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Posts from the ‘A series of tubes’ Category

Unintended consequences of technology

photo by clemson

What exactly are you getting with eBay?
- photo credit: clemson @ flickr

The problem with not blogging in a while (I had the worst flu of my life (in no way pork/swine/H1N1 related)) is the increasing pressure that when you come back you must write something of importance. I have no idea why this is, because if the actual act of blogging has taught me anything it’s that it tends to work best when I just throw things at the wall… (case in point that if my writing on copyright issues was nearly as popular as writing on how to get NHL game radio on iphones, I’d be a “noted media analyst” or something… that’s a metric-based title, right?).

So here’s something trivial – but utterly fascinating (I know this to be true because both times I’ve brought this up in conversation some stranger has butted into the conversation – apologized for overhearing – and asked for more information on specifics). Your mileage may vary.

Forging Ahead is Charles Stanish’s great article for the journal “Archaeology” which details how eBay has actually ruined the market for looted antiquities (and depressed the market for actual antiquities) by flooding the world with forgeries. It’s a fascinating read into how the digital age is having unintended consequences on very, very, disparate industries. Who’d have thought forgeries could protect against looting? Even more interesting is the extrapolations of how the lives of the (often poor, often local) individuals previously driven to antique looting are much improved through forgery instead (the short version is that much more money is kept at the grass roots level in trading in forgeries, as opposed to the comparative high risk and low return of smuggling).

I’ve been thinking about aspects of this a lot lately – not forgery, but unintended industry change brought on by the maturing internet – likely because of the recent (excellent) bi-annual Toronto Comic Art Festival. This is partly because I got the chance to meet a number of creators whom I adore, but whose work is also so “niche” that they likely wouldn’t have had a sustainable audience for their work even a few years ago. It’s also partly because of a chance encounter with someone from the comics field who I’ve never been able to thank properly for completely changing my approach to film (More on that another day).

(I have no idea who to H/T for directing me to the Stanish article – most likely one of those little “niche” publications Wired / Ars / or Slashdot).

Do it right, or don’t do it at all (Associated Press, I’m looking at YOU)

Maybe the AP didn't save enough money on their car insurance.

Sorry – it’s been a busy week, but this one was too good to pass up. I got an invitation to internet-eavesdrop on a marketing conference presentation a few weeks ago that quickly devolved into “social media for corporate marketers”. The content wasn’t all that compelling (to be fair the presenters did a great job of re-tooling their session on the fly – clearly scrapping their prepared topics to cope with an audience that was less internet-savy than they’d expected). While most of the content afterwards wasn’t terribly interesting (what is “Twitter”? Should we be on “Twitter”? Why are our competitors on “Twitter”? How is “Twitter” different than “Myspace”… etc) they did do a good job of trying to hammer home the following key points:

  1. Being a social-media aware company does not mean you have to involve yourself in all aspects of social media.
  2. If you are going to work in the social media space you need to make sure your organization clearly understands what you are doing and why.
  3. You can not just pump press-releases out over social media outlets and expect positive results – you have to create compelling content for your target audience
  4. Badly implementing a social media presence is worse than not having one

A prime example of how points 2 and 4 can backfire is this latest story about how the Associated Press doesn’t seem to understand how it’s own YouTube channel works. I kind-of-sort-of commented on this particular post of Ricky Gervais and Elmo outtakes how bizarre it was that the Associated Press (a company known for sabre-rattling threats to on-line sites like Google (while at the same time accepting money from Google as a news content provider) had, of all things, a YouTube channel.

Clearly I’m not the only one whose head was blown by this dichotomy. The coles-notes version of the story is that Frank Strovel, an employee of Texas country radio station WTNQ ended up in a surreal discussion with the AP after he recieved a cease and desist letter for embedding AP YouTube content on the station’s website. The AP rep seemed flummoxed that such a channel existed, that embedding was clearly allowed and encouraged by the channel (it’s trivial to disable embedding codes with YouTube if the content provider wishes), and even that WTNQ was a AP affiliate to begin with.

Strovel: And we’re an A.P. affiliate for crying out loud! I stumped him on that one. . . . What is really shocking is that they were shocked that they’ve got a YouTube channel that people are embedding on their Websites. He seemed shocked by that. ‘Oh, I am going to have to look into that” is what he told me.

So here we have a textbook example of how not having the whole company in the loop is problematic. While the AP’s social media channel was generating legitimate goodwill (that Elmo/Gervais video was great, and lead to me alone having tonnes of “Wow, the AP’s starting to get the hang of what works on the internet” conversations) – they now have this – a rapidly mounting amount of mainstream press about how they clearly don’t have the foggiest clue what they’re doing. Not to mention slashdot, CNet and of course YouTube itself chiming in. Any building goodwill is forgotten and, again, the AP looks like an anacronysm desperately trying to protect a business model that has been outdated for much of the decade. They would have been better off having done nothing in the first place (not that would have changed the business model reality).

Take a lesson from your mothers people – any job worth doing, has to be done right… otherwise you can come off looking mighty silly. Especially in the social/new media space where reputation is the only currency of any import.

And we’re back – with something cool.

I’m back from television-shooting purgatory (mostly) in one piece. Shooting at the CBC is always fascinating, last week (given the unusual surrounding circumstances) especially so.

An unexpected benefit of dropping off the map for a few days, I missed April 1st (a.k.a. “just lie about stuff on the internet day”) one of my most hated holidays (as someone who loves the fine craft of satire, pranks, and the ilk… an entire day of people mistaking “lying” for “satire” irks). Denis McGrath gets how it should be done. Glenn Hauman gets how it should be done (although I’m not sure his commentors do). 1957 BBC Writers got how it should be done. 99% of the internet? Doesn’t.

Not the point, the point (he said by way of wild segue) is that I get to welcome you back with this truly great bit of poster design:

the girlfriend experience

Soderbergh has had some great posters (and I agree with Sean Witzke that the poster for The Limey was a standout) but this? All kinds of fantastic, on all kinds of levels.

So there, back on a high note… what have you all been up to for the last couple of weeks?

(H/T to Sean Witzke via the always beaucoup Kevin Church)

Mental Sorbet: Ricky Gervais and Elmo

That’s a lot of heavy depressing media reading for one week isn’t it? So, like a fine sorbet for your weekend, here’s Ricky Gervais and Elmo utterly losing their minds

(h/t to the Associated Press… because this is the Internet… and the Internet is becoming increasingly schizophrenic).

Have you ever wondered what a trillion dollars looks like?


The phrase gets bandied about a lot but I think this CGI mock-up of a trillion dollars (stacked on pallets in a warehouse) blew. my. mind.

(h/t Gizmodo)

CTF Snap Judgement

There was a big announcement by heritage minister James Moore this week about “streamlining the Canadian Television Fund and Canadian New Media Fund into a new “super-fund” in 2010.

I haven’t posted on it, as I haven’t had a lot of time to dig into the details, but my “snap judgement” is that the move is problematic (to say the least) on a number of fronts.

At it’s core, I think the concept of streamlining and consolodating Canada’s media and entertainment sector funding is not necesarrily a bad idea, but I think this move opens a number of really troubling areas:

1) The jury is out on how exactly the “smaller independant” board will be constituted, but it seems safe at this time that broadcasters will have a much larger voice in that board, which is almost entirely the opposite of what those lobbying for an “independant” board wanted, for obvious reasons.

2) Opening the fund up to broadcaster-owned producers is a really sticky wicket. I don’t mean this to be rude, or a muckraker, or impugn the excellent work done by many of my friends and co-workers – but the goal of a large segment of broadcaster owned production is to fill as many content hours as cheaply as possible. Developing programming from that goal is almost diametrically at odds with what the fund was created to do, which was foster high quality content with large economic impact, high visibility, and export potential. Just the increase in volume alone is troubling givin the vast oversubscription to the old CTF.

and the big one

3) From the article: “The fund will favour projects produced in high-definition and require applicants to design their projects across a minimum of two distribution platforms, including television.”


I will get into this at length another day but the increase in popularity of “new media”, and the rise of “digital convergence” does not mean that you re-purpose material across several platforms. If we have learned anything about the changing media landscape in the past decade it’s that consumers consume different types of material in different ways across platforms. The material I watch on my iPod (and how and when I watch it) is not the same as the material I watch on my tv, nor in a movie theatre, nor on my computer. When you require producers to attempt to leverage their productions across multiple platforms, you are nearly guaranteeing that they will fail in one (and possibly both) of them. Requiring that applicants to a new media fund also be working their project in film or television, makes about as much sense as requiring applicants to a book publishing fund to have recorded a hit single, or applicants to an arts grant being able to run a 4-minute mile. Tying everything together does not foster excellence anywhere – it makes it more likely that projects will fail, and it mandates mediocrity (and underperformance) across the board.

ISP’s, and the art of the double-sided CRTC arguments

Classic ad for Corbin suits found via Styleforum

I got an e-mail today referring to this article about Rogers and Shaw’s CRTC presentations. In specific the e-mail asked whether the quote, “ISPs are pipes, not broadcasters,” by Ken Engelhart, Rogers’ head of regulatory affairs – meant that ISP’s were conceding that net neutrality was, in fact, the preferred practise for ISP’s in this country.

I think there’s two important things to remember here:

1. Everything being said at the current CRTC hearings has been in respect to the issue of promoting Canadian new media content. In particular the CRTC is investigating whether (amongst other things) an ISP levy should be used to encourage Canadian new media growth the same way Canadian broadcasters pay a levy to go into a fund to support the production of Canadian television, or radio stations pay into a fund to support the production of Canadian music. In this theatre the ISP’s absolutely don’t want to be seen as “broadcasters” because they then have a president obligation to promote the development of Canadian content – it’s in their advantage to play the “we’re just a utility” card.

2. “But Brad” you ask, “how can they then turn around in several days, at the upcoming Net Neutrality hearings, and argue the exact opposite?” The important thing to remember in that, epxected, outcome is that Bell’s argument for traffic manipulation in that case is to “protect the network”. It’s not necessarily that the ISP’s want prioritize some content over others – they’re arguing that the strain on their networks is significantly more than capacity and they must have the right to defend it. It’s mere coincidence that the only tool they have to do that, is to prioritize some content over others.

Even if their logic was 100% verifiable fact (and I’ve pointed out elsewhere in my posts about these arguments that there’s much bigger network issues than BitTorrent traffic, or the so-called “high volume users”) my core argument has been that it doesn’t matter what the reasoning is. The moment you allow any traffic prejudice for any reason, the fight is lost, because you’ll never have network transparency again. And that’s simply too much power to hand over to anyone, no matter how noble their rationale is (or isn’t). “Net Neutrality” is a bubble – once it’s punctured it can’t be reconstructed. You can’t just violate it “to protect network integrity” and assume that it will stand for content priority, or end-user access, or equal access against ISP-affiliated services – it really is an all or nothing deal.

Why the scans_daily fracas isn’t an argument

Angry Mob by Colin Purrington

No, I’m not going to post at any length about scans_daily getting shut down on livejournal. I’m not even linking to anyone else’s recaps, summaries, opinions, editorials, or interpretive dances – because I find almost everything on this event ridiculous across the board (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky and move on… nothing to see here). One “meta-camp” is arguing that s_d blatantly violated copyright (or, if they’re charitable, that most s_d users misunderstand both the spirit and letter of “fair use”). The other camp responds with their stringent beleif that the major comic publishers have neither any kind of electronic distribution roadmap, nor marketing strategy to target young digitally-savvy readers.

This is not really a philosophical argument for the decades since the, obvious, conclusion is that both sides are absolutely correct and neither is actually “arguing” with the other.

It’s like trying to determine the relative merits of “gravity is a strong physical force” vs. “geese are capable of long-distance flight”. Both sides are (at the core of their fiery hyperbolic vitriol) verifiable fact, and just because both happen to be angry with each other that doesn’t magically bring a correlation between their statements into existence. Everything else is just wasted hot air, and the usual internet flotsam and jetsam – and lord knows we don’t have enough of that already.