Dec 1

While visions of the new millenium being filled flying cars and teleporters have yet to be fulfilled, we’re still living in a present with a great many wonders created every day.  While we can seemingly never live up to the lofty aspirations of science fiction writers, we’re surrounded by technology constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible every day.  Take, for instance, the prevalence of smartphones.  As amazing as it may have seemed to be able to find answers to our questions almost immediately through the use of the internet, we’ve now dropped the requirement of the home PC, allowing practically instant gratification anywhere we happen to be.  What seems more amazing than this feat is the ease with which we take it for granted, along with many other innovations for which omnipresence has removed the luster they once held.

Slipping into everyones’ periphery so gradually, it seems as if GPS systems have had the same effect, providing what may have once seemed the impossible without the wonder.  With paper maps becoming increasingly antiquated and the concept of an atlas falling into obscurity, GPS systems have added to the growing list of functions once left to individuals.  The skill of knowing the best route or providing access to little-used shortcuts once being held in reverence has now fallen out of necessity and out of use.  Liken this, too, to the mental database once dedicated to the phone numbers of friends and family.  Today, one would be hard pressed to fin an individual who can recite more than a handful of phone numbers from memory, mostly relying upon their cell phone to handle the task.

This begs the question:  Have we equated progress to the ridding of once-held human tasks one by one?  The litany of examples is startling when given serious thought (we’ve lost the ability to cook a meal from scratch, for instance), but this is exactly the point.  Innovations and inventions of the day have created such a casual ease that we rarely if ever give serious consideration to their potential detriment.  Perhaps instead of constantly and consistently looking to the future, we should occasionally take a step back and realize what is in front of us in the present.  It seems as if Hollywood has taken notice…


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:


Oct 26

Rather than simply looking at my website concept at face value, I figured I would take a deeper look at what I would be trying to provide for users. An age old exercise in advertising, an example would be that the ready-made cookie company is not simply selling chilled cookie mix, but rather the feeling of family and togetherness that one experiences while baking cookies. Essentially, one is selling (or providing) to satisfy a person’s needs (in the aforementioned example, a need to feel closer to one’s friends/family) and not just a product or service. With this in mind, it becomes necessary to look deeper into what users want and expect and focus less on the micro scale of things, for websites being the detailed content itself.

Considering what I would want to provide creating a website such as this, I realized that essentially, my aim is to instill a sense of community back into music. In a sense devolving from what our musical tendencies have become, the website would remove users from the sheltered environment of their MP3 player and expose them to the interests and tastes of others. With the architecture of a social community built in, surely this process would start with one’s immediate circle of friends, but ideally would branch out from there through various degrees of separation and allow a greater number of people to appreciate a greater variety of music. Inevitably, my hope would be for the website to broaden the musical horizons of the users, if even incrementally.

While social interaction would certainly be the driving force behind the success of the website, its finest element would seek to spread the knowledge and appreciation of different styles and genres of music.  With multiple sites driving toward this end (if even unintentionally) I chose three that would likely most approximate the function:

  • Pandora – The ever-popular Pandora is the ultimate in automated music suggestion (done right, according to some).  Leveraging the Music Genome Project, the website creates what is essentially a customized “radio station,” playing songs similar in style or structure to an initially queried song or artist.  While an excellent service for discovering new music similar to one’s currently-held tastes, the site makes no effort to attempt to nudge users to try new music (which it is not expected to, clearly aiming to recommend similarities).
  • Last.fm – Taking a similar approach to Pandora, Last.fm uses a plug-in installed on the users computer to capture what songs are played.  Aggregrating this information over time, the website uses it to generate suggestions for, again, similar music.  The site also makes an attempt to compare the listening habits of users to other users and make suggestions for like-minded listeners.  The feature often dissuading new users is the presence the website takes on their computer with the plug-in.
  • TwonesStill in beta at this point, Twones takes more of a macro approach and attempts to take services like Pandora and catalog the user’s listening habits, online instead of off the desktop like Last.fm (incidentally, I was mispronouncing the name of the website until seeing their banner, “One.  Two.  Twones.”  In an age where branding is more important than ever, they might have considered a more definitive name).  The site takes a user’s preferences over a variety of online music streaming services and allows them to share with friends via Twitter or a number of other methods.

Where I see my site concept differentiating is the human element and the presence of a continuous, uninterrupted conversation.  As the makers of Pandora attest, people will be the best judges of musical worth for the foreseeable future (as opposed to complex algorithms), taking certain intangibles of music into consideration.  My site would allow them to discuss and share down to the finite details (such as in my aforementioned example, going beyond discussing Led Zeppelin and discussing Robert Plant’s singing personally).  This information, however, would be linked between all the different points of discussion (artists, albums, concerts, etc.) allowing a user to set out seeking certain information and perhaps landing elsewhere to be pleasantly surprised by the results.  Essentially, the site would strive to make music recommendations more socially-driven, but still allow for intricate technological solutions (such as those found at Pandora).


Oct 20

Having come across Naked Conversations before, I found it interesting to read anew with a different perspective.  First encountering the book in business school, I was naturally suspect of and moderately offended by a number of the claims made.  While surely the intent of the book’s authors was to create something that is largely instructional, my interpretation was that it took what is an overall complex industry and profession (marketing) and boiled it down to its most finite and simplistic elements.  I found it hard to believe that something I had devoted six years to learning was on the precipice of collapsing, and if it indeed was, did not garner a following of people intelligent and savvy enough to right the ship.  Moreover, lumping all marketers and advertisers into the category of those ignored and detested by the general public is a crude generalization.

Delving back into Naked Conversations from a technologically-minded perspective, I was certainly able to see the other side of a number of arguments contained therein, but still came away with the mindset that marketing becomes maligned in a very general sense.  While I would be the first to question the overwhelming pervasiveness of advertising and the (at least American) commercialism with which we’ve become inundated, I don’t think turning on marketing and those who disseminate it is the right move.  Watching merely an hour of American television will make a strong case for the lack of creativity and innovation that has befallen advertisements over the past decades.  There are, however, occasional examples of the talent still present in the advertising (and inherently, marketing) industry, creating noteworthy work that might be considered tantamount to art, but more importantly, succeeds in captivating consumers and inevitably selling products (Apple, with its simplistic ads once being an example, has seemingly fallen into the inevitable creative rut brought by success).

I’ve included two of the current television ads below that I think are a success for two different reasons.  The Levi’s ad, being of the more abstract variety, could otherwise be mistaken for a short independent film were it not for the logo at the end.  While some may criticize this ad for not being about the product at all (a common complaint of advertising), it has certainly succeeded in creating a conversation amongst consumers.  While this conversation has revolved around the perversion of a great American poet’s work for the sake of selling wares, it is inexorably connected with Levi’s thereby making the public discuss a once great brand again.  Pertaining to Naked Conversation, this is exactly the type of discussion – positive or negative – that a company seeks to generate and foster.  While I may be a bit biased, already an avid Walt Whitman and Johnnie Walker fan, I think both ads achieve the objective for which they set out.  The Johnnie Walker ad (of Diageo ) just happens to take a more direct approach, creating a series of images and emotions that are geared directly towards what they think is the ideal Johnnie Walker scotch drinker.  In either account, it is a comforting thought to occasionally see an advertisement worth celebrating rather than ignoring.


Oct 13

ThumbnailSearching for inspiration for a new website, I found myself in the local Best Buy looking for new music (yes, I know I’m one of the dwindling few who still buys CD’s).  With no particular destination in mind, I set out browsing the entire selection.  Spotting a variety of my favourite artists, I came across an album that had been released several months prior of which I was completely unaware.  Without the time or patience to keep track of all of the artists I’m currently listening to (a list which seems to irrevocably expand), I thought it would be helpful to have a service that alerts me to when bands or artists are developing a new album or EP and when they have released it.  Expanding upon this initial thought, the website I envision will encompass various features all revolving around people and their love for music.

With the ability to “subscribe” to artists, a user would be able to select a variety of different news sources (such as band news or album releases) and receive the information in an email (or various other contact methods).  Beyond bands, there would be would also be the ability to follow individuals.  Led Zeppelin, for instance, will seldom have band news being released today, but singer Robert Plant still performs and releases music, allowing the user to receive both his news and that of Zeppelin.  There would also be an integrated map and calendar feature that allow the user to see which of their favourite artists is playing nearby and when.  And, beyond the multitude of artists currently for sale in major outlets, users would be able to create their own pages for their band, allowing them to inform others of what they’re currently developing and where they’ll be playing.

The key component to the majority of the site would be the integration of social network.  Given how communal music has always been, it is only natural that people would want to discuss and share it with each other.  Each component of the site would allow for the ability to add commentary.  Concerts (in the future or past), artists, or even individual songs (listed within a discography) would have the ability to be shared and analyzed by the community at large.  The concept of being informed by a friend that a certain album is about to be released that deserves a listen is nothing new.  However, being able to discuss the music with a multitude of friends, analyze the contributions of individual band members, and contemplate attending the band’s next concert all in an integrated fashion is a concept I find quite appealing.  Is the effect that iPods have had on us, making us into musical introverts, too strong to reverse?  I’d like to think we can bring community back to music.

Tune Tracker


Oct 7

The results of our Second Life scavenger hunt:

- Five animals at a zoo

- Domestic university

- Foreign university

- Dragon

- View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

- Dance club


Oct 7

The concept of a “gamer” had always more closely resembled a homely troll of a person you might find camped in front of a screen in some dark, dank basement.  As disturbing as that image may be, the movement of gaming into the mainstream has done a lot to make it a thing of the past.  No longer is a gamer necessarily antisocial, teenage malcontent, but the designation could extend to those as varied as an aspiring four-year old to a grizzled veteran.  In the grand scheme of things, this has not been a lengthy transition (several decades or less), but in that short period of time, the video game industry has flourished, gaining millions more potential customers and a new sense of legitimacy.

Gilette Markets Specifically to Gamers?

The ubiquitous representation of video gaming’s stake to legitimacy today is the Nintendo Wii.  While it’s certainly a prime example of the industry reaching out to a whole new set of customers and users, the Wii is not the only movement in this direction.  Aside from the obvious copycat efforts by Microsoft and Sony with their motion controllers mimicking that of the Wii, the number of user friendly video games has been burgeoning, feeding off Nintendo’s success.  From Nintendo’s (arguably more successful) DS using a simple button configuration and stylus combination to the completely intuitive game play behind the Apple  iPhone/iPod games, it has become easier than ever for anyone to embrace video games.

While much has been of the excessive nature of childhood video game play, the positive aspects of playing video games are gaining attention.  Benefits such as improved visual processing and boosted cognitive skills are receiving attention in the press that might have seemed impossible 20 or even five years ago.  Also somewhat of a news phenomenon has been the elderly use of the Wii; specifically the proliferation of Wii Sports bowling leagues.  Essentially, by taking a risk and pushing the boundaries of what defined a video game buyer, and more specifically, a video game user, Nintendo opened up a world once belonging entirely to the aforementioned recluses to those who may have once been considered Luddites.

There is no doubt today that the video gaming industry has inexorably changed, but before Nintendo’s bold venture into casual gaming, many questioned their potential for success.  By abandoning the “hardcore” gamer demographic, Nintendo committed what some considered industry suicide.  Today, however, not only do video games seem to be ubiquitous (with cell phone gaming provide uninterrupted access), but gamers seem to be ubiquitous.  Surely, the hardcore gamers still exist, but it would not be unreasonable to find three generations of game players in the same household.  So acceptable it has become, gaming is likely to show up in the most unlikely of places:


Sep 29

A few of my thoughts on music more obscure than it should be (listen).

M83We Own the Sky off of Saturdays = Youth

Mates of StateGet Better off of Re-Arrange Us

Slow RunnerYou’re in Luck off of No Disassemble

M83 – Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun, featured in Palm Pre commercial: