Archive for October, 2006

Play the web

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

I finally tried out the (I noticed that it is now available for Linux and that the developers were throwing a party, which I attended). The killer feature is web integration. Browse (Songbird is built on the same as Firefox) to a page that links to music or video files or a podcast feed, Songbird displays all available media and allows you to play, subscribe, or add to your media library immediately.

It feels as if there’s no distinction between files on your computer and those on the web. In fact the only gripe I have is that once a file is added to your library from the web, there’s no facility for getting back to the web page you obtained the file from.

Check out the , which does a good job of demonstrating Songbird’s web features (Songbird is also a good all-around media player).

Screenshot of Songbird 0.2rc3/Linux browsing ccMixter.

Nathan, I see a for Songbird in the future. :)

Meta those who can’t

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

I’ve been meaning to write a version of the aphorism “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” to say something derogatory about metadata. Something like “those who can, code; those who can’t, twitter about standards.” But it doesn’t flow and like the “teach” version, is highly contestable. Plus, I’m projecting.

However, I realized that the general pattern of this aphorism is that those who can’t, do something “meta” relative to those who can, e.g., an extension of “teach” is “… those who can’t teach, administrate.”

Presumably those who can’t administrate, run for school board. And those who can’t write a pointed aphorism, write about aphorisms.

All of the “can’t” statements are metadata about a subject that does something more meta than the things he can’t do.

So I got my metadata out of it after all.

Community is the new IP

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

I’ve been wanting to blog that phrase since reading the Communities as the new IPR? thread on the Free Software Business list. That thread lost coherence and died quickly but I think the most important idea is hinted at by Susan Wu:

There are two elements of discussion here – a singular community, which is a unique entity; and the community constructs (procedure, policy, infrastructure, governance), which are more readily replicated.

Not said but obvious: a singular community is not easily copied.

Now Tim Lee writes about GooTube (emphasis added):

YouTube is an innovative company that secured several millions of dollars in venture capital and used it to create a billion-dollar company in less than a year. Yet as far as I know, strong IP rights have not been an important part of YouTube’s strategy. They don’t appear to have received any patents, and their software interface has been widely copied. Indeed, Google has been in the video-download business longer than YouTube, and their engineers could easily have replicated any YouTube functionality they felt was superior to Google’s own product.

Like all businesses, most of the value in technology startups lies in strong relationships among people, not from technology, as such. Technological change renders new technologies obsolete very quickly. But a brilliant team of engineers, visionary management, and a loyal base of users are assets that will pay dividends for years to come. That’s why Google was willing to pay a billion bucks for YouTube.

Loyal base of users does not do justice to the YouTube community. I was not aware of YouTube’s social features nor how critical they are until I read the NYT story on electric guitar performances of Pachelbel’s Canon being posted to YouTube (I commented on the story at the Creative Commons weblog). Some of these videos have been rated by tens of thousands of users and commented on by thousands. “Video responses” are a means for YouTube users to have a conversation solely through posting videos.

Google Video could have duplicated these social features trivially. I’m surprised but not stunned that Google thinks the YouTube community is worth in excess of $1.65 billion.

On a much smaller scale the acquisition of Wikitravel and World66 earlier this year is an example of the value of hard to duplicate communities. The entire contents of these sites could be legally duplicated for commercial use, yet Internet Brands paid (unfortunately an undisclosed amount) to acquire them, presumably because copies on new sites with zero community would be worthless.

There’s lots more to say about community as a business strategy for less obvious cases than websites, but I don’t have the ability, time, and links to say it right now. The FSB thread above hints at this in the context of software development communities.

And of course community participants may want to consider what allowances they require from a community owner, e.g., open licenses, data, and formats so that at a minimum a participant can retrieve and republish elsewhere her contributions if the owner does a bad job.

Columbus the slaver

Monday, October 9th, 2006

In elementary school I won a essay contest sponsored by the Roman Cultural Society of Springfield, Illinois for making the audacious claim (so I was told) that Columbus did not discover America. I have ignored since then, except as a disease vector. I doubt I would have managed to win that contest had I known of another aspect of Columbus, which I only learned about today:

By the time Christopher Columbus appeared in Lisbon in 1477 an Old World slave trade was thriving in the eastern Atlantic between West Africa, the Atlantic islands, and Europe. In his famous letter on his first voyage he informed Ferdinand and Isabella he could, with their help, give them “slaves, as many as they shall order.” On his second voyage Columbus loaded five hundred Indian slaves aboard returning caravels. On the last leg of his voyage to Cadiz, “about two hundred of these Indians died,” a passenger recorded, appending, “We cast them into the sea.” In this manner the discoverer of the New World launched the transatlantic slave trade, at first in Indians and from west to east.

–James Rawley, with Stephen Behrendt, The Transatlantic Slave Trade

This via Byran Caplan’s timely post Columbus: The Far Left is Dead Right, which includes an always timely plea to dishonor ‘great men.’

It is long past time to terminate officious recognition of Columbus Day and remove representations of slave owners from currency and other objects of jurisdiction worship. I consider this a mild compromise position on the road to smashing hero worship, which I admit has near zero constituency.

Brutal deference

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

This evening I stumbled upon the California gubernatiorial debate on the radio during the opening statements. At one point the moderator claimed he would be “brutal” but was completely ineffective. Every question evoked a vacuous response from each candidate, nearly all of which completely ignored the question asked. in particular needs to be banned from saying “hard working” and “middle class”, which seems to cover annual household icomes from $18,000 to $500,000 — feel the vacuity! Both need to be banned from saying “education” (and what the heck does “fully funding” education mean? relative to what?).

But a response from was the most offensive. Asked what he would do to balance the state budget in the face of an economic downturn, he said “Talking about hypotheticals is not my style.”

Try using that in a job interview.

Please stop this insane deference to royalty. Start by addressing by name, not job title or former job title. Yes, president, vice president, senator, governor and the like are job titles, not peerages.

Abortion theology

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

Although raised Catholic I did not realize there was a difference between and . According to the BBC the Roman Catholic Pope may shortly “abolish” the latter:

The Pope, himself, has been quoted in the past as saying that he would let the idea of limbo “drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis”.

That would be rich if it weren’t redolent. Get back to me when the theologians have a test for this .

Limbo may deter sheep in regions with high infant deathrates from joining the Roman Catholic flock, so doctrine may be changed such that unbaptised infants and the unborn go straight to heaven instead of languishing in limbo, to improve the competitive position of this particular earthly church. I’d rather they switch back to RCC’s old mythology — the unbaptised go straight to hell. Otherwise, new signs will be needed, and that would be a waste.

Ratzinger head from here.

Via Mahalanobis, where I also found a nice cartoon two years ago.

Structured hallway conversations

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Brady Forrest writing about unconferences:

Unfortunately, a common piece of feedback I hear is that they got more out of hallway conversations than the sessions. I’ve also found this to be true.

That’s exactly what people say about, um, conferences.

Conference sessions, whether of the lecture and presentation type associated with normal conferences or the more interactive type associated with unconferences, only work for me when the presenter or organizer is extremely knowledgeable and articulate about the topic at hand. Otherwise you get a sleep inducing spiel or bullshit session.

So perhaps some conference should drop sessions almost completely, as they are implied to be low value, and concentrate on making hallway conversation, claimed to be valuable, even moreso.

Update 20061004: Above is the most thoughtless post on this blog so far. I should have only made an ironic comment on Forrest’s post. But I’ll write now what I should have written yesterday, given that I bothered to post here on a topic I don’t know any more about than any other bozo who has groused about conferences:

  • Everyone says they get a lot out of hallway conversations, but they don’t. Hallway conversations largely are merely enjoyable and easy (well, not necessarily for me, but I’m pretty introverted) lightweight social chit-chat. Saying hallway talk is the best part of conferences is also self-flattery.
  • The post title implies that the way to increase the value of hallway conversations is to add structure, a claim that may be without merit.
  • Many unconference practices do make sessions a lot like hallway conversations.
  • The real problem is that speakers don’t have the right incentives. If a presentation blows, people blow it off. Maybe you get one or two negative comments weeks or months later, if the conference solicited feedback and makes it available to speakers. There should be immediate and public reputational and perhaps financial (if it is a rich conference) repercussions. Any dodo can think of implementations and problems, so I won’t go on.

Day against DRM

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Today is ‘s “day against DRM.” says:

There is no more important cause for electronic freedoms and privacy than the call for action to stop DRM from crippling our digital future. The time is now.

The first bit is hyperbole, but you could cover fighting DRM and several related causes by taking the opportunity to join the EFF or FSF.

I don’t have anything new to say about DRM, so see Digital Rent-a-Center Management from June.

Download DRM-free music.