A subscriber’s life

A few years back, the idea of having all your music in your pocket was revolutionary. This was the game-changing thought behind the iPod, of course. But at the time, it was not a zero sum game. You’d also have everything on CD, and possibly vinyl. Maybe tape. For a few weeks in 1995, you might also have it on mini disc, DAT or god knows what.

The record labels loved the idea of selling you the same music over and over again, remastered, remixed, repackaged with a couple of dodgy extra tracks, and perhaps – as Morrissey had it – a tacky badge.

And for music fans back then there was more to the physical item than the means of playing the track. In this CNET piece, Eric Carson says you can rip his CD collection from his cold, dead hands. But even reading the article inspires a sort of mild sorrow for whoever has to share Mr Carson’s house.

Last week, I shipped the last of my – once extensive – CD collection to the highest (not very high) eBay bidder. Earlier in the week, I took the copious remainder of the collection of CDs and DVDs that just wouldn’t sell down to a charity shop on Walworth Road. It wasn’t a difficult decision, they’d been in my attic for a decade already. A friend from a nicer part of town tells me his charity shops won’t even take shiny discs any more. No one wants them.

I have to tell you, it didn’t make me feel sad. Not at all. It made feel liberated. Shedding physical possessions, reducing the amount you’d have to load into the transit van if you ever moved again, just feels good. A bit like acquiring them did in the first place, when building a collection was not a curse.

A few photos, some old letters, a phone, some junk in a box, clothes, furniture and a car. Now, everything else can be uploaded to One Drive. But in truth most doesn’t have to be, because it’s on YouTube, or iTunes or music match or some other service.

Our children will never know of the magic madness of jewel cases, gatefolds, CD cleaning spray, scratches, reeling the tape back into a C-90. And in some ways they’re a little poorer for it. But the freedom of not having to cart all this stuff around, that’s a decent swap.

Carson tells us that 51m Americans subscribe to a music streaming service. That’s 1 in 6.

In the same week, Microsoft announced the end of their ebook service. As the BBC points out, when the service closes, any books you bought there vanish. This is a bit like the argument against putting your money in the bank – much better to store it under your mattress – in case the banks go bust. Or in this case, have everything printed on paper and use it to line the walls of your house, in case one of the world’s largest companies bites the dust.

If Amazon goes under, I will loose 100s of books on Kindle. But I’ll just buy them again from someone else if I ever need them. The same with the music and the films. A subscriber’s life may feel more expensive, less secure but when you know every piece of content is a few clicks away, who cares who owns it?

Third time lucky

3.0

Amelia’s amusing analysis of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 came coincidentally on the same day that I was at a conference thingy and had been having exactly that discussion: what was 2.0 and how much of it was pure marketing sentiment. I couldn’t disagree more. I think 2.0 is a radical shift in society. It is, as Amelia says the shift from an internet of geeks and possibility to an internet of the mass market and reality.

What, if anything, 3.0 means is another matter. Clearly there is a quasi-technical meaning being discussed (as on the Wikipedia page), but surely we should be concerning ourselves instead with the social impact of these changes.

  • Expectations about data integration will go through the roof. Just as information became ubiquitous in 2.0, the joining and manipulation of data will become so now. Brands will have to respond to this. Expect some powerful movements in traditionally data orientated services, particularly FS.
  • The ladder of involvement will continue, with a new rung being added above ‘blogger’ or ‘publisher’ for ‘providers of utility’
  • Concepts of enterprises and the borders of corporations will continue to be challenged

Amazon and Google (and to a certain extent, Microsoft) have clearly started their engines to take advantage of this next generation with app development, elastic computing, utility computing and so on the subject of much debate this week.

There’s a powerful version of inverted marketing too (where consumers are rewarded for hand-raising) which feels like the inevitable consequence of abstracting and linking data.

How will it impact your brand?

Not a lot to Ask

After all the nonsense of Information Revolution, it’s great to see Ask.com doing some actually worthwhile stuff to try and improve their search engine.

A lot of the front-end changes may owe a fair amount to the big G and emerging trends in the marketplace (including “suggests” style prompting) but there’s some nice new stuff in their too. They’ve managed to do some really nice skins, as well as some quite useful little Ajax interfaces:

Ask - skins

And in terms of the results page, some very neat innovations for structured results which are a pretty major improvement over Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. See the search below for “Neil Finn” which has brought up relevant music, image and wikipedia structured listings, as well as having found good relevant related searches:

Ask.com - structured search results for Neil Finn

This is the sort of thing they should have been talking about before – customer-value driven product benefit, not marketing nonsense. This might actually make one more person use their site.

The Bill and Steve show

Gates and Jobs (read the body language!)

When it comes to technology innovation, it’s interesting to hear some people still talk about a “five-year plan”. After all, YouTube went from zero to £1.65bn in 18 months. Google only lost their beta tag 7 years ago. Paradigms can change literally overnight.

In this fascinating interview, Jobs and Gates reveal that they’ve not got a clear view five years out, although they both broadly are expecting hardware to continue to evolve in a fairly linear way. Gates is sticking to his software-only stance (noting the exception of the X-box, the new and very exciting surface computing – although I’m not sure why that couldn’t be a pure software play for Microsoft – , a new meeting conference hardware called round table, and of course the ill-fated Zune).

While Jobs is clearly still in the hardware+software mode, he sees software as the driver, simply noting that he will continue to make the “nice boxes”. He sees the ipod’s dominance for example as a result of great software. And indeed the majority of the criticism of the Zune has been software related, and that certainly would seem to be the biggest barrier to adoption.

Both believe that users will continue to have multiple devices. Basically this means a laptop (or tablet), a mobile phone (or “post pc” device as Jobs calls it, pesumably to make the iPhone even more significant) and home entertainment equipment which will include what’s been done with media centre but will also, surely, extend to include ubiquitous computing device like the Surfaces product mentioned above.

As well as 3D visual interfaces, which have not yet lived up to their promise, Gates identified other changes in input method as big driver. In fact he talked about several different input methods – the multi-touch approach that Jeff Haan has been on about for years and appears in Surfaces and on the iPhone; what I would call passive video input – again on Surfaces, this is cameras which map how devices relate to each other (well worth watching the demo for that), and possibly in whatever this conference tool is to identify who’s speaking or presenting; and finally a general nod in the direction of natural language input.

Jobs was very tight lipped about innovation although dropped a few hints about improving .mac, most likely in some sort of 2.0, SNS kind of direction. Hugh MacLeod also spots a vieled comment from Gates about re-entering the internet space with renewed vigour from Gates. I’d guess he’s refering the Live Services platform but who knows, perhaps there’s something else about to be launched. I wonder if Hugh knows more than he’s letting on.

Both men seemed suprisingly oblivious to the threat posed by SaaS to their desktop operating systems, with both citing a mix of local applications with cloud services in support.

Interestingly, Jobs also argued that a turning point for Apple’s corporate strategy was when they realised that their success was not contingent on Microsoft’s failure, although his attempt to characterise the “Mac vs PC” advertising as not attacking Microsoft was rather unsuccessful.

Future of facebook

Rather than trying to predict new trends across the whole of the interweb, let’s take things one at a time and try and trend spot just what will happen on Facebook, the site which – within the agency echo-chamber at least – appears to be becoming a bit of a phenomenon. 

With the minor exception of their API privacy policy which is a mess as Antony points out, the extremely redundant message below, Facebook have done a very good job of delivering only useful features and extremely usable interfaces so what can we expect to see in the next 6-12 months?

You are now online message from Facebook

  1. A tie up with Last FM. That was easy, it’s trailed on the Last FM website. I think we can expect statuses to change depending on listening habbits although the sheer voume of Last FM current output could be a bit overwhelming.
  2. In-page instant messenger (linked to existing platforms such as Live services perhaps)
  3. A partnership with a phone service like Skype or Google Talk
  4. More Mobile. In the states, they’re already doing a really sophisticated mobile service by SMS. Their mobile version of the main platform is really good already but I’d expect closer integration and maybe even a download. In fact that could be the real killer app for mobile – the whole communications experience re-engineered around a social network. A facebook branded phone perhaps. Be interesting to see how the networks would take that on!

There must be more, I’m sure I’ve only just scraped the surface. Anyone from Facebook fancy leaking a few, or any other suggestions? Answers on a postcard please.

Size matters

Crowd 

The site that promised to measure the size of the internet has failed dismally. It failed for the same reason that “viral” campaigns fail on the internet and in the real world – because the message or motivation wasn’t strong enough. But this shouldn’t be suprising, messages that captivate everyone are incredibly rare. Advertising people should beware – great ideas are great but they have a limited audience. Event the greatest ideas are limited by this.

Incidentally, if the plan were working, maymapname would have 600,000,000,000,000 registrants (that’s actually more than the population of the world) but it actually has 18,000. That’s six thousand more than they had on day five. Well done to them for at least trying (if not that hair cut).

So who will carry  out this internet survey? Well facebook is looking like a likely candidate right now (some stats), or MySpace (with 10,000 times the membership of mmn (above)). Or why don’t we just take the Unique Users from Google.

This twitter is undergoing “planned maintenance”

Proving that despite their inability to cope with massive demand, Twitter still has a sense of humor (and following up from their page-not-found error), here’s twitter’s 500 (server error) page which has been available for all to see for much of the last 24 hours:

Twitter “planned maintenance”

Not a great advert for Ruby on Rails (on which the site is built) but convincing evidence that the site is indeed incredibly popular.