What the internet should be for…

Find something cool (in this case, a 9-year-old’s DIY cardboard arcade), share it, and bring people together to enjoy it and make a child very happy.

Story via BoingBoing.

The best way to enrich the web is to go out and discover, find and create interesting things and then help people come together around them.

A digital Sunday evening…

It’s Sunday night and for various reasons I’ve been offline for about 48 hours and I’m pretty tired. So what am I doing?

  • The Xbox is currently playing Forza Motorsport 3 for itself as the AI goes through the tedium of endless races to get the final game achievement and clear the way for Forza Motorsport 4 – important considering the amount of coverage I’ll be doing on OnlineRaceDriver.
  • My phone is currently uploading 100+ images from today to Flickr after our trip to Woburn Safari Park, which I’ll then need to group edit and tag.
  • And I’m on the laptop, having cleared out any notification emails, scanned and marked as read any RSS items, and started sorting out what I need to finish this week for both client sites and my own. Assuming that’s ever finished, hopefully I’ll catch up with the F1 race from earlier with iPlayer.

What struck me is that I don’t think the fact I have 3 internet devices all chuntering away on a ‘relaxing’ Sunday night is at all strange. And while I might be slightly unusual in running my own online-based businesses and spending most of my leisure time online, I suspect we’re still nowhere near the peak demand in bandwith for uploading and curating personal content online. What was once the preserve of the geeks and over-sharers is not only increasingly normal for everyone, but faster internet access, mobile connectivity and general access throughout less-developed countries means we’re still figuring out what we can do, and crucially, how to do it more easily.

Checking out my stats on Flickr, it’s blindingly obvious that most of my uploads have all come since I started using a smartphone, which allows quick uploading to Flickr. Without that, everything would still be on my memory card or hard drive.

And it was only recently that I finally got around to using the group edit functions, and could suddenly make a lot more photos public and accessible with at least some attempt at titles and tags (My default upload is always private for various reasons).
20110911_003.jpg

And that’s adding up to 10′s of thousands of views on Flickr alone.

It made me think that so much of the web is still so difficult, and that we’re still miles away from the potential in universal easy access. And that will also enable us to more easily spend time offline or better utilise mobile connectivity. It’s time to make things easier for everyone…

Plane crazy

I seem to split my time between making predictions about future business and technology, and looking back at the past. Maybe it’s my age or fatherhood, but I seem to be finding links between the two far more readily, especially when my son is involved, although this time it’s more about just enjoying the fantastic machinery on show at Imperial War Museum Duxford.

Duxford Air Museum

Spitfire at Duxford, with Concorde in the background

It really is a cool place to visit – 200 planes, 50 tanks, and enough to keep a young child entertained while his dad admired everything from fighter planes to commercial airliners and the occasional Spitfire. Plus, it’s the only time I’ve ever been buzzed by a jet fighter in true Top Gun style whilst sitting and eating an ice cream.

They’ve got pretty much everything from vintage biplanes to the Eurofighter, SR-71 BlackBird and of course, Concorde. And I have to admit, not being privy to the joy of travelling across the Atlantic in under 3 hours, that I was a bit surprised it wasn’t a little more glamourous.

Duxford Air Museum

The seating in the Concorde at Duxford (Admittedly it was used for test flights)

But besides the wonder of seeing all these amazing machines up close, whether it’s the SR-71 BlackBird I had as a poster on my wall, or the Russian T-34 tank, I did wonder about the fact that it appears aviation seemed to stop around the time computers and the internet began to exist in the 60′s and 70′s.
I don’t mean that we don’t all cram into budget class on a 747 for our holidays, but all of the amazingly futuristic designs seem to have been replaced by pure utility, much as we once had Cadillacs with huge fins and now have sensible hatchbacks. And I’m wondering why we aren’t seeing a return to amazing designs?

After all, there must be some way that the increase in virtual conferencing reducing business travel, and the increases in environmentally-friendly travel could give rise to transport that looks amazing whilst saving the planet? Not everyone who wants to prevent global environmental catastrophes wants to drive around in something that looks like a jelly mold or a box on wheels.

It’s that belief that everything has to be OR, rather than AND. The web has to destroy print, rather than both existing in a completely different way. And the internet and the environment demand that we end up travelling in dull tedium, as experienced by every commuter on a daily basis, rather than something cool and interesting.

Want me to increase my efforts to recycle and turn the heating down? Find me a way that I’ll be rewarded with something like this on my driveway in 10 years.
20110828_066.jpg

And while I’m talking about how great planes are – it’s not flying people hate. It’s the fact that airports are soulless, miserable places which increase boredom and anxiety, before the joy of passing through customs, and then the loss of control as unexplained noises accompany some stranger hurtling you into the air at 300+mph, whilst knowing you’re likely to be stuck circling round a destination in the middle of nowhere, waiting for your suitcase to appear alongside 20 identical examples, and then the fun of customs in a different culture.

On the plus side, Duxford is great, and I’m seriously thinking of their membership package just to get the tour of this rather famous plane:

Duxford Air Museum

The Sally B - Also known as The Mephis Belle

 

Find the best radio stations – online

Finding the best radio station is obviously a subjective experience. Are you looking for a particular band or genre? Do you want somewhere with variety? And how on earth do you find the station that’s right for you as an individual without going through every stop on the dial and noting down what they play for a whole day or more?

CompareMyRadio.com

CompareMyRadio.com is the newest project to launch from One Golden Square Labs (Disclosure: One Golden Square Labs is from the team behind Absolute Radio, where I’m Digital Marketing Manager)

And it’s an incredibly simple and effective way to find and compare radio stations (I can say that honestly as it wasn’t my idea, sadly). All you need to do is enter the name of your favourite artist, track or station, and you’ll be presented with which stations play the most of your favourite music, or which music your station plays the most.

It also gives you a guide to how many tracks a station plays over a set period of time, and how much variety there is.

And best of all, the results are completely down to you as an individual – so there can’t be any implied bias. In fact, picking three bands at random from my collection, Metallica, The Lemonheads, and The Charlatans, Absolute Radio wasn’t the top result for the three, although it was in the running every time.

As with the recent launch of  a user-controlled radio station, Dabbl, it’s currently in Beta and there are plenty of plans for the future, so give it a go and share your feedback…

When novelty becomes necessity

When technological advancements such as the printing press, telegraph or the car were invented, it took a while to get going. Even something as simple as sliced bread took a good few years before becoming widely adopted.

And yet the increasing pace of change means what seemed a novelty just a short time ago soon becomes expected.

The free wifi on National Express trains is one case in point.

When it was first introduced, it seemed like a minor miracle that I could now access the internet and get work done whilst travelling, for no extra charge, even in standard class.

But within a couple of years I’m amazed that other trains don’t have it, and I’m immensely frustrated and disappointed that the speed and reliability hasn’t improved. In fact it’s got much, much worse as more and more people are using laptops and netbooks on the train.

Mobile broadband is similar. It took a while for the mobile phone to become widely adopted, but now mobile internet access is becoming a standard and expected part of any new mobile device. And it’s data costs and anything less than 100% access that become the talking points, rather than the fact I can access the web from something in the palm of my hand.

And that frustration we feel is because we don’t just become accustomed to this access.

We come to rely on it.

For work, home, and everywhere in between.

Postscript:

Just remembered that apparently, 53% of British mobile phone users suffer ‘no mobile phobia’, or nomophobia, ‘with 48 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men questioned admitting to experiencing feelings of anxiety when they run out of battery or credit, lose their phone or have no network coverage.’ (HT Textually.org).

Some reactions to Digital Britain…

I haven’t been able to fully digest the Digital Britain report to be able to dissect it and add anything to the commentary already online, so I thought I’d share the thoughts of those people who I value enough to have in my RSS feed every day:

Digital Britain Scorecard: So how did Lord Carter do? – Paid Content.

What does #digitalbritain mean for journalism – Adam Westbrook.

Digital Britain calls for pirate-free universal broadband – Ars Technica.

Digital Britain: 2015 – First thoughts on radio – Adam Bowie.

(Disclosure – Adam Bowie is a colleague of mine at Absolute Radio, although the views expressed on either of our blogs are our own, and do not necessarily represent the views of our employer. )

I’d also recommend the always erudite and interesting Bill Thompson, – Digital Britain engaging with the internet – but his blog appears to be down at the moment. Luckily he’s also available on the BBC site.

Will Britain become a rural backwater online?

Although I already knew the difference in broadband speeds around the world, seeing the direct comparison in a BBC article on 100Mbps broadband really lept out at me.

‘The upcoming Digital Britain report is expected to outline plans to give the UK population universal broadband access at the modest speed of 2Mbps by 2012.

In South Korea, the government is aiming for speeds of 1Gbps by 2012, up from the current average speed of 15Mbps.’

Now I know that companies will be able to justify the additional cost for the faster speeds available, but in an online world where everyone is networked, what’s the cost for entrepreneurial individuals if they’re stuck on 2Mbps competing with someone on 1Gbps?

I’m thinking about people like my son, who will probably start using computers and games consoles around 2012.

And about businesses which will always aim for the majority market – globally in the case of the digital world. If you’re running a service in 2012, will you build it for those on 10Mbps? 20Mbps? Or the people on 2Mbps?

The other major problem doesn’t seem to have been mentioned anywhere – in the U.S. for example, there’s uproar about the introduction of data caps at 250Gb…in the UK I’m doing fairly well to have a data cap of 20Gb!

Competing with 1/12th of the information, data and capacity available seems like a bit of a handicap.

What’s happening to rock stars and Hollywood actors isn’t new…

Something has struck me about one of the major challenges facing entertainment celebrities – along with the though that maybe many more ‘normal’ people have faced something very similar over the last century.

Nash Motors Assembly Line by Wisconsin Historical Society (CC Licence)

Nash Motors Assembly Line by Wisconsin Historical Society (CC Licence)

In the past, people with in skilled manual occupations spent years learning their trade and craft, served apprenticeships, and worked their way up to a point where they had experience that gave them security – until in many cases machines were able to offer lower cost solutions which put them under threat.

Now actors and musicians who have worked at their craft for years, and been fortunate enough to have built long enough careers to become established face technology which mean that the skills they’ve built up alongside their talent – finding management, working with record companies and film studios, etc, suddenly gets challenged by the fact anyone with talent can produce a song and distribute it digitally, or create a film for a relatively low cost and release it via the internet.

I’m just wondering if other people think that this is one reason why some celebrities are taking the hugely proactive step of writing a letter to The Times complaining about the fact that internet piracy is apparently threatening the fact that the creative sector, according to the letter ‘comprises 7 per cent of the total economy, and is growing faster than any other sector.’ A bit of a paradoxical argument if ever I heard one.


Behind the music…

Sonata Music by jrossol on flickr (CC licence)

Sonata Music by jrossol on flickr (CC licence)

Apologies as I’m a bit tired, and this may descend into rambling, but I wanted to keep the music debate going, especially after some interesting comments on my first post, on why ‘Recording companies are really screwed‘.

I appreciated the comment from Michael, who rightfully pointed out that the most common examples of bands using social media and giving their music away for free are those who have already built a following – while I agree this is the most common case, these are still new tools and new revenue models, and there are some examples of bands coming through the internet – e.g. Soulja Boy. And the precedent comes from the underground hits of pirate radio and dance music, or the spread of 1960′s Stax Atlantic and Motown in the UK, which was mainly provided by soldiers and sailors from the U.S.

What forced me to respond was Eaon‘s valid questions about challenges and options beyond ‘big labels vs internet’. He’s right in saying that major labels are an easy target (not that this means we shouldn’t continue to targte them), but I don’t think he’s right in putting Murdoch’s Myspace against traditional record labels. This isn’t about a social network replacing a record company – it’s about social networks as a distribution mechanism, along with email, forums, blogs, podcasts, video streaming, and every other method of delivering music and entertainment in an electronic format vs the attempts of the traditional industry to retain models and methods that served the physical format.

Busking: Pic by joeszilagyi on Flickr (CC Licence)

Busking: Pic by joeszilagyi on Flickr (CC Licence)

Eaon also said that the broad strokes of my previous post didn’t work for him, and I can understand that, but I’m a big fan of reducing things to their most basic, and starting with the essentials. And that tends to result in the broadest picture, but also the clearest view of what’s really necessary.  So to take that to it’s ultimate conclusion:

  1. Music is created. Either recorded or transferred into a digital format.
  2. Music is published on the internet. Possibly with a video to accompany it, or a blog, website, Myspace page, Facebook fan page etc.
  3. People who like the music download it, and if they like it enough, share it with friends and contacts via email, social networks, blogs. More mainstream media will gravitate towards that which gets a significant following.
  4. The creator is rewarded with an audience of some size. Monetisation could follow with a physical release, gig tickets, merchandise.

That’s about as simple as it gets! Speaking as someone whose music career was limited to messing around with a 4-track home studio and a couple of sessions in a ‘proper’ studio to record a couple of EPs which never saw the light of day to my knowledge (perhaps fortunately), I’m hoping the more musically experienced will take a look and point out anything I’ve missed, but this seems the simplest, most direct, and most robust music creation, distribution and consumption model.

And I know it’s easier to say in a blog post than to achieve, and that the music labels still retain enough pull and advertising budget to be able to theoretically make every stage easier, more polished, and potentially more far reaching through their ability to book advertising in mainstream media and invest in the physical media and distribution with ready cash – but increasingly those days will fade. There’s no need for me to track down a rare vinyl album to establish my musical credentials with my peers as we pore over the cover and inner sleeve – unless I’m DJ’ing, it’s quicker, easier and just as good for my reputation to email an mp3 or a link to someone obscure or new. And whether you believe in influence, or emulation, if the conditions are right, that content will continue to spread, with or without support.

For instance, Youtube phenomenon OK Go had already achieved success via a major label and broadcast appearances – but did that do more than the $10 video released without record company knowledge that got seen 9 million times? Or the follow-up, which has now been seen 40 million times on the official profile on Youtube alone? (In case you missed it, here it is!)

For a more recent, homegrown example, check out Ben Walker’s Twitter Song and the story behind it.A fun ditty aimed at Twitter users as a bit of a social media experiment gets viewed 272523 times at the time of writing, and leads to interviews on national radio!

And from a financial point of view, I’ve tried to find the quote that stuck in my mind as an aspiring musician, from guitar legend Joe Satriani. He revealed that although his major label albums had brought him more fame and publicity, it was his independently recorded and released records that brought him the income he needed.

I don’t think the record companies will cease to exist this week or this month. But I think the angle of decline will increase to terminal velocity pretty soon, and I can’t see any label making the moves needed to avoid it or even flatten it out. Instead I see sites like SlicethepieAmie Street, Sellaband etc. And there’s the romantic notion that it revisits the idealised days of Stax Records allowing people to come together for the music first and financial rewards second. After all, the people with access to recording booths and vinyl pressing plants have had the power for long enough. If they don’t offer consumers and artists anything of significant value, they become redundant.

So who’s going to help me keep shaping this into a more in depth vision of the music industry? Where is the future taking us, and are there more examples of internet delivery and fame creating new success?

How I found music – and how that’s changed

When I was a child and teenager, I was as obsessive about music as it was possible to be. I combined aspirations of becoming a professional musician and DJ, with the compulsive behaviour of a serial librarian and collector. So you can imagine how many music magazines (NME, Melody Maker, Metal Hammer, Kerrang, Record Collector, Mojo, Q etc), and how many records and eventually CDs I consumed – just to make it clear I’m not completely over the hill, CDs came into circulation when I was about 11 or 12 I think…

And just as my interest in videogames and comics have both waned during early adulthood and resurfaced now due to meeting likeminded people online, my interest in music has seen a healthy resurgence. In the meantime, I still listened to all my old purchases, but I rarely found anything new. That’s changed a lot thanks to the internet.

There are basically three sites I use for all my music needs (although for the moment I still only have a radio in my car!)

  • Blip.fm – There’s been a lot of buzz around Blip recently. In fact, I even suggested it shows the best method of monetising Twitter, as it’s essentially a cross between a microblog, and an annotated John Peel show. You simply tell people what you’re listening to, and if it’s available on the site they can listen as well – and that’s all filtered by who you follow, with the option to buy MP3s if you like something enough.  It’s perfect for a quick blast to find songs I’d have never heard about, or listened to, unless it was recommended by a trusted source.
  • Last.fm – It’s essentially the only real option at the moment if you’re outside of the U.S. We can’t access Pandora (but founder Tim Westergren has stated it’s close to closing anyway), and Meemix seems to have focussed on extras rather than a reliable player.
  • Myspace – Yep, it’s hard to believe in the age of Facebook dominance, and open source Muxtapes, but if I hear a bands name, and I want to hear their songs really quickly and easily, I tend to end up going to Myspace even before last.fm – mainly down to speed. It’ll be interesting to see if that means I use it more when the Myspace streaming radio finally appears. It might replace last.fm, but only if it offers a stream of my favourite choices without a need to subscribe

And that’s about it for music. I very occasionally catch a music show on TV (I’ve been looking at 4Music as it’s co-owned by Bauer Media where I work, along with Kerrang). I hear the radio for about 10 minutes in the car (and that’s only until I replace the stereo so I can listen to podcasts), and my only real radio use is to listen to live football if I can’t watch it. Three online services, and the recommendations I receive have replaced pretty much all my other musical inputs.

And incidentally, all my latest CD and MP3 purchases have all been songs that I would never have heard on the radio, were all things I generally struggled to find in most music shops, and once again persuaded me how much easier it is to find music online.