Nov 17

Maybe I’ve been forever tainted by my business leanings and selling out to The Man has made me unable to sympathize with those trying to fight “him,” but I take issues with so-called pirates.   Removing the whole business argument from the scenario, I’d liken the realization of piracy’s ill effects to common sense.  I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument from my peers convincing me that paying for media is fundamentally wrong and stealing it is simply the only way to go.  Having been a part of the whole Napster craze (now some 10 years ago, shockingly enough), I’m able to see both sides of the argument fairly lucidly.  I certainly wouldn’t call it atonement, but shortly after the collapse of Napster I changed my ways and have legitimately purchased my media (CD’s and DVD’s, primarily) ever since.

Napster Fail

Fail.

Perhaps much to the chagrin of those tasking themselves with fighting the DMCA, my reasons for “going legit’” were largely fear-based, but also had at least something to do with morals.  However empty the threats may have been, I had little interest in facing any legal repercussions for something as insignificant as downloading music.  Interestingly enough, though, my reasons for avoiding piracy have become more logical and less visceral in nature.  Surely, six years of business school played a part in helping me realize the folly of my ways, but in reality, I think I was simply able to mature and generate a more informed picture of how the world works.

Chalk it up to childhood naivety if you like, but the intricacies of piracy either didn’t occur to or seemingly effect me back then.  Now that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m equating piracy to childish ignorance (I don’t know, maybe I am), but rather that this was the evolution my personal outlook had taken.  Currently, I have the ability to look at the bigger picture, realizing that it’s not as simple and insignificant as downloading a single song or movie and sticking it to those Fascist record companies in the process.  There are many finer detail that go into the economy of creative works (referring to music and film specifically).  Judging from anecdotal evidence, many people take the “my vote doesn’t count” approach and see their individual piracy as a proverbial drop in the bucket.

Today, rather than use any moral guidelines to drive my decision making, I operate under more of a merit-based system.   If there is a particular artist that I happen to like, I purchase their CD as a sign of support.   Likewise, if I like a particular actor or director or actor, I’ll purchase their film as a sort of thank-you for creating content of interest to me.   I’ve heard the argument that the revenue from these purchases goes not to the talent, but rather to the monolithic record and production companies.   My only response to that is that these people obviously have no concept of supply and demand and its effect on the contractual talent market.   The sales of a given artist’s CD or movie will affect their ability to receive a more or less lucrative contract in the future (I’d compare it to the MLB free agent market, but I digress).  It’s as simple as that.

I find it hard to believe those taking part in media piracy can create this illusion of righteousness, bringing down the machine.  Take, for example, the upcoming major motion picture release of Jame’s Cameron’s Avatar.  Surely, there will be an effort to pirate this movie almost immediately, and presumably for some, it will be seen as counter-culture act of defiance.  The CG-heavy movie, while being of little interest to me, cost upward of half a billion dollars to create.  Now how do the pirates (likely square within the demographic interested in this movie) expect such epic films to continue to be produced if not for the revenue needed to keep film companies running?  Irrespective of the thousands of employees who also depend on that money for their pay, the argument can be boiled down to the inevitable collapse of the major motion picture.

Of course, this whole issue is wrapped up in the legal implications of piracy and copyrighted materials.  The MPAA makes no qualms about its willingness to bring alleged criminals to justice (or the ability for law enforcers to do so).  There now comes a time, however, when those who pirate must realize that they can either accept the current business model of the recording and film industries or attempt to subvert and hope a new one emerges.  Certainly, industries have undergone radical changes in the past only to find success and profit, such as a number of radio personalities who were forced to adapt to the advent of television.  It now remains to be seen whether these industries can survive on currently existing revenue streams (such as musicians and touring), create entirely new revenue streams, or perish.

These same legal (and potentially ethical) implications are relevant when considered my proposed website.  With such a heavy emphasis on user commentary and contribution, the matters of copyright and user privacy certainly come into play.  In the event of copyrighted material uploaded by users, the site administrators would inevitably make use of a robust terms of use policy as well as the safe harbor provision.  In terms of privacy, there would be redundant assurances throughout the site that the commentary and contributions of users would remain their own, as well as the user information provided upon registration.  With little use for the information of individual users, this would pose little threat to the viability of the website.


Nov 4

Ineffectual, cheesy real estate videos be damned.  There is No Cow Level and I think you should move there anyway…


Nov 4

Envisioning a website that brings people together through their shared love of music (regardless of background) makes it a difficult task to differentiate between users. I can see the usage habits and navigational methods differing from user to user, but when the end goal is to encourage users to interact with each other irrespective of motivation, my hope would be for each scenario to result in the same end. With that in mind, the ideal state of the website would encourage all users to arrive at the same conclusions even after starting from different origins and taking different paths. Creating several different scenarios, there are distinct user habits that link them to one another.

The first assumption dealing with a socially-based website’s user base would be that it fits a certain demographic.  The given demographic would change according to the content of the site of course, but using Facebook as an example, it would be safe to say that, at least today, the majority of users are youths (and indeed, roughly two thirds of Facebook’s users fall within the 18 – 34 set).  The question regarding Facebook is whether its users skew toward youth because of the content or because of some overarching technologically proficiency generally found in today’s youth.  Well, it seems that users have found that Facebook’s structure is versatile enough that it can fit any demographic (as evidenced by the three-fold increase in users 35 – 54).

Was it that Bad?

With this information in mind, I would think that my website’s design would be versatile not only in its structure, but in its content.  Rather than intentionally providing widely appealing content as some websites attempt to do, mine would achieve the effect organically, naturally dividing the users by their taste in music and the corresponding generation to which they belong.  In this sense, there could be an overall divide of the users by the music of different generations with each bleeding slightly into the next according to their place in their respective generation.  A user having grown up on disco and a user having a preference for punk rock, for example, might find a common interest in ’80’s music.

It is along these generational lines that I think users would be divided.  What seems to be a fairly evident example would be the user habits of those 18 – 34 (if one can generalize into demographic age boundaries such as these).  With behaviour similar to that of Facebook, these users would find most interest in sharing with their friends.  Their browsing habits would likely be driven by what their friends are listening to and to what they have contributed commentary.  Sticking within a certain band of their preferences, they would hesitantly be drawn to other music based on the recommendations of their friends, simultaneously providing the same experience for others.

Where the users might differentiate, I think, is in the older set.  Presumably, most older users would think back to their youth (when musical preference is generally set for life) and view the likes of Led Zeppelin or The Beatles.  This would likely drive the users more towards conversation with fellow users geared toward reminiscing than the sharing of new music.  They might be more interested in posting a particular show they attended decades ago and discussing it with fellow attendees rather than discussing am upcoming show.  A general trend might show that younger users are more interested in looking to the future while older users prefer remembering the past (both valid uses of the same content).

Generally, I think that each set would arrive at the same content in different ways.  Younger users would likely be quite haphazard in their navigation, perhaps viewing their friends’ information first, then maybe skipping around to a number of different bands that they like, then viewing the upcoming concerts in their area.  Older user, in contrast, would probably be more pointed in their navigation, determining exactly what they are looking for and either searching for it or navigating straight there.  With the two disparate habits in mind, it would be the task of the website to allow for each approach with the same ease and effectiveness.

An effectual design being key to having versatile usability, the site would have to be captivating enough to compete with other sites, but usable enough to retain users once they join.  Finding the right balance between evoking a visceral reaction from users and avoiding their frustration would be no easy task.  More often than not, you’ll find designers avoiding the whole fence-riding issue and simply stick with one side or the other.  In my opinion though, music already has the capability to generate visceral reactions on its own, and in this instance, the content would act as the captivating component of the website, leaving the site architecture to slip gracefully into the background.  After all, captivating designs made for the sake of captivation are not always the biggest successes: