Irony alert: Napster offers mp3 files

If you read the news about Napster offering non-DRM mp3 files and felt a kind of psychological whiplash from all the ironies inherent in that brief item, don’t feel bad. I share your pain. Imagine: the idea of an online music provider named Napster offering actual mp3 files for people to download. I would have liked to have been in the meeting when someone suggested a strategy that could easily have been implemented (at least technically) almost a decade ago, when the original Napster was just getting off the ground. Instead, we’ve had years of expensive lawsuits and watched the music industry stumble from disaster to disaster.

Can Ian Rogers help save music?

Can Ian Rogers — who left grad school to tour with The Beastie Boys, and then later helped to run the company behind Winamp — turn Yahoo Music into something worth paying attention to? A tough assignment, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed, based on the presentation he gave at a music-industry confab in Aspen. The Yahoo Music executive has already made it clear that he has big ideas, and Mike Arrington says that he thinks something big could be coming from Yahoo.

If you read the entire post, however — and I encourage you to do so if you care about music online, even though it is fairly long — it becomes obvious that Rogers is talking about something more than just making Yahoo Music suck a little less (something he wrote about fairly eloquently in an earlier post, also based on a presentation he gave). It’s clear that he envisions a kind of open-source approach to music standards online, and that means not just doing away with DRM, but making it easier for music to be found and identified — and sold — wherever it exists.

In that context, Ian mentions a guy I have recently gotten to know: David Gratton, a Vancouver entrepreneur who founded Project Opus, a social-media venture that is working on an open music-identification standard called JAMM. (David is also the guy behind the MixxMaker music-sharing app for Facebook, which I wrote about yesterday). David’s vision seems to be the same as Ian’s: in a nutshell, make music of all kinds easier to find, tag and share online. Here’s hoping that one or the other (or both) of them succeed.

Wikia Search: Let’s give it a break

I’m generally in favour of bashing those who need to be bashed, and I definitely like taking the wind out of the Web 2.0 windbags (you know who you are), but I think the blogosphere is being a little hard on Wikia Search. Mike Arrington says that it’s a letdown, Allen Stern at Centernetworks
says it’s “not ready yet,” and Stan Schroeder of Frantic Industries comes right out and says that it sucks.

About the only person who’s being magnanimous (and can afford to be) is Google blogger Matt Cutts, who welcomes Wikia to the search business, although MG Siegler at ParisLemon says it actually looks pretty decent for something that’s in alpha. I’m inclined to give Jimmy Wales the benefit of the doubt on this one, but not because I’m one of those Wales sycophants that the always curmudgeonly Seth Finkelstein mentions.

As usual, something approaching what I think is a fair viewpoint emerges from the comments section of a blog — in this case, TechCrunch. Mike says that Wikia is disappointing, and in the comments Jimmy says that he warned everyone not to have high expectations about what it would look like, and notes that Wikipedia looked pretty rough in the early days too. That’s the problem with social anything — you can’t just pop out of the cake on day one with a built-in thriving community.

Is it just a bunch of links cobbled together by Nutch and Grub (names that sound like a couple of animated characters from a new Disney blockbuster)? Yes. It’s in alpha, for pete’s sake. For my part, I think I’m going to try and forget about Wikia Search for at least six months and then take a look around and see what’s there. If it’s still a ghost town, then maybe there will be something to get concerned about.

MixxMaker: Facebook meets the mix tape

Music has to be one of the most social forms of content — most of us, even if we listen to our favourite music alone, like to talk about it, tell others what we like and why. That’s why things like and Pandora are so popular (although I can’t use Pandora because I’m Canadian and they recently blocked us Canucks for licensing reasons).

One of the ways in which people shared music back in the prehistoric pre-Web days was by making custom “mix tapes” for their friends — a theme that runs throughout the great John Cusack movie High Fidelity. So what do they do now? Some people put together lists of mp3s (I got several over the Christmas holidays) and burn CDs for their friends. But both of those approaches are kind of cumbersome.

David Gratton, the former investment banker turned Web entrepreneur behind the Vancouver-based Donat Group and Project Opus, has created a Facebook app that he hopes can serve the same kind of function as a mixed tape — a way of sharing music with friends easily, and allowing them to contribute too.

It’s called MixxMaker, and it launched this week. After adding the application, you upload some files and then share the mix and ask your friends to contribute theirs. For licensing reasons, the files are streaming only, and they can only be shared with your Facebook friends. David has a blog post describing MixxMaker here.


Just heard about another new social-music app, this one Web-based rather than on Facebook, called — where you can also share playlists and digital “mixtapes.” I love the fact that when you play a mixtape, there’s an image of an actual cassette, which flips open to show the hand-lettered looking playlist inside the virtual case. Very cool. Thanks for the tip, Jon.

Video interlude: Techmeme time-lapse

If you follow technology blogs, Techmeme soon becomes almost irreplaceable — it’s like a front page for the blogosphere, one that changes almost minute-by-minute to show where the big fires of commentary are (for better or worse), and where the small sparks that could touch off a new one are coming from. It’s almost biological in a way, and so it’s fascinating to see Amit Agarwal’s time-lapse video of Techmeme, taken over a 50-hour period and condensed into 50 seconds of video.

It looks an awful lot like those Time-Life documentary shorts that show ants in the desert erecting a giant anthill with tiny scraps of fluff and lint (and critics might say the fluff and lint part is right on the money). So what is building? Consensus, I think. It’s like a continuously running poll. Sometimes the questions are ephemeral, and sometimes they are pretty important. In any case, it’s fun to watch.

Death of a blogger: The last post

Last words have a certain poetic appeal, if only because we imagine them being uttered by the deceased with his or her last breath. But what if you could write your final thoughts in the form of a letter to the world, to be published after your death? That’s exactly what military blogger Andrew Olmsted did, and that post is now up on his blog. It’s like a monologue delivered by a ghost, with all of the witticisms and interjections of a normal blog post — plus a few too many quotes from Babylon 5 for my liking — but the added gravitas of a eulogy. Poetic? Perhaps. Certainly fascinating. There are also some comments from Andrew’s friends and family on one of his last pieces for the Rocky Mountain News.

Ning and porn: Get a life, blogosphere

There’s been a small fuss brewing (not even large enough to be a brouhaha — more of a kerfuffle) around Ning, the social-networking engine run by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and the lovely and talented Gina Bianchini, and a post about how a large amount of Ning’s traffic goes to social networks based around porn. This was picked up on by Mashable and Valleywag, among others.

Marc has responded in a lengthy post at his blog, and I have to say that I’m glad he did. He takes a refreshingly clear-headed look at the issue, and says several things that I think are worth saying — including the fact that you can’t take as gospel any of the numbers that come from Quantcast or Alexa (especially Alexa) or any of the other traffic measuring firms. Surely we should all know that by now.

His other point is that Ning is content-agnostic — and so it should be. There are social networks based around porn? Big surprise. The Internet is a social network based around porn, for pity’s sake. The reaction from some bloggers has a real high-school tone to it, as though they were reporting Ning to the principal because they caught him looking at a Playboy magazine out behind the portables.

Twitter’s cost in productivity? Zero

I’m not sure whether Pat Phelan of roam4free has decided to join the Techmeme troll parade, but his post about the “cost of Twitter” is ridiculous on its face. In a nutshell, he takes an estimate of the number of users, multiplies by the average time spent and — after some mathematical sleight of hand — comes up with a whopping $13-billion or so in “lost” productivity. Shocking, isn’t it?

It would be if it were true, but luckily it isn’t. There are a number of problems with Pat’s little thought experiment, including the assumption that all of Twitter’s users are active ones when most estimates are that only 10 per cent are highly-active — as Alan Patrick of Broadstuff notes in a comment on the TechCrunch UK post. Much of the math is also questionable, but let’s leave that aside.

The really dumb part of Pat’s analysis is the assumption that Twitter is a useless waste of time, like Solitaire used to be, or Minesweeper. While it’s true that much of Twitter is aimless chat, there are also some extremely useful aspects to it, including the ability to get links and news updates almost in real time, as many people discovered during the Iowa primaries. You might as well call the phone a waste of time.

The unfortunate fact is that people will find any number of ways to waste time: chatting in the hallway, taking a smoke break every 10 minutes, standing around the water cooler, checking Facebook a hundred times a minute, and so on. Are all of these things a waste of time? Of course they are. But they are also social moments that play an important role in our jobs and our lives (okay, except for the Facebook one).

Computing the loss in productivity assumes that we would be perfectly productive automatons if only our employers could arrange for us to never look up from our desks or think about anything but work.

Reznor’s experiment: Results mixed

This seems to be a real music-blogging day for some reason — first there was the RIAA vs. Washington Post post, then the Sony-DRM post, and now we have some stats from indie music darling Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails about his experiment with offering a “pay what you want” album for download. Not long after Radiohead launched its In Rainbows download, Reznor announced his intention to release an album by rapper Saul Williams (which Reznor produced) in the same fashion.

So how did it go? Mixed at best, it seems. Unlike Radiohead, which hasn’t said anything about how many people downloaded or paid for its album (apart from saying that the estimates from comScore were wrong), Reznor has provided detailed numbers, and it appears that less than 20 per cent of the people who downloaded the album paid for it.

As Mark Hopkins notes at Mashable, there are a whole bunch of reasons why this might be, including the fact that Saul Williams isn’t exactly a household name, that he and Trent Reznor don’t exactly have huge crossover appeal with each other’s audience, and so on. There’s no question that a “pay what you want” strategy is likely to work better for an artist with a solid, dedicated community, such as Radiohead.

That said, however, Saul Williams still got more than 150,000 people to listen to his album (compared with about 33,000 for his previous album) and got almost 30,000 of those who downloaded it to pay $5. Reznor says that after paying for the studio time and engineers and so on, no one is “getting rich” from the download experiment — but when did that become the sole motivation for making music? Chris “Long Tail” Anderson has some thoughts here.