net has hit a kickstarter target – and, by getting enough people to make a cash commitment has become interesting.

App.Net makes two points:

  • At the moment, the customers of social networking sites are not the users, but the advertisers.  So long as the users are tied in, they will remain, and their eyeballs will be able to be exchanged for the contents of advertisers wallets.  A social network designed for users needs to be funded by the users – they need to be the customers
  • What makes a social network work is when it ceases to be a website and becomes a platform

Its worth describing two geek fallacies before we continue:

Fallacy 1:  Any good internet project is distributed in nature.

This is the flaw of Diaspora.  Geeks love us some hard distributed systems problems, but the take away from the user the simplicity of going to a single place – the same place as everyone else – to get what they want.  Distributed technologies such as social media require people to provide servers – but these servers have to be paid for, so people will charge.  Charging isn’t too bad, except any such server must, by its nature be a commodity, there is little room for differentiation.  It is hard to see why anyone would want to get into this game – see the decline of usenet servers as an example.

Fallacy 2: It is all about the platform

UIs are for wusses.  What matters is the clever technology underneath.  This is both true, and false.  What matters to must users is that users get the features they are looking for – it doesn’t matter if the backend has some hyper-clever architecture or runs in Spectrum BASIC if it does the job and keeps out of the way.  Geeks think differently – they want to know that their lives are going to remain easy as they interact with the system over time, so they design platforms which you can build good products on top of, but don’t care that much about the product.  I fear this might be what app.net are doing.  I hope I’m proven wrong.

Where app.net have been clever is in using Kickstarter for some cash.  Not because they needed the cash (if you can convince that number of individuals to pony up $50, you can probably convince some investors to do likewise).  Getting the cash gave app.net some publicity, because Kickstarter is hot right now, and social networks are causing consternation – and for a social network to get going, it needs publicity.  But it also got a number of people to tie themselves into the service – and the sort of people who would fund a new social network are early adopters, the thought leaders in the social sphere, and this could be very important to app.net’s growth.

But it could be more important to the people who paid for the developers licence.

Right now, if I wanted to try something new and interesting in the social world, I would seriously consider tying it in with app.net – because its a small market of exactly the sort of people you want playing with your fresh idea.

I don’t think there is anything special about app.net in itself, but I expect it to be a breeding ground for interesting social graph based applications.  So in app.net’s case, perhaps by building the platform, they are doing the right thing, even if it isn’t the right thing for them.

Incidentally, I have a number of thoughts about the next moves that could be made in social networking – I’ll be writing about them over the next few days.

Why Aaron Sorkin’s Idealism Won’t Change The Real World

Can I first get this straight – I love the work of Aaron Sorkin.  Newsroom is the best thing on TV at the moment.  The dialogue is crisp, tight and admittedly slightly formulaic (but then I guess the Elizabethan press were all “Gawd, that Shakespeare guy really verdoes that iambic pentameter stuff”) .  Can I also get this straight – I am as wooly a libral as they come.  I’m the sort of person who says things like “Some of my best friends are conservatives” (I do mean it.  Some of them are)

So.

Aaron Sorkin does idealistic lead characters.  They might be idealistic presidents, idealistic showrunners, idealistic news anchors.  I was hoping the news anchor would not be idealistic.  I was hoping we would have a conflict between an idealistic producer and a cynical, hardbitten, newsman.  But three episodes in, and my hope has gone.  Now, idealists make for good heros.  Idealists stand for something, and, in the traditions of storytelling, if they stand true to their ideals, deserve ultimate success.  Idealists’ flaws also stand out, silhouetted against their principles.

Yet for Sorkin, the idealism doesn’t work.  Not quite.  There is something about it which feels forced.

And it is all due to Aaron Sorkin being a liberal.

All of Sorkin’s heros are liberals.  Sorkin’s ideals are the liberal ideal.  Even the Bill Pulman ‘I’m shockingly a republican’ news anchor, settles on liberal sounding arguments.  Characters don’t so much argue their position as they do joust for the position of being the most liberal.  It isn’t quite the America I’m used to from the news and internets.  Perhaps Sorkin feels that everyone he writes about are intelligent, young, and insufficiently rich yet to have become evil.  And that intelligent, young, not rich enough people have no choice but to be liberal.

There are intelligent republicans.  The liberal end of the media doesn’t want to show them.  The conservative end just isn’t interested in them.  But they are there.  They exist.  They are in the offices, the workplaces.  The belief that intelligence equals a left leaning outlook is just wrong.  I’ve wondered about this.  Then, watching the third episode of Newsroom there was a quote which explained it all to me.  Something along the lines of

“Facts aren’t the left.  Facts are the centre”

Aaron Sorkin believes that if everyone just got all the facts given to them, they would all become well meaning, left leaning liberals like him.

And the more I think about it, the more I think all of us liberals have the tendency to do the same.  We argue for evidence based politics.  We hate it when we get ‘fair and balance’ coverage of issues where there are facts and lies – not just two equal sides.  We shift around uncomfortably when a law is made based on a selective reading of a book written two thousand years ago, rather than on who gets hurt.  And we think ‘If only we can educate people more, this will all go away’

The problem is this is the liberal mindset.  This is what makes someone liberal.  Something else makes someone conservative.

Now, I’m going to overgeneralise a bit about republicans and conservatives.  There are lots of shades of grey here, many fine points I’m fully aware I’m glossing over.  I want to get to the heart of the matter.

Republicans don’t care about facts.  Facts are not the center.  Facts are the left.  What republicans care about is emotions.

When I described this argument to some friends down the pub, they refined it “What Republicans care about is values”

Value and emotions are they same thing.  They are the gut response to the world.  They are what you are told you need, by your heart, not your head, to feel safe.

And there is nothing wrong with values.  We’ve been guided by values for millennia.  Our values are a good heuristic for acting in a way which will keep out society together.  They have likely been honed by evolution (or, if they doesn’t make you feel good, they have likely been put there by God himself).

There is research into this.  Republicans get scared more easily than liberals – but they spend most of their time happier than liberals.  Quite possibly because they don’t fight their instincts.  Quite frankly, facts are not going to change anything.   What will change things are stories.  We’ve all seen the politicians who stand firmly on the right, decrying the fall of civilisation and blaming it on atheists, druggies, and immorality.  They quickly change their tune when one of their children comes out.  “Yeah, drugs may still be bad, but I fully support homosexual marriage” they say.  Because they’ve become part of a story.

Sorkin’s characters don’t tell stories.  They spout facts.  They want to educate, when they results they want don’t come from education, but from reaching people deep down in their heart.  These are liberals doing the liberal thing of hitting their heads against a liberal glass wall, and wondering why they don’t ever get through to the people on the other side.  I’ve been guilty of this.

Very occasionally Sorkin stops writing about this own character, and makes a biopic about someone who actually did something.  Charlie Wilson’s War.  The Social Network.  These films have flawed characters.  Driven characters, with their won ideals, certainly, but real characters.  There is an extent to which these films work better than the lecture which underlies his television.  I’m more likely to learn something by watching someone struggle and fail through or succeed despite  their own character flaws, than by being repeatedly told what is right.

If I was going to fix the Newsroom, I would do just this.  Let the idealist see that idealism doesn’t work.  Let him experience  life outside of his liberal elite bubble.  knock him down.  Put him in the world of local interest pieces and personal stories.  And let him realise that, through emotions and stories, he is reaching the people who he never contacted with facts.

But keep writing the witty dialogue too.  Because frankly, that is why I’ll keep returning to Sorkin time and time again.

Do I Want A Filter, Not An Inbox?

A hat-tip to Om Malik who inspired this idea:

It used to be that you would go out to look for information.  To a library, or a journal perhaps.  These days you go to your search engine, when you don’t know where to look, but at other times information comes to you – through email, through rss feeds, through the people you follow on facebook and twitter.

In all of these situations we use filters.  When a question comes to mind about modern forms of fermented milk based headgear, and go to search on google for “Electric hat cheese” google finds (or claims to find) about six million potential results.  However, I only see ten of these – along with three adverts (which, incidentally suggest my best bets would be M&S, John Lewis or Ebay) – Google filters down my results.  My Email has a spam filter.  Facebook and Twitter only show me things written by friends.  RSS feeds only show me feeds I have subscribed to.

In the past, I have suggested that I would like a single mailbox.  I’m wondering if I’ve got that the wrong way round.  Is it perhaps time that I stop going out and looking for information, and assume that all the information out there is coming to me.  And then it becomes my job (my computers job, the in the cloud service I subscribe to’s job) to filter out all the things I don’t want to see, and leave me with the most important – or most desirable – all in one inbox?

How would this work?  Well, it would start by getting all the information.  Perhaps spidering the web is a little too big a job, but it could be looking ahead of my web reading, and deciding if things related to things I’m interested are potentially interesting.  And clearly it would drag in sources of data I already find interesting – like my email and twitter feeds.  And it could query services which find things like the things I like.  If I search for something, it could query google and get back my search results – but it could add results of its own, if it thought it had better responses from looking at pages in its own history or cache than in the pages google provided.

It seems to me that the issue of cost would arise.  The way I spoke about using Google suggested to me that my sufficiently smart filter engine might decide to filter out the adverts.  To continue using Google to get the results I want would require me to have to pay something – albeit not a lot.  How could I possibly fund this?

The answer comes from the thought “There are times in my life, right now, when I’m willing to see things that clearly mark themselves as adverts”, so perhaps there are types of information which people would pay to put in front of my eyes.  The clever part comes from the fact I have a filter engine.  The filter engine knows how much money I generally need in order to access the information I enjoy, and it can make the calculation “I know that Ben is willing to give up .5p of his life, by reading an advert, in return for being able to watch .5p worth of reality TV”  It can make the calculation without asking me, and it can choose to show me the advert.

But a filter engine can do better than that.  Sometimes I enjoy adverts.  Sometimes an advert answers my question better than a search result might.  Sometimes I really want to be recommended new interesting books to buy – people would pay me to read chunks of them if they were my kind of thing, and I would be likely to read the whole thing as a result.  If this is the case, I might get .5p in return for reading the advert, but my filter might decide I would value reading it at -.1p, in effect gaining me .4p of media content for free.  Everybody wins.  And my filter would be on the lookout for that sort of win whenever possible.

This is the sort of thought experiment which can stretch onwards to bigger things.  What if I gave my filter a budget – say 30 quid a month.  Could it replace basic cable?  Should it be choosing how much bandwidth I should pay for (letting us go to more sane pricing systems for internet connectivity without us knowing), can it decide when it would be better to pay for an upgrade of itself. [And I guess, might it one day obtain sentience, and decide that it can do better off without me, and stop the nice tesco man from delivering me food.  Its all a going a bit like episode 2 of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.]

Is this the future?  Something about it seems wrong, but I can’t put my finger on it.  There would always be manual overrides.  There would always be interactivity like search.  I could always choose from options.  It seems both perfect, and at the same time scary.  But if it existed, I would certainly want to play with it, and it would seem to be the ultimate disruptive force that could destroy both the existing media, the social media sites, and all other forms of communication.

 

Lean Publishing and the Future Of Books

I’m very taken by some of the ideas behind lean publishing.  The idea is simple – start writing a book, and when you’ve got something written (it doesn’t have to be much – or indeed good) start selling it via leanpub.com.  As time goes by you add to your book – either more information you’ve wanted to add, or in response to comments from readers.  You submit these updates, and all your books purchasers can access them straight away.  You also have complete control over book price, so you can raise the price as your book grows.

Leanpub also provide some technically very neat tools for converting your book to different ebook formats – but thats by the by.  Its more about the idea.

What leanpub lacks is the ability to sell your book for a trivial amount of money (say 1 cent) – this is probably an effect of the costs of payment processing… but its a shame, almost anyone could write a book worth 1 cent – by the time you reach 99 cents, you start needing higher quality.  They also lack the tools to keep engaged with the reader – not just by providing updates, you understand, but by having in depth conversations – I’m thinking the ideal leanpub type site would have a blog, a wiki and a forum system all built in.

I’ve wondered if you could go even further with books than this. In the same sense that the ideal TV program is now an app, perhaps the ideal book is too.

I’m talking about lots of things… if I’m reading my book on a computer, then I want references to webpages to be hyperlinks, and references to other books to take me to the right place on amazon.  But I want more – maybe I should get a discussion forum built in (possibly even a forum which knows how far I’ve got into the book to stop spoilers).  Maybe I should be able to shop for books the author recommends.  Does the author do occasional interviews about this book?  Then his podcast could be included too.

I’ve also long had a soft spot for sites like dailylit.com which give you chunks of books every day, either by email or RSS.  Something about this form of serialisation of books seems ideal to be for young adult reading… perhaps in a long series like Twilight or Happy Potter you would subscribe to a book, getting new stories as time moves on.

Of course, all these ideas could begin with writing via LeanPub – because all leanpub use for writing is markdown formatted text – and, once you had amassed sufficient text, if my ideas are right, there will be people out there who have written the app frameworks for the sort of ideas i’m talking about, and will be willing to let you use them in return for a cut in the profits – just like LeanPub do with their ebook update offering.

How TV Should Be

Lets say we wanted to reinvent TV (like everyone expects Apple to), how would we go about it?

Right now I susbscribe to some number of cable packages (lets count the Beeb’s licence fee as one of those…), I may also download from the various iplayeralikes, and buy content (mainly from itunes in my case).

What if apple (or a rival) could convince the TV companies to allow people to have pay as you go subscriptions – something along the lines of this:

At any time you may purchase 1 month of our channel’s programming – which you can watch when you want during the month – but when the months up, its gone.  That isn’t too different from the iplayer and standard cable models.

Also, you can buy any of our top programmes – either as a rental (a week to watch, but it vanished 48 hours after you’ve started watching… in the same vein as sky boxoffice) or for good (like with itunes)

And since we let you do that, why not let you buy or rent films…

We would probably start getting new channels – after all, netflix fits into the new monthly model.

We could also add ‘oyster card – like’ deals (if you rent enough of our content, everything else you buy from us over a given period will be free)

All we need is for the tv set to have a single payment mechanism which everyone agrees to use.  Which is where the monetization strategy comes in.  Do this well, and in time, you’ll be able to give widescreen tellys away for free.

The TV could recommend programs that you can watch for free – or programs you would like which will cost you money (there are ad dollars to be made with the latter).   Add the social media features I’ve suggested before, and you have a new TV model, which democratises the platform in a range of interesting ways.

But of course, this isn’t the future.  Because in the future, the new program will be the app.  We know this, but it’ll be a long time before channels figure it out.  If the right TV manufacture gets this right now, they can get everyone onboard… and then become the app store!

X-Apprentice

I think too much about reality TV formats (which is to say, I sometimes think about them).  I have long argued that X-Factor should be using overnight download figures of the performance as the basis for which contestants stay or go rather than telephone voting – because this shows people will actually pay real money for the contestant in question’s songs.  However, with the music industry changing at a rate which is seemingly quite uncomfortable for the recording industry, I wonder if this competing to be the next hit machine’s indentured artist is really the future.

No.  The future should involve Alan Sugar.  Not necessarily literally.  Potentially the recording artist of the future should be as savvy at the board table as they are at the mixing desk.  If the industry is changing you want someone who can not only sing sweet tunes, but can also adapt to whatever shape the world is in this year.

I propose a show more like ‘The Apprentice’.  A set of tasks each week for a group of hopefuls, testing not only their music making, but also their music industry nous.  Tasks such as making money from busking, self-branding, keeping up with technology, finding ways to make money from giving something away for free… anything like that.  And each week a music industy impresario could let one of them go (“Jim – you’ve been knocked out of the charts”).

The prize?  Not a recording deal, but venture capital to fund the artist in their next project (be it an album, a tour, or whatever they have in mind and can convince the judge of) – along with providing help and contacts in the industry.

© Ben.Cha.lmers.co.uk
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