Post 52:08 More big questions

There’s a very interesting OpEd in today’s SMH, in which the authors describe YouTube as ” home port for lip-syncers, karaoke singers, trainspotters, birdwatchers, skateboarders, hip-hoppers, small-time wrestling federations, educators, third-wave feminists, churches, proud parents, poetry slammers, gamers, human rights activists, hobbyists.”

They go on to say that they see YouTube as having a role similar to zines in the 1970s, when zines offered a medium to present ideas incapable of reaching the mainstream. Communities and movements coagulated around zines, making them a forerunner of social media.

The piece also says that YouTube is now sufficiently adopted to enable it to bring down a government, partly because (and yes, I am making some context-disrespectful jumps): “While most people can read, very few publish in print. Hence active contribution to science, journalism and even fictional storytelling has been restricted to expert elites, while most of the general population makes do with ready-made entertainment.”

This all gets me wondering. I like ready-made entertainment. It is elaborate and rich in ways that sail beyond anything I have ever seen on YouTube. There is no YouTube Sopranos equivalent, for example.

And I disagree that active contribution to these other fields is somehow crimped today. Sure, there are rules before one can be published in a scientific journal, but those rules help to produce rigourous work. And I’m sure we’ve all encountered crackpots with odd theories. Let’s not even get started on climate change denial here!

I also wonder what the heck it is that the collective us will do on YouTube that will make a difference and bring down a government?

Perhaps we will all be so inspired by some content on YouTube that a social movment will coalesce around it.

I’m not so sure. I believe apathy is not only rampant, but encouraged. I remember watching political rallies in the 1970s. Today, PRs prevent such things from even happening, lest they be hijacked by someone off-message.

In any case, politicians may not see any benefit to social media interaction. Stilgherrian’s tweets from today suggest they are disinclined and under-resourced to deal with what is already coming their way.

I suspect that to take YouTube and other social networks from amusing curiosities to world-changers, new lines will need to emerge.

These things are called “social” tools for a reason, because people use them in their social lives. The web apps we use to organise our social lives are therefore designed to help us do that. Sure, they are good tools to link us with like minded people. And email etc means we now have tools that make it far, far easier to let our elected representatives know what is on our collective minds.

I suspec that “political networking tools” cannot be far off, that will aggregate opinion to enact change. At the moment we are 20 million lone voices, who sometimes get a lot more attention than was possible before YouTube. Once we can network ourselves more effectivley than GetUp rounding up money to make ads, things might just get to the transcendent place the OpEd hints at.


Post 51:08 My Big Questions

I think I get all things 2.0 I get the move from one way push by publishers to push accompanied by conversation.

What I don’t get is the way this apparently represents a colossal threat to traditional media, for two reasons.

1. It seems to me that someone still has to aggregate content and that the type of content people most people appreciate will very often be assembled by someone practising journalism. This story, for example, shows how blogs are basically doing all the things that MSM has done for years, namely fight like mad to gather information of higher value than their rivals, faster than their rivals can present it.

Sure Gizmodo and Engadget (the subjects of the story) do not present their content as journalism. But the process that goes into its creation is so eerily similar to journalism as to be, IMHO, practically indistinguishable from journalism. And the fact that both aggregate content makes them, again, practically indistinguishable from the media outlets of today. This makes them ideal ways to do what MSM does today, namely flog ads based on the quality of their audience.

2. I wonder who the creators are and how many there are. Sure, there is a lot of content being created. But is everybody really going to be a creator? I see TV ratings for the most banal programs – like the 6:30 current affairs shows and reality TV – capturing millions of people every night. These programs are, to me, just rubbish. Yet millions watch them. Or soaps. Are these people really going to stop passive media consumption and go 2.0?

The addendum to my Big Questions is that I know TV viewing is in decline. I also know that people now spend more time interacting with more media. An answer I often get is that “Gen Y are living this way,” but I also know that one day Gen Y will have jobs, families and less time than they do now.

Anyway, feel free to enlighten my confusion or ignorance.

Post 50:08 I get Apple’s frosty PR position

I use Windows. It’s actually pretty good. XP, anyway.

So I am no Mac fanboi.

But in the last week, I have “gotten” Apple.

It started when iTunes did something weird. I emailed support and they fixed it.

That got me thinking, what if I could get Apple on SmartCall, the podcast I run about customer service and contact centres.

So I asked Apple if they were willing to discuss their approach to customer service.

The answer was a swift, unequivocal, no-room-for-argument ” Apple does not discuss its business practices.”

That’s more or less what I expected, so I am not angry at Apple.

Over the years, however, plenty of my fellow journos have expressed in rather strident terms what they think of this kind of stonewalling.

But I get it now. Apple makes products. Apple wants all communication about Apple to be about its products and what they can do. If that is your objective, I suspect there’s no point in communicating about your customer service strategy, or your future roadmap, because it has nothing to do with what your products can do.

While this is frustrating to journalists who want to tell the public more about Apple, it obviously works. The deluge of recent speculation about what Apple products will do and how it will be possible to buy them attest to the success of this strategy.

I get that.

I don’t like it. But I’m not supposed to. I’m supposed to like the products!

Post 49:08 A modest musical proposal

Did you watch Insight last week on SBS? It was about music downloads. The recurring theme from the Internet industry was that the music industry needs to innovate to make sure it has a future in the digital world.

Here’s how I would do it if I were them.

First up, the music industry should create a service for new musicians that lets them upload their music into a well-promoted, single source of new music that streams music for free and has a Radiohead style pay what you want model if you want to download. All download revenues, minus a service fee, go to the band.

I reckon this is a good idea because without aggregation, new musicians have to promote their stuff themselves. Yes, the Net is supposed to make it possible for independent artists to promote themselves. But in reality, I cannot think of a band that has broken this way (and that includes the Arctic Monkeys, whose ‘discovered on MySpace’ story is a crock). With the cost of recording a decent demo now very low thanks to GarageBand etc, I reckon it is fair to ask musos to spend a little promoting themselves.

This new service should have an upfront fee, to cover operation costs and also to ensure that all uploads are listened to by a professional who applies a taxonomy to the music so that all users can find it more easily. This professional can also be a frontline A&R scout for the record labels.

The record industry should then track the wazoo out of users on this site so it can figure out who is listening to what. Users should submit a nice, fat profile of themselves so that the tracking helps record labels to understand who listens to what.

If an artist’s download hit a certain threshold, the record labels participating in this service would then get to play in an auction to sign this band.

Punters get free or very cheap music. Record labels get better research. Bands get a mechanism to publish their stuff in an environment that lets them make money, even if they do not get a record deal.


Post 48:08 Plurk followup – Back to the (P word) future

Well I now quite like Plurk, so I suppose you can add hypocrite to the other adjectives that can successfully be applied to me.

The main reasons I like it more are:

  1. It has some nice bits Twitter does not
  2. I have figured out how to get Plurks into Twitter.

The second point, however, makes me wonder if the folks at Hellotxt and the hoard of other social networking aggregators are not really on to something here. Something like a  … oh god I don’t want to say it … something like a portal.

Remember them? Portals are SOOOOOOO 1996. But here they come again, IMHO.

This time, however, I expect them to be different. I reckon once Data Portability gets its shit together, people will build portal apps so you can scrape all your social nets into one bucket without the need to visit multiple pages. Of course that will rob social networks of eyeballs that should be busily beholding ads for monetisation purposes. A tasty shitfight will ensue.

47:08 Death to the web startups deserve money meme!

Time for a whiney rant.

I’m sick of the meme that results in constant coverage of Australian internet startups and whether or not they can find investment.

This is not criticism of those who write about it. Heck, I’ve done it myself.

Sure, web startups theoretically have the potential to go Google-scale nuts and generate amazing wealth. But how many actually do? 1%? .1%? .01%? How many end up as nice, stable, small or medium businesses? I reckon that once you run the numbers on the outcomes, Web startups do not deserve any more coverage, in my opinion, than every other startup business on the planet.

Australia has hundreds of thousands of small businesses in hundreds of industries. Why is the media not as interested in their quest for investment as we are in the fortunes of Web companies?

But … I hear you say. Web companies are sexier than all those other startups in other, less world-changing industries. How do you judge sexy? For me, when Webby businesses get big, they do so by changing the game in their category. Or by creating a category.

But does that make it worth tracking them from inception? And is it really worth treating businesses with this aim as a whole separate sector?

And when we all whine about the state of /lack of venture capital in Australia, let’s PLEASE remember that there are 20 million of us on a whole freaking continent. There are 20 million people in and around Los Angeles or New England alone, never mind the other 250 million+ septics. It’s called scale, people.

Anyway, that’s the end of the whiny rant.

Post 46:08 The Plurk effect, or how a startup can die in 12 hours

By now you’ve heard of Twitter, right?

Well it seems that at some point in the last 24 hours or so, a twitter competitor with the unlikely name of ‘Plurk‘ has come into being.

It has probably died too.

Plurk’s first few hours were pretty good. I started seeing Tweets (twitter messages) about it early this morning and signed up for an account. It took less than two minutes to realise I would not be back. First was the lack of a feature to scrape in or mashup my Twitter feed, functionality that is interesting to many Twitter users and others whose membership of many social networks makes an aggregator/funnel useful. Twitter’s own reliability problems are fuelling the desire for such tools.

Plurk cannot help with these issues, so people are turned off as soon as they register.

Then the IM registration crashed.

Through the day, I have seen many Tweets recording similar dissatisfaction. As I write, the Tweets are describing an ongoing crash. So all the folks hoping to try the new service are instead frustrated.

I suspect the final nail in the Plurk coffin is this Tweet from Robert Scoble, in which he writes:

Hahahah. Plurk is already down. Fail. And no Fail Whale, either. Double fail! Hint: if you want to be the next Twitter: stay up. Always.

You don’t need to be a genius to reach that conclusion. You also don’t need to be a genius to realise that ANY product or service can lose any chance of success in the first few hours of its life these days. Perhaps more importantly, when powerful influencers like Scoble comment on new products in more or less real time, your product needs to be amazingly robust the second you release it.

I’ve no idea if PRs are ready for this kind of ultra-fast news cycle.

Anyway, I now wonder if tanking spectacularly, as Plurk has done, could become known as ‘Plurking’ or ‘The Plurk Effect’?

Probably not, because Plurk is a really stupid name. But that’s another discussion.