Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Features

Friends, you may have noticed that I've added a few more items to my sidebar. One is a quick view of my shared items on Google Reader (which I love, but you knew that already). I also added two things related to del.icio.us (which I praised here). The first is a sidebar item with my most recently bookmarked items. The second is an RSS feed to my most recently posted del.icio.us items. I thought this feed would be interesting for two reasons. First, it lets me easily share items with everyone regardless of which feed reader you use (and I have to assume that no one is using Google Reader because I have no new friends). Also, I think that I read a lot of interesting stuff and rather than email it out to people and feel bad about sending around a bunch of stuff no one is interested in, I can have this feed where people can choose how and when to consume it. I think you might be able to create your own feed from my bookmarks based on the tags by adding /'tag' to the end, but I'm not sure.

Hope you take advantage, and if you set yourself up with a del.icio.us account, let me know so that I can get into your network.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Thought on Earth Day

So, today was Earth Day, and I had a weird thought. When did people start using trash cans? I feel like I've been dragged to a lot of Colonial Williamsburg type places on family vacations and school trips, and I can't remember ever seeing a trash can.

I had a friend when I was in college who was an environmental engineer. She raised the issue to me that the rise of disposable cleaning products is the worst thing to happen to the environment, probably ever. At the time, I thought she made a good point. I am definitely someone who believes in the power of baby steps (which I learned from this woman). And, as I think about it now, I more and more look at the amazing amounts of waste we create every day. Especially with bottled water. I'm trying to do my part, so I've started carrying around a Nalgene bottle like a cruncy hippie.

I'm not worried about fecal matter (mostly because the enjoyment I get from pooping is too high to consider it waste). But, what about the toilet paper we use? There's a lot of paper being flushed down the toilet every day.

I can think of two potential solutions.

  1. A butt brush - it's like a tooth brush, but for your ass. It would have to sit in some kid of sterilizing liquid, I'm thinking like the blue stuff my barber keeps the combs in. But then we'll have some harsh chemicals to deal with.

  2. Reduce the amount of TP we use. I'm not talking about getting up with shit on your ass. I'm just thinking that, if you tear of 4 squares for each wipe, try to get it down to 3. If you're down to three, try 2. If you're already at 2, try to reuse the square you've got. Instead of starting in the center of the square, start on one side, then use the other side for a second pass. I'm calling this new campaign, Spare a Square.

I would love to have you join my campaign. Please let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions to further our goal and save the lives of some poor, defenseless squares. And don't try to tell me that you "can't spare a square".

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Please use the comments

Friends, I'm trying to engage you in conversation about the topics I post about. Please feel free to comment and reply to comments. Also, you can put your real email address, because it won't be shown to anyone but me (and makes it easier for me to reply to you).

Sharing is Caring

Ok, I tried to get you on Google Reader, but you weren't interested. Only one person took me up on it (thanks, Sach).

What is it that you people don't understand? Isn't it clear that the internet is powerful? Isn't it clear that there is too much information for each of us to deal with on our own? Isn't this why people send around articles to their friends?

A common 'meme' (to use the parlance of our times) is that "news that is interesting will find me." I agree with that. However, it helps to have a living, breathing social network to help disseminate that news faster. It also helps to harness the power of the internet. We're living in an age of unprecedented innovation, with very useful free services being created every day. If we don't take a look around, we might be left behind.

I keep up with the world around me by using Google Reader and sharing posts (if you were my 'friend', you would have gotten an invite code to a new service today). I also use del.icio.us. Previously, I recommended instapaper, and I still do for news articles and the like. In that same post, I even said that I never really got into delicious. Well, that's changed. I'm now using it to keep my bookmarks organized.

I LOVE tagging as a mechanism for organization. You just give a couple of one word descriptors for each bookmark and you can always find your bookmarks in a given category. Go check out my bookmarks. You'll immediately notice that I've bookmarked a bunch of websites about apartment and others with cool productivity tools.

The next benefit of delicious is that its a web service. As you may recall, I'm enamored with web services. I love having access to my email, feeds, bookmarks , etc from any computer with an internet connection (which is by the way almost all computers and many cell phones). In this case, I find that its useful to have access to my links from work, home and sometimes a friend's computer.

Now, if only some of my friends would get on these web services with me, I'd have access to a much richer world of information and entertainment. Imagine if you had never heard of youtube or facebook or hulu. I'm just here giving you some of the tools that make the social web more interesting. Take a look at the 'Follow me to..." box on the right side of this page to see some of the services that I'm using/trying out. There's obviously a lot more out there than this, but I think it's a pretty good start. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More about RSS

Tips from ReadWriteWeb about Making the Most of your RSS.

Again, I highly recommend getting yourself set up with an RSS reader.

Do it already!

Design and the Elastic Mind

I went to this exhibit at the MoMA today. It was fantastic. I highly recommend that everyone take a look at it. If you can't make it to the museum, take a look at the online exhibits which are also interesting, though seeing them all in person adds a good bit of context. Some of these things are not as original as others. For example, the Painstation is a rip off of James Bond in Never Say Never Again. But, for the most part, these are some really cool ideas (along with a lot of absolutely certifiable ones)

Some recs: LASER TAG, Sketch Furniture, Flight Patterns and Dressing the Meat of Tommorrow

It also reminded me of a design competition that I had read about. This other exhibit was focused on sustainable gadgets. I thought these were really cool, and am ready to buy myself one of these lamps. These other entries are also really cool.

Anyways, take a look at those, and let me know if you've read anything else cool about how we might be living with technology in the future. And if you get to the MoMA (or the website) let me know what exhibits did you find most interesting.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Future of Music [Rant]

The launch of muxtape (which you should check out) has lead a lot of people to talk about the future of music. I thought I would take this chance to throw my two cents out into the fray. (Not all of these are original arguments, but when I first had this discussion they were pretty novel)

About two years ago, when I was looking to switch jobs, I interviewed with Warner Music Group's Digital Strategy group. I was drawn to the position because I thought that they were faced with one of the biggest challenges a large company has faced maybe since the best horse carriage maker had to deal with the Model T. After a few rounds of interviews, I was having a discussion with one of the guys on the team about what the real value add is of the record labels. My opinion is that before the internet and crowd-sourcing and wiki's and all that other great stuff that has made finding great content easier (and actually possible), the record companies had a HUGE and valuable role. They were the tastemakers, manufacturers and distributors. They 'discovered' the artists, they helped them produce the music and then they distributed and marketed it. They controlled the entire value chain because they provided access to resources unavailable to starving musicians-and they were good at it.

Once upon a time, recording studio time was unfathomably expensive because of all the intense equipment (in addition to the expensive producers/technicians in there). Then, assuming that a hit single came out of that session, you still had to get someone somewhere to play it. Sure, a band could play some small venues and keep growing their fanbase, but to really hit it big, you needed radio play (or MTV, but that requires a music video and all those extra costs, too). If people actually wanted to buy your album, you would have make physical copies of it and get large quantities them to stores.

What's changed?

Almost everything. The cost of production is much lower. A band can get high quality recording equipment to use in the garage. Manufacturing is possible because making mp3s costs basically nothing and no one even buys CDs anymore. Furthermore, distribution is possible, because you could create a website or myspace page and offer downloads or shipping. Even iTunes might let some indie bands on there for a cut of the sales (basically the strategy they are using for iPhone apps). During my interview, I made the case that big record labels are losing a major portion of the value proposition they bring to musicians, big and small. Musicians might soon be confronted by the possibility that signing with a label might cost them more than its worth. Basically, giving the label its customary cut may not be as profitable as going it alone. Youtube videos and myspace pages can and are being used successfully to reach and interact with fans.

So, what do the labels have to offer?

Marketing. In the most recent past this was making big acts into huge acts. Going forward, how can they keep provide this value for the long tail of indie bands? I don't think they can, and I think we'll see a lot more small acts doing it on their own. Furthermore, as radio stations become less relevant, getting played is less important and another leg of the labels' value proposition is broken. The guy from WMG did not agree with my view. He seemed more concerned with wringing the last few pennies out of the last Snoop track by selling ring tones and putting music in video games. It seems to me that they were content to negotiate a royalty stream on their existing library (which is fine, but I think shortsighted).

If I was a record label, I would focus on my pipeline of new acts. When I interviewed with WMG, I made the additional point that the success of a record label is not tied to its own brand. When listeners want to hear a song, they aren't looking for the newest album produced by WMG. They're looking for acts that they like. What if WMG became really good at helping me find music that I would like? Pandora and last.fm already do a great job, so they might be too far behind already. But, presumably, the record labels have an expertise in A&R that could be leveraged (to borrow an obnoxious consulting term) to build a great channel for the average joe to discover new and exciting acts. There is already a ton of music out there that I've never heard or even heard about. And if production and distribution only get cheaper in the future, there will probably be even more music to never hear.

Isn't there some kind of value in the label as a brand? Couldn't the expertise in A&R be one of its core strengths? Maybe all of the value add is behind the scenes, and there will never be value in that brand to consumers, but the same was probably said about the chips in your computer, until Intel came along with the Intel Inside campaign.

What if there was a connection between me and the WMG brand similar to what I have with, for example, Zappos.com. I trust that if I get shoes from Zappos that don't fit, they'll replace it or refund my money. Well, why can't a record label build the same level of trust with its customers as a random website selling shoes? I see some difficulties. For example, the relationship is really between artist and listener. However, the label could help foster the first interaction between artist and listener. Like a music matchmaker setting you up on blind dates with music. The lawsuits also probably aren't helping.

So, where do we go from here? What's the future of music?

Fred Wilson, by all accounts a smart guy, thinks that we'll have completely on-demand music, with very few people actually interested in even downloading the tracks. Not only are people going to stop buying the physical CDs, they're going to stop downloading songs! He thinks the web services that provide the tracks will be ad supported, like today's radio stations. Or else, people will pay a penny each time the listen to a track on-demand. I think one of those (or both) will happen (though I don't see us abandoning our files entirely for ad supported music). This basically makes us all like the patrons of the arts from Beethoven's days, although we'll pay after the creation happens, rather than commissioning a symphony in C.

Am I right?

I don't know for sure and it's still too early to tell. However, In the two years since I interviewed with WMG, Radiohead and Trent Reznor have left labels to sell (or give away) their music on their own, both ventures seem to be successful (though Trent may not have felt it at first). Plus, I wouldn't want to have owned this stock.