Why iTunes matters, and how it happened.

Once upon a time there was a really neat program for the Apple Mac. It played your music. It shuffled songs and albums. And it was called SoundJam.

Apple bought it - re-badged it - and iTunes was born. The rest, as they say, is History.

Or, more to the point, the rest is the Future of Computing for the next 10 years or so.

Because Apple have leveraged iTunes into the interface of choice for every form of content that you might want. Music, Film, TV, PodCasts, Lectures. You name it (er, "Books?" I hear you cry), and Apple have figured how to put it on your iPod. And as the iPod (and now the iPhone) has become the smart device of choice, so iTunes has become the interface that everyone uses.

For content.

And as everyone knows (and Sony learned) content is king.

But actually, that's changing. Because now the iPhone is actually a computer - it runs Apple's OS X operating system and is well on the way to functioning as a fully fledged laptop/tablet. And that means that, well, iTunes is growing into something more.

It's now the conduit for all the functionality you wanted.

Apple have had the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) triumvirate covered for a while. But now they have a hotline to every Form and Function you might possibly want.

Neat.

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

French Attempt to Legalize File Sharing

Thomas Crampton comments on an inspired and pragmatic approach by the French to legalize file-sharing. Since I'm blogging from France at the moment - well, I'm probably partisan...

Yesterday I was down at the sumptuous French National Assembly - a building that looks like a Greek temple from the outside and a livingroom overdosed with red velvet on the inside.

A group of latenight legislators had amended a bill to include a global tax for people wishing to share files over the Internet.

Once a user (an "internaut" in French) has paid the fee, that internaut is free to share music or movies on the basis that they are for personal use only.

Hey presto, what is considered piracy in other parts of the world would suddenly be acceptable here in France; Kazaa would be legal!

Artists would then receive payouts from the tax money raised. Such approaches to copyright taxation are not unusual in Europe; Germany, for example, imposes a 12 euro copyright levy on the sale of each personal computer purchased.

Patrick Bloche, a pipe-smoking Socialist deputy representing Paris, who was a co-author of the amendments makes the case for the pragmatist: "We are trying to bring the law up to date with reality. [...] It is wrong to describe the eight million French people who have downloaded music from the Internet as delinquents."

Needless to say, the music and movie industry people are not terribly pleased.


Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

The young have little faith in newspapers...

Hard hitting stuff from Rupert Murdoch talking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Webcasting, BlogCasting, Podcasting, VideoCasting...

Like many of you in this room, I’m a digital immigrant. I wasn’t weaned on the web, nor coddled on a computer. Instead, I grew up in a highly centralized world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few editors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives. They’ll never know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access.

The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants – many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated -- to apply a digital mindset to a new set of challenges.

We need to realize that the next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from.

Anyone who doubts this should read a recent report by the Carnegie Corporation about young people’s changing habits of news consumption and what they mean for the future of the news industry.

According to this report, and I quote, “There’s a dramatic revolution taking place in the news business today, and it isn’t about TV anchor changes, scandals at storied newspapers or embedded reporters.” The future course of news, says the study’s author, Merrill Brown, is being altered by technology-savvy young people no longer wedded to traditional news outlets or even accessing news in traditional ways.

Instead, as the study illustrates, consumers between the ages of 18-34 are increasingly using the web as their medium of choice for news consumption. While local TV news remains the most accessed source of news, the internet, and more specifically, internet portals, are quickly becoming the favored destination for news among young consumers.

[...]

And their attitudes towards newspapers are especially alarming. Only 9 percent describe us as trustworthy, a scant 8 percent find us useful, and only 4 percent of respondents think we’re entertaining. Among major news sources, our beloved newspaper is the least likely to be the preferred choice for local, national or international news going forward.

What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.

Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. One commentator, Jeff Jarvis, puts it this way: give the people control of media, they will use it. Don’t give people control of media, and you will lose them.

In the face of this revolution, however, we’ve been slow to react. We’ve sat by and watched while our newspapers have gradually lost circulation. We all know of great and expensive exceptions to this – but the technology is now moving much faster than in the past.

Where four out of every five americans in 1964 read a paper every day, today, only half do. Among just younger readers, the numbers are even worse, as I’ve just shown.

One writer, Philip Meyer, has even suggested in his book The Vanishing Newspaper that looking at today’s declining newspaper readership – and continuing that line, the last reader recycles the last printed paper in 2040 – April, 2040, to be exact.

[...]

Just watch our teenage kids. What do they want to know, and where will they go to get it?

They want news on demand, continuously updated. They want a point of view about not just what happened, but why it happened.

They want news that speaks to them personally, that affects their lives. They don’t just want to know how events in the Mid-east will affect the presidential election; they want to know what it will mean at the gas-pump. They don’t just want to know about terrorism, but what it means about the safety of their subway line, or whether they’ll be sent to Iraq. And they want the option to go out and get more information, or to seek a contrary point of view.

And finally, they want to be able to use the information in a larger community – to talk about, to debate, to question, and even to meet the people who think about the world in similar or different ways.

[...]

I just saw a report that showed Google News’s traffic increased 90 percent over the past year while the New York Times’ excellent website traffic decreased 23 percent. The challenge for us – for each of us in this room – is to create an internet presence that is compelling enough for users to make us their home page. Just as people traditionally started their day with coffee and the newspaper, in the future, our hope should be that for those who start their day online, it will be with coffee and our website.

To do this, though, we have to refashion what our web presence is. It can’t just be what it too often is today: a bland repurposing of our print content. Instead, it will need to offer compelling and relevant content. Deep, deep local news. Relevant national and international news. Commentary and debate. Gossip and humor.

[...]

At the same time, we may want to experiment with the concept of using bloggers to supplement our daily coverage of news on the net. There are of course inherent risks in this strategy -- chief among them maintaining our standards for accuracy and reliability. Plainly, we can’t vouch for the quality of people who aren’t regularly employed by us – and bloggers could only add to the work done by our reporters, not replace them. But they may still serve a valuable purpose; broadening our coverage of the news; giving us new and fresh perspectives to issues; deepening our relationship to the communities we serve, so long as our readers understand the clear distinction between bloggers and our journalists.

To carry this one step further, some digital natives do even more than blog with text – they are blogging with audio, specifically through the rise of podcasting – and to remain fully competitive, some may want to consider providing a place for that as well.

And with the growing proliferation of broadband, the emphasis online is shifting from text only to text with video. The future is soon upon us in this regard. Google and Yahoo already are testing video search while other established cable brands, including FOX News, are accompanying their text news stories with video clips.

Link: News Corporation.

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

Re-inventing Radio

Understanding where radio is going... an excellent talk at the 2005 O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference by Matt Biddulph, Tom Coates, Paul Hammond and Matt Webb from the BBC.

A brief precis:

Audiences are actually growing. Radio is well suited to multi-tasking and is increasingly ubiquitous.

Radio’s "return path" is getting faster, providing instant feedback loops between audience and radio: Letters, Phone, Fax, E-mail, SMS, IM

The BBC are using smart web-based technologies to tackle this. They are managing the development as follows:

  • Embedded R&D team
  • Connected to geek community and early adopters outside the BBC
  • Work on projects with small multidisciplinary teams from around the organisation
  • Rapidly build and iterate prototypes

The BBC are looking to use Phonetags to allow individuals to bookmark and organise songs they hear on the radio.

Such bookmarking creates a browsable, information-rich service and allows the BBC to get lots of useful metadata which it can re-expose in various ways... (cf Last.FM)

See the full presentation in .pdf form

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

Cory Doctorow: Debunking DRM

Cory spoke at Radley back in November - and certainly swung his audience that day. Here he explains why Digital Rights Management (DRM) will ultimately fail:

Not one of these systems has ever prevented piracy or illegal copying. When pressed, [the Entertainment Industry] will surely admit that this technology is not meant to be proof against a skilled attacker, but rather it is meant as a "speed bump" that works on "average users" to "keep honest users honest." If they are particularly disrespectful of 52 percent of the world's population, they might even tell you that this is the kind of thing that their mothers can't defeat.

But counterfeiting gangs who engage in "illegal copying" and "piracy" -- that is, the sophisticated criminal enterprises that operate in the former USSR and elsewhere to stamp out billions of fake CDs and DVDs -- are unfazed by these systems, because they are, in fact, sophisticated attackers. They are, in fact, not average users. This commercial piracy is the only activity that clearly displaces sales to the studios and the labels, and it is precisely this kind of piracy that DRM cannot prevent.

As to average users engaged in file-sharing, they, too, won't be foiled by this. Rather, they will be able to avail themselves of songs, movies and other media that have had their DRM removed by sophisticated users. They need not know how to hack the DRM wrappers off their music, they merely need to know how to search Google for copies where this has already happened.

And that is exactly what they will do: they will bring home lawfully purchased CDs and DVDs and try to do something normal, like watch it on their laptop, or move the music to their iPod, and they will discover that the media that they have bought has DRM systems in place to prevent exactly this sort of activity, because the studios and labels perceive an opportunity to sell you your media again and again -- the iPod version, the auto version, the American and UK version, the ringtone version, und zo weiter. Customers who try to buy legitimate media rather than downloading the unfettered DRM-free versions will be punished for their commitment to enriching the entertainment companies. That commitment will falter as a consequence.

Link: Boing Boing: Debunking a DRM press-release.

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

iChat AV Conferencing

"iChat for Tiger introduces a new kind of interface for video conferencing. In its three-dimensional view, your buddies seem more like they’re in the room with you, making it easier to follow the conversation. Their images are even reflected in front of them, just as if they were sitting around a conference-room table. It’s an organized visual arrangement that facilitates communication and keeps your Desktop neat. Make your multi-way video conference full screen to instantly turn your office into a video conference room."

Apple - Mac OS X - Tiger Preview - iChat AV

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston