Archive for the 'Media ecology' Category

Books like running water

[link] Sunday, July 20th, 2014

This morning’s Observer column

Once upon a time, 12 years ago to be precise, David Bowie said something very perceptive. “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” he told a New York Times reporter. “So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”

I thought of Bowie and his perceptiveness last week, when – in a rare piece of corporate carelessness – Amazon inadvertently provided a fleeting glimpse of what it has in store for the publishing industry. A new page appeared on its website only to be very quickly withdrawn, but not before it had been cached by Google and spotted by a hacker website.

What was on this elusive page? Why, nothing more or less than an introduction to a new service called “Kindle Unlimited”. Subscribers will be invited to “enjoy unlimited access to over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks on any device for just $9.99 a month”. One commentator described it as “Netflix for books”. David Bowie would doubtless have said that it’s the turn of books to become like running water or electricity.

Read on

Amazon has now confirmed the launch of the service.

Content mining just got easier

[link] Monday, June 2nd, 2014

This from Peter Murray-Rust’s blog:

Today 2014-06-01 is a very important date. The UK government has pushed for reform of copyright and – despite significant opposition and lobbying from mainstream publishers – the proposals are now law. Today.

Laws are complicated and the language can be hard to understand but for our purposes (Scientific articles to which we have the right to read ) :

If you have the right to read something in the UK then you have the right to extract and publish facts from it for non-commercial use.
This right overrides any restrictions in the contract signed between the publisher and and the buyer/renter.

Of course we are still bound by copyright law in general, defamation, passing off and many other laws. But our machines can now download subscribed articles without legal hindrance and as long as we don’t publish large non-factual chunks we can go ahead.

Without asking permission.

That’s the key point. If we had to ask permission or were bound by contracts that forbid us then the law would be useless. But it isn’t.

For those of us interested in extracting information from online sources for research and network-analysis purposes, this is a significant moment.

The one-world selfie

[link] Friday, May 23rd, 2014

This is amazing. And sweet. And touching. To celebrate Earth Day NASA asked people to send in pictures of where they were on that day. They received 36,000 images from over 100 countries, and assembled them into a gigantic (3.2 Gigapixel) zoomable image of the planet.

It’s the only home we’ve got. Such a pity that we’re heating it up. In the end, it will fix itself. And in the process maybe fix us too.

How people spend their time online

[link] Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

2014_05_21_online_time

Sobering chart. Some interesting aspects: note how important email still is, despite all the talk about social networking. Note that online newspapers and magazines together only add up to the same time consumption as blogs or internet radio.

Source

Why Snapchat is interesting

[link] Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

As usual, danah boyd nails it:

Snapchat offers a different proposition. Everyone gets hung up on how the disappearance of images may (or may not) afford a new kind of privacy. Adults fret about how teens might be using this affordance to share inappropriate (read: sexy) pictures, projecting their own bad habits onto youth. But this is isn’t what makes Snapchat utterly intriguing. What makes Snapchat matter has to do with how it treats attention.

When someone sends you an image/video via Snapchat, they choose how long you get to view the image/video. The underlying message is simple: You’ve got 7 seconds. PAY ATTENTION. And when people do choose to open a Snap, they actually stop what they’re doing and look.

In a digital world where everyone’s flicking through headshots, images, and text without processing any of it, Snapchat asks you to stand still and pay attention to the gift that someone in your network just gave you. As a result, I watch teens choose not to open a Snap the moment they get it because they want to wait for the moment when they can appreciate whatever is behind that closed door. And when they do, I watch them tune out everything else and just concentrate on what’s in front of them. Rather than serving as yet-another distraction, Snapchat invites focus.

Furthermore, in an ecosystem where people “favorite” or “like” content that is inherently unlikeable just to acknowledge that they’ve consumed it, Snapchat simply notifies the creator when the receiver opens it up. This is such a subtle but beautiful way of embedding recognition into the system. Sometimes, a direct response is necessary. Sometimes, we need nothing more than a simple nod, a way of signaling acknowledgement. And that’s precisely why the small little “opened” note will bring a smile to someone’s face even if the recipient never said a word.

Snapchat is a reminder that constraints have a social purpose, that there is beauty in simplicity, and that the ephemeral is valuable. There aren’t many services out there that fundamentally question the default logic of social media and, for that, I think that we all need to pay attention to and acknowledge Snapchat’s moves in this ecosystem.

My idea of a perfect blog post. It’s insightful, thought-provoking and beautifully written.

Targeted ads

[link] Monday, March 24th, 2014

From Frederic Filloux

Over the recent years, the advertising community managed to find a new gun to shoot itself in the foot. It's called targeted ads. Everyone has ugly anecdotes about those. Typically, the stories go like this: You do a web search for an item and quickly find it. In the following months you're deluged by ads for the product you bought. The annoyance prompts many to opt for AdBlocking systems – I did (except for sites I'm in charge of), with no regret nor guilt.

To put it mildly, there is room for improvement, here.

Yep. For some reason, even reputable outfits like John Lewis tend to be particularly annoying in this respect.

Finished that ebook yet? Hang on…

[link] Sunday, February 9th, 2014

This morning’s Observer column.

A few weeks ago I bought a copy of The Second Machine Age by two MIT researchers, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, who are two of the most insightful commentators currently writing about the likely impact on employment of advanced robotics, machine learning and big-data analytics. Since I already own more physical books than my house and office can hold, I tend now to buy the Kindle version of texts that are relevant to my work, and so it was with the Brynjolfsson and McAfee volume.

Yesterday, I received a cheery email from Amazon. “Hello John Naughton,” it read. “An updated version of your past Kindle purchase of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson is now available. The updated version contains the following changes: Improved formatting for readability. Significant editorial changes have been made. You can receive the improved versions of all your books by opting in to receive book updates automatically.”

Note the phrase, “significant editorial changes have been made”…

Read on

No ads, no games, no gimmicks. Just phenomenal growth

[link] Monday, January 27th, 2014

Whatsapp is an astonishing phenomenon. 430m active users and 18bn messages sent per day, which is pretty close to global SMS volumes (20bn or thereabouts, and maybe lower). All with just 25 engineers.

(HT to Ben Evans.)

Streaming kicks in

[link] Saturday, January 4th, 2014

So the next phase begins. This Billboard report confirms that we’re on track to reach David Bowie’s prophetic insight (made in 2002) that one day music would be like water — available everywhere by turning a tap.

For the first time since the iTunes store opened its doors, the U.S. music industry finished the year with a decrease in digital music sales.

While the digital track sales decline had been expected due to weaker sales in the first three quarters, the digital album downturn comes as more of a surprise as the album bundle had started out the year with a strong first quarter.

Overall for the full year 2013, digital track sales fell 5.7% from 1.34 billion units to 1.26 billion units while digital album sales fell 0.1% to 117.6 million units from the previous year’s total of 117.7 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

While industry executives initially refused to attribute the early signs this year of digital sales weakness to the consumer’s growing appetite for streaming, in the second half of the year many were conceding that ad-supported and paid subscription services were indeed cannibalizing digital sales.

What GDP doesn’t compute

[link] Sunday, November 24th, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

Deciding that the health of a nation’s economy can be measured by a single number is as daft as thinking that a single measure of “intelligence” (the IQ) can sum up an individual’s capability and potential. As Howard Gardner pointed out many years ago, there are many different kinds of intelligence, and each person occupies a different point in that multi-dimensional space. Similarly, the health of an economy needs to be measured along several axes. But we seem to be stuck with GDP because that’s the only thing economists know how to calibrate.

To the measure’s age-old contradictions, the internet has now added a really puzzling one. The world of traditional “production”, in which industries and businesses produced goods and services and in the process created value that could be measured and included in GDP, has been augmented by a parallel universe in which there is a great deal of activity, most of which is invisible to the bean-counters who compute GDP.

Take Twitter…

Read on…