3 years agoDecember 15, 2010
So I think it’s time for this blog to take a rest again… I’ve been working on a new project and it’s taking up all my attention. Actually, it was indirectly inspired by my posts here: the future of record labels + web design + paying for music = Take a wild guess what I’m up to!
You can follow the new project at:
See you over there!
3 years agoMay 3, 2010
This past week, I did something that I haven’t done for a while: I bought music.
And I was amazed by how good it felt.
I would imagine that a good number of people get their music from free sources. You can use YouTube as a jukebox, listen to online radio stations, stream tracks from MySpace. Thanks to the Internet there’s a lot of music out there, and a lot of ways not to pay for it.
So much so that I had forgotten what it felt like to actually buy a digital album. And so, before I knew what hit me, I had bought three: one from iTunes, one from Bandcamp, and one from a stand-alone webshop.
Each site made it quite easy for me to spend my money - with iTunes the easiest, thanks to my saved credit card information, and Bandcamp following a close second with PayPal. All three downloads arrived quickly and without problems. The music was on my iPod a few minutes afterward.
A painless process - far less of an ordeal than buying a CD, importing it into iTunes, and putting it on the shelf, never to be touched again. And even though the whole thing felt somewhat intangible, it felt good. Really good.
Why? Because I knew my money was going to the artists. They’re all people I know and want to support. Instead of enduring the subtle guilt of listening to their music for free, I am now partially responsible for their income for the year. I’ve bought in.
That connection - that general sense of “I helped out” - is worth $30 to me. And it’s what musicians and online shops have to foster. At the very least, it has to be incredibly easy to spend the money and just as easy to download the album. But more than that, I need to feel that connection through liner notes and pictures bundled with the download; a thank-you note after the sale; a mutual sense of trust.
And much more than iTunes or the webshop, that’s what Bandcamp nailed. Not only was I allowed to stream the entire album for free - which showed the musician’s respect for my ability to pirate the album elsewhere if I so chose - but I was given the option to pay more than the asking price. So instead of paying $10, I typed in $14 and considered the rest a donation. Ironically, spending that extra $4 made me feel better than if I hadn’t. Then, after I had received my download, I got an (automated, but who cares?) email from the artist acknowledging my support.
That artist-consumer connection is what Bandcamp got right, and if paid digital downloads are going to thrive, a respect for that relationship is how it will happen.
3 years agoApril 7, 2010
Simplicity, Steve Jobs, and the iPad
This was a big question for a while: Why isn’t Steve Jobs including a video camera and multitasking in the initial iPad?
A few months ago, when we (consumers) heard about that, we were shocked because we assumed an advanced computing product like the iPad would contain such straightforward and accepted technology.
We didn’t yet grasp what Steve Jobs is trying to do with this product.
Now, I think we do. The more iPad reviews I read, the more it seems that people have sensed that Jobs is attempting to create a massive paradigm shift in computing, similar in scale to the jump from text- to mouse-based input.
We didn’t always recognize the iPad’s importance. Upon its unveiling, we were impressed but not shocked - we thought we were just seeing a bigger iPhone.
We were right and wrong. Right because the iPad is essentially a bigger iPhone, and wrong because it’s something more.
The iPhone now seems to be just a warmup, a way for Jobs to get us accustomed to a little media window that feeds us all the information we need. Now, that window is more immersive, both because it’s larger and also because we no longer take special notice of the interface, which we’ve been using on the iPhone for years. Now we just see the media.
That’s the key. That core mission - to create a portable media consumption device - is why Steve Jobs didn’t include multitasking and a camera. I have no doubt that someday he will. But for now, this is why he released a product which could even be called a stripped-down iPhone: No phone, just media. He wants to finish the job he started with the iPhone, getting us completely accustomed to the idea of a little media window - and this time, he’s hammering home his point as directly as he can.
And so once we’ve warmed to the concept on its most fundamental level, once we’re used to consuming our media on the iPad - once we’ve gone all the way through a complete paradigm shift - then he’ll introduce the bells and whistles.
Yep, Steve Jobs knows exactly what he’s doing, and his work on the iPad is a perfect example of how to use simplicity to create change.
3 years agoApril 4, 2010
Making the web more user-friendly
These days on the web, it seems like many sites have settled on the same underlying structure: A title and a directory of pages - Home, About, Contact, etc.
It’s simple, it makes sense, and it works in the same way that a book’s table of contents does - as a linear description of what the website contains. A cover page, followed by content. But as the Internet evolves, so should our interactions with it.
Window dressing isn’t enough: rather than merely adding motion to the directory - for example, if you click on “About,” and the page slides onto the screen - we should experiment with a more fundamental reimagining of website design.
I think it’s time to move past the idea of separate “pages” and toward a unified concept of “page.” The website should be a single, fluid entity. A list of links? No, we’re ready for something more subtle. By now, with years of internet navigation under our belts, we’re savvy enough to intuitively guess where certain content is. We no longer need a link that says “Home” to find our way back to the home page. Instead, we know to click on the site logo. We’re past wondering where to find the latest updates; we immediately click on the Twitter icon.
The future is all about natural integration. If I’m looking at a website, I’d rather not think about where to go. It should be a seamless experience that allows me to follow my curiosity. Right now, I get frustrated when I have to go through rabbit holes of page-after-page links. I wonder how I’ll get back out, or even to where I was a few pages ago. If usability was the goal, I shouldn’t have to be constantly retracing my steps, always conscious of my place in the overall system just to be able to proceed.
So what’s the solution? Is there a way to get rid of the “main menu” directory and the pages within pages?
Easy. Don’t have a main menu in the first place. Don’t have pages.
Instead, have all of a website’s information located within one single page - or, more accurately, one large ecosystem which is the direct backdrop for anything that happens on the site. Use visual cues, logical pathways, and contextual pop-out boxes. The goal is to get rid of the rabbit hole effect, which means no more menus within menus. We should always be within one degree of any other piece of information on the site.
Is this possible? Even though I’m not sure exactly how, I think it is.
As the internet merges increasingly with our day-to-day reality, navigating a website should be like moving through the world: it should be an intuitive experience.
3 years agoMarch 27, 2010
Follow up on 3D
Earlier today, Nintendo announced its next portable gaming platform - the 3DS.
Although it hasn’t been confirmed yet, it could use the same 3D-without-the-glasses technology (using a built-in camera to track the position of your head) that I mentioned a few posts ago. This video shows a glimpse of what it might be like.
I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this tech in the future. Nobody wants to wear 3D glasses. They’re uncomfortable and yet another thing to carry around. My bet is that this head-tracking tech will start showing up everywhere. It has a few serious disadvantages compared to the glasses - for example, you’re essentially looking through a window instead of surrounded by your environment - but ease of use should be the deciding factor.
To think we were playing Mario in black-and-white (more like green and gray) only a few years ago…
3 years agoMarch 23, 2010
The Recognizers and the American Dream
There’s a moment in Hoop Dreams, a fantastic basketball documentary from 1994, in which a group of sportscasters is sitting around a table discussing the top up-and-coming prospects in Chicago, and they mention a young player named William Gates.
Usually, if we were watching this kind of television show, we wouldn’t take special notice of such a mention. But in this case, we’ve followed William’s progress as he grows up in one of Chicago’s most dangerous housing projects, beats the odds to enroll at state basketball power St. Joseph’s, and develops into one of the nation’s top high school prospects. For the entire documentary we’ve seen things from William’s perspective - someone who believes that basketball stardom is his way to escape a life of danger and poverty. But in the brief moment with the sportscasters, we glimpse their perspective - as commentators, deciders, recognizers, who know nothing about this kid’s life except his skills on the basketball court.
The jarring contrast between those two perspectives, neither of which was aware of the other, got me thinking: Who are the recognizers, for lack of a better term? What is their role? And how have they changed as a result of the internet?
It’s pretty clear that the recognizers are people in positions of relative power and influence. People who are well-connected in the communications network. People whose opinions carry weight, perhaps because they have expertise in a field or merely because of the outlet through which they communicate (say, the New York Times over a local paper).
There’s certainly a lot of responsibility involved. By mentioning one person over another, the recognizers can change lives. For example, by mentioning William, they give him exposure and affirmation, which may have led to more college scholarship offers and a higher chance of escaping the ghetto. I doubt the recognizers are always aware of this moral element. Maybe they should be. Or, they might argue, such concerns would interfere with their role to recognize the best athlete, the most talented new band, the most promising young writer.
Over the last decade, the setting for these concerns has changed. As the print and television media has increasingly moved online, so have the recognizers.
But now it’s a more democratic field. Power is based on page views. It doesn’t matter - at least, not quite as much as it once did - who has been there the longest, who has the most industry connections, and who has the best distribution network. Now it’s wide open.
As a result, the recognizers are a more varied group. Blogs, forums, online newspapers, online magazines, social networks. And in this new landscape with fewer barriers to entry, it’s much more realistic for a random person to aspire to eventually becoming a recognizer, someone with power and influence.
That classic journey - from nobody to somebody - has been around as long as mankind.
Hoop Dreams takes us right through a life-or-death version of it, showing us the power of following our aspirations, and that’s how a basketball documentary can turn into something indescribably more.
3 years agoMarch 22, 2010
3 years agoMarch 21, 2010
3 years agoMarch 20, 2010
What the hell is going on in that “Telephone” video?
Given that over 17 million people have watched Lady Gaga’s new music video on Youtube in its first 5 days, it’s clearly spreading fast.
Because it’s seriously weird - a nonstop visual grab bag of subliminal imagery and product placements, by turns unexpected, hilarious, disturbing, insensitive, tacky, and appalling. And, dare I say, brilliant?
I’ve watched it a few times now and I’m still overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mixed messages that gets thrown onto the screen. Some of the details are integral to the video’s theme: the lesbian prison guards, the catfight, the telephone hat in the kitchen. Still, many other details - the cigarette sunglasses, the tacky and out-of-place plug for a dating website, the subtitles in the restaurant - seem like throwaways.
But then so do a lot of the aesthetic choices that Lady Gaga (or her minders) make. That’s part of her appeal. She works hard to give the impression that she marches to her own drummer, doing things that seem incongruous or nonsensical. Moreover, in doing these things, she is quite open about her desire to push the envelope of the commercial star-making process.
That’s what makes her popularity so interesting, and such a self-perpetuating cycle: Lady Gaga’s music and videos are, by her own admission, performance art existing in some relationship to actual art. The costumes are intentionally ridiculous. The phone hat? The fire-shooting bra? Brilliantly ridiculous. On the other hand, the music is slick, catchy, and well-written for the genre. So people don’t know what to think. They’re curious. They buy more Lady Gaga.
She’s easy to hate, as an unashamedly ambitious rich girl from New York who isn’t even that hot. But the music is compelling and the visuals are compelling. And she’s honest about what she’s doing: toying with the fame-making process. It’s funny. What’s not quite as funny is that in the meantime she’s making a huge profit off our interest in her. Which, says my inner cynic, is exactly what she’s wanted all along.
Good for her, but it doesn’t feel great to be a dupe.