Archive for January, 2010

 

A DRM Rant

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

West coast samaBlog correspondent Calzone sent this missive in from the field. I thought you should read it:

I was reading The Economist, who like so many other reporters over the past week, chose to focus on the promise of the iPad to reinvigorate the dying print industry. Of course, the DRM question you posed is crucial to their notions of any such reinvigoration.

I can’t speak for all consumers, but this one says: ‘enough!’

I don’t give half an anorexic rat’s ass what happens to the content publishers. Really, I don’t. The internet genie is out of the bottle and it ain’t going back in. Millions of bloggers are perfectly happy to provide their analysis and opinion on current events FREE of charge. With the exception of a handful of boutique news outlets, the media do not add significant value to the reporting of current events. Certainly not enough value to pay for it. It was hardly enough value to stomach putting up with ads.

Here’s a thought experiment: the average consumer subscribed to one or two newspapers. Now that you can essentially get any newspaper delivered via the internet, let’s be charitable and assume people were willing to pay for their news. It’s reasonable to expect that the average consumer nationwide will gravitate to one or two newspapers from around the entire world. Maybe three or four. Over a short while, it’s also reasonable to expect that the result of that would be that there are maybe 3 major viable alternatives for each of the three or four papers a person subscribes to. The market ends up supporting a max of about 12-16 major papers nationwide. So even if the iPad or any other device is some kind of savior to the print industry, I wouldn’t count on it to be a panacea for your company.

But it’s worse than that. We don’t want to pay for your content. Reuters and AP newswires are good enough. Local, decentralized reporting is good enough. PBS and BBC are good enough. For in-depth analysis and opinion, we’re going to go straight to the authors we care about and can afford. That means we’ll mostly gravitate to blogs we can read for free. Maybe there’s a market for premium blogging ala Salon.com. But I sure ain’t gonna pay the Boston Globe or even the NYT for access to their columnists. Dream on. The best columnists end up WILL going indie, or at most migrate to something like Salon.com.

Consumers are fed up with endless cable bills and phone bills. We’re already paying THROUGH THE NOSE for access to media over cable and for having the flow of bits in and out of our homes and devices. The Subscription Economy is already at its limit; in fact, it’s past it. People are actively seeking ways to circumvent paying what they currently pay for both content and connectivity. The average US household budget simply cannot sustain the content utopia envisioned by those who seek to be content gatekeepers and middlemen. There are far too many middlemen as it is between me and the producers of content and they all want an ongoing piece of me each month. Bit-schelppers are charging WAY too much for too little and trying to charge more for access to specific content types, while content producers and publishers are tying to find ways to make even more obscene gobs off the content they distribute than they did when it wasn’t digital.

So back to the iPad.

If the point of the iPad is to provide a platform that primarily gives for-pay access to locked-down reading material, then fuggedaboutit, I don’t want one. The last thing I need is to PAY to buy into a platform that requires me to PAY more just to read stuff. I’m happy to PAY Apple for a mobile computing platform that’s as capable as my MacBook Pro, that I can install my own software on, that I can use to download stuff and consume the stuff I download, that I can use to copy and paste content and remix content to my heart’s content, that I can use to save ‘clippings’ of stuff that interests me, and yes, that I can use to SHARE stuff I’m interested in, copyright or not, with my friends just like I can share newspaper clippings and pages or share books.

All these news types, text book publishers and other publishers are seeing stars suddenly. ZOMG, the iPad is going to do for print what iTunes did for music. People will pay! Dream on. Sure, if I owned an iPad, I would probably buy a good novel to read on the plane. It’s money I would have otherwise spent at the airport bookstore. I would use the iPad to go read blogs and free news. But I’ll be damned if you think I’m going to have an NYT subscription just so I can read your paper in near-full broadsheet quality with fancy fonts. Shit, I’ll just grab the abandoned copy of the paper I found on the seat here in gate 4B and read it old-skool. The digital revolution is NOT about recreating a literal virtual model of analog content.

But that’s the crux of the problem with the iPad. Sure it’s gorgeous, sure it’s fast, sure it’s magical. But if it’s gonna basically be useless without paying for content subscriptions, it’s doomed among people like me. Even more so if content is going to be restricted by DRM or other protections (like password protected PDFs) preventing me from doing what I want with it, or if said content will expire 3 days after buying it.

As you said, this business model is bearable on the iPhone, because its primary function is to be a great phone. We can overlook such shortcomings. We can pretend that it’s ok to impose restrictions because AT&T is trying to protect its fragile network. But that is not to say that we haven’t always been hoping and pining for a day when such restrictions would be lifted. We ALL want the iPhone to be more open. We just live with it because we’re willing to make that sacrifice to have an iPhone. But let’s be clear: it IS a sacrifice and we all feel it and know it, and we all half-expected that model to eventually go away, not become more widespread.

In the end, what will happen is that content producers will have at most one degree of separation from content consumers. There will be stables of premium creators. Reputable places where consumers can find content of a certain quality, frequency, degree, and persuasion. People will be willing to pay for access to those creators. There will be far more who are independent and connected directly to their consumers, whether ad-supported, totally free, donation-supported, or pay-walled. Reuters and other primary and open sources of news will live on, and big networks, like CNN will live on and help support them. Current headlines and raw news will remain ad-supported/free and widespread.

Try as it might, Apple’s desire to be a primary gatekeeper for all content will ultimately fail if it also tries to regulate that or take too big a cut. Long term success for the iTunes App Store model can only come with opening the floodgates and taking a modest cut from those who do charge and requiring no money from those who don’t. The iPad is either going to adapt to that reality and become a viable platform, or it’s going to try to impose the restricted authoritative vision Apple has and doom the iPad to expensive toy of the month.

No, the iPad itself is not really expensive, what makes it expensive if the cost of ownership. I think few or none of us are interested in seeing the razor blade / printer ink cartridge business model being applied in every single possible market marketers can come up with.

 
 

Blade Runner In The Rye

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

So with JD Salinger dead, I would assume that Hollywood is salivating at the thought of finally obtaining the rights to make a film of his most famous book. Hollywood should not let this opportunity go to waste.

While the movie could be made in the original setting of the book, I fear that most people wouldn’t connect very well with the 1940′s today. Much better to set the novel in the Blade Runner universe. That way, every character who Holden meets and believes to be a “phony” can in fact, be a replicant. You may even be able to sneak clips of Harrison Ford killing off characters in the background after Holden is through with them, just to reinforce the theme.

Seriously, how much worse an idea is it than what Hollywood is bound to actually come up with?

 
 

JD Salinger Is Dead

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

He wrote a good book. One.

Still sad to see him go.

 
 

Questions for Steve Jobs Regarding the New iPad

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

  1. You’re offering the iPad in two flavors, one with 3G and the other with WiFi only, each in a variety of memory sizes. I have an iPhone, so I already pay for an unlimited data plan. I’m wondering, will I be able to tether my iPhone to my iPad and thus only need to buy the WiFi iPad? Just when will tethering be made available for American customers? If I lived in some third world country that allows for tethering, would your answer be different? Will European customers be able to just tether their iPhone to their WiFi iPad?
  2. So I noticed that you’ll be selling books in ePub format. According to Wikipedia at least, there’s a method of enabling DRM on ePub files, but it’s optional. Are you planning on enabling DRM on the books you sell? After your previous essay decrying DRM, I would think you’d be loathe to introduce it to this new medium. After all, it took a herculean effort to convince the record labels to ditch DRM. Where do book publishers stand on this? Has your position changed at all?
  3. So the iPhone/iPad OS doesn’t have a file manager, which is fine in the iPhone, but I’m unsure if it’s fine on the iPad. For example, say I downloaded a video legally over bit torrent that is encoded as a wmv (example here). Will I be able to move that video onto my iPad to watch it? Will alternative video players such as the VLC player or the Mplayer be available to decode videos that Quicktime cannot, at least not natively? And will I be able to load files into the ebook reader that weren’t purchased from Apple? Say, classic works that are in the public domain?

It’s sad. I’ve wanted a netbook type of thing for a while now, and have been waiting for the ARM netbooks to come out. And now Apple seems to have made some really cool hardware that’s super fast (although it’s missing a camera for video chat, which I really want), but it’s unclear if the software is open enough to warrant buying it. I suppose the answers to my questions will become clear enough over time, and perhaps my concerns will be alleviated when Apple changes carriers (this should be a great opportunity for T-Mobile to poach iPhone subscribers). In the meantime, I think I’m gonna hold off on making a purchase.

 
 

Tomorrow’s Apple Event

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

So there’s an Apple event tomorrow, at which some sort of tablet computing device will be unveiled. I suspect the most likely name will be the Apple Canvas, as the invite showed paint splattered all over it, but there are not shortage of names that it could be. Calzone and I bandied a few names around, and so I’m printing the lot of them here, just in case Apple names it one of those. Any of these names could be “Apple X” or could take the form of “iX”. So here’s the list:

  • Plane
  • Flat
  • Rectangle
  • Pad
  • Board
  • Tricorder
  • Slice
  • Wafer
  • Host
  • Shingle
  • Tile
  • Plate
  • Altar
  • Flockhart
  • Cracker
  • Leaf (a personal favorite)
  • Splash
  • Sheet
  • Chip
  • Smudge
  • Print

For the record, I’m going to say it does have a front facing camera. The facial recognition rumors would make sense given what they’ve been experimenting with it in iPhoto. And I’m guessing that the display is a color eInk display, one that can display video. They may even own eInk at this point, and may make an announcement to that effect tomorrow (idea shamelessly stolen from Cringely).

 
 

Quick Tech Thoughts

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

It seems to me that in the future, every computing company needs to have a search engine (with maps), a desktop operating system (with office capabilities), and a mobile device, all of which work seamlessly together, but are operable with other company’s offerings should one choose to do that.

Currently, Google has a phone and a search engine, and is dipping its toe into the OS market. It offers online office applications currently, which will be integrated into their upcoming Chrome OS.

Apple has an OS with an office suite (iWork) and a phone, and is rumored to be developing a search engine. They bought a Google maps competitor, which will likely be integrated.

Microsoft has a mobile phone OS that is crappy, and is rumored to be working on their own phone. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them buying RIM or Palm to get the phone in their lineup. Microsoft has a search engine, Bing, which works pretty well, and appears to be the only viable competitor to Google at the current time. And obviously, Microsoft has an OS and office suite.

Until Microsoft and Apple are able to build/buy their mobile phone and search engine respectively, I expect to see them allying against Google for the time being (next 6-18 months). Once they launch their respective phone and search engine, expect a quick but amicable divorce.

Question(s): Where does console gaming and media distribution fit into all of this? Companies like Netflix and Amazon compete with iTunes and the XBox store for movie rentals and the like. And Google is rumored to be offering movies for rent over Youtube soon as well. Is this another component that needs to be offered by a modern computing company? Apple has the AppleTV device, which sucks, and the Mac Mini, which is awesome but not easily connected to a television. Will that change? Does Google need to make a device for the TV? Does that device need to play games? Is Nintendo a takeover target for this reason? I’ve long thought that Apple and Nintendo would make a good fit together. And where do the Playstation and Roku and Boxee Box fit into all of this?

Just looking for ideas here guys.

 
 

Senate Results By Congressional District

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

I’d heard a rumor on the radio that Barney Frank’s district actually voted for Brown. So I looked around online, and I couldn’t find any breakdown of how the election went by congressional district. So I went ahead and did my best to pull the numbers together for myself. Starting with the election results posted at the Boston Globe, I tabulated the results by congressional district. There are four municipalities that are split into multiple congressional districts. They are: Boston, Fall River, Hanson and Wayland. I was unable to find published results that were broken down by town wards and precincts, so for Boston and Fall River I split the results in 2, as they looked to be roughly evenly divided, and for the other two I split by the number of precincts in each district, one split into thirds and the other into quarters. I’ve published the spreadsheet here (too big for google docs apparently).

So the results I came up with are presented below. I’ve highlighted in red any precinct which Brown won. In my mind, we ought to have strong Republicans running in each of the congressional districts in which Brown ran, and probably even in the 9th district, which was lost by 1%.

Apparently, the congressmen are worried. So we should feel confident.

 
 

VICTORY!!!

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

>

Congratulations and thanks to Scott Brown! Best $300 I ever spent. Seriously.

 
 

The Truth About The House Health Bill

Monday, January 18th, 2010

 
 

Massachusetts Miracle

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Bear Witness: