Billy Bragg should stick to singing

He may be a great musician, but Billy Bragg’s logical faculties are somewhat lacking — that is, if his op-ed piece on the music industry in the New York Times is anything to go by. Billy writes about the sale of Bebo, and how the musicians and artists who have profiles on the site deserve to have a share of that $850-million or so. Why? Because Bebo has been “using their music to draw members — and advertising.”

The first thing I thought of when I read Billy’s call to arms was Nick “The Prophet of Web 2.0 Doom” Carr’s repeated tirades about “digital sharecropping,” and sure enough, Nick has posted another essay along those lines that uses Billy as the latest example. Nick says that:

“exploitation is exploitation, no matter how lovingly it’s wrapped in neo-hippie technobabble about virtual communities, social production, and the gift economy.”

Unless I’m mistaken, exploitation is when you take advantage of someone and they are powerless to prevent it, or in some cases when you trick someone into giving you something. Bebo has done neither of these things — nor has YouTube, or Flickr, or any of the other “digital sharecroppers” that people single out. As Mike Arrington notes at TechCrunch, all of the people who have taken part in Bebo and MySpace and so on have done so knowing full well that they are not going to be paid. No one forced them to do so.

Billy also talks about how:

“the claim that sites such as MySpace and Bebo are doing us a favor by promoting our work is disingenuous [because] radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business.”

First of all, radio stations don’t pay artists to play their music — they pay publishers and copyright-holders (most of which doesn’t make its way to artists) because of the “mechanical license,” a form of compulsory licensing, and in return radio stations get to play whatever they want, whenever they want. Is Billy in favour of extending that right to anyone on the Internet? I doubt it. Fred Wilson is right — there needs to be a better way to compensate artists, but taking money from Bebo isn’t it.

Further reading:

Gerd Leonhard has some thoughts along the same lines as Fred’s, and The Stalwart says artists and the Internet are now in the same position as subway musicians (something I have a little experience with myself, even if it was 25 years ago) — although that’s not a comparison Billy likes much, judging by his comment.

The Stalwart has since updated his post, adding a response to Billy’s comment — but my favourite part is that The Stalwart’s wife has also posted a comment, agreeing with Billy 🙂 And Andrew Dubber of New Music Strategies puts some things in perspective (as usual) in his post on the subject. Mike Masnick of Techdirt — who also joined in the comments on The Stalwart’s post — has now put up a longer look at the topic, and Matt Mason (author of The Pirate’s Dilemma) has a good post at Torrentfreak, in which he says that both Billy and Mike are wrong.

What’s wrong with Dave Winer

The inventor of blogging, podcasting, RSS and a bunch of other things has a post up about what’s wrong with Wikipedia — as he sees it — and as usual the post says a whole lot more about Dave than it does about Wikipedia. Not that there aren’t certain things about Wikipedia that could use some work, because there are. Like any social-media effort, it has its flaws. But I think most of what Dave doesn’t like about Wikipedia has more to do with him than it does with the encyclopedia itself.

The problems seem to revolve around Dave’s entry — something he has complained a fair bit about in the past — and how it doesn’t give him enough credit for the things he invented (or helped to standardize or popularize, depending on how you look at it). But of course, Dave doesn’t describe it that way: he describes it asa vendetta.” That says it all right there. For Dave, there’s no such thing as a difference of opinion — there’s what Dave believes, and then there are the unbelievers who want to destroy what is good and right. He blames the Wikipedia model for:

“Usurping authority, and replacing it with anonymity and giving power to those who who tear down creativity, to remove the incentive to share, unless you’re completely selfless and don’t mind if others take credit for your accomplishments. That’s not the nature of creativity, btw, creative people fiercely insist on credit, fight for it.”

See how that works? A different opinion of how RSS developed, or podcasting, or whatever isn’t a difference of opinion. It’s “giving power to those who tear down creativity.” But is Dave right when he says that the nature of creativity is to “fiercely insist on credit?” I guess for some people it is. Lots of creative people I know do it because they feel compelled to create, and because they want people to experience something — not because they want to “fight for” credit.

Dave then cites the U.S. constitution for support, arguing that Wikipedia should allow people who don’t like their profiles to “confront their accusers.” As my blogging friend Ian Betteridge notes in the comments on Dave’s post, this pretty much sums up why Dave is wrong about Wikipedia. The whole point of the model is to find the middle ground, the common ground, the mututally agreed-upon version of events — not for people to pursue vendettas and confront their accusers. On a side note, Frank Shaw of WaggenerEdstrom is also wrong about Wikipedia.

Social media rescues 70’s rock bands

What is it with 1970s rock bands and the Internet? Yet another example of social networks and Web 2.0 coming to the rescue of a faded rock group: legendary band Boston is starting a tour this summer, and one of the stand-ins for missing singer Brad Delp (who committed suicide last year) will be a guy named Tommy DeCarlo, who the band found via cover versions of Boston hits that he had posted to his MySpace page. I can’t find out much about DeCarlo, but he’s actually pretty good at hitting the spine-tingling notes that Delp was famous for.

Boston joins another rock band with long hair and a high-pitched singer: Journey, who parted ways with original singer Steve Perry and then later parted ways with his replacement as well. Then they discovered a Filipino fan on YouTube, and he is now touring with the band. And to round out the trio, the thrash metal band Anthrax also found a new band member in part through MySpace. And of course INXS found a replacement for their singer through a reality show called Rockstar INXS, which isn’t really social media but is pretty close. If I were a singer or guitarist for a fading rock band, I would behave myself, if only because I would be afraid that my fellow bandmates could replace me with some yob they found on MySpace.

bonus Canadian content: J.D. Fortune is Canadian, Brad Delp’s parents were Canadian, and Boston’s tour starts in Thunder Bay.

Blogs and the business of community

It’s been kind of fun to watch the reaction to Mike Arrington’s recent “rambling manifesto” (as Henry Blodget called it at Silicon Alley Insider) about the future of blogs and the wisdom — or lack thereof — in getting venture financing. Among other things, Kara Swisher decoded it using movie metaphors, Tom Foremski said it won’t work because you can’t “roll up egos,” and Howard Lindzon dumped on the idea with his usual panache. And it probably won’t come as a surprise that TechCrunch itself is rumoured to be looking for financing, according to Henry.

Although Howard has plenty of scorn for Scoble as well, I think Robert puts his finger on something (or at least close to something) in his post when he says that killing CNET isn’t the right goal — even if most of the examples he uses, such as the moon landing, don’t really help his argument (which his readers are more than happy to point out). But I think Chartreuse comes the closest to making a real point with his post on the topic, in which he notes that it isn’t about size, it’s about community.

Of course, as with most media it’s about size and community — at least when it comes to trying to make it into a business (Wine Library TV guy Gary Vaynerchuk has a great video about that here). In any case, in the course of writing about that, Chartreuse mentioned a blog network/citizen journalism enterprise in India that I hadn’t heard of before: Instablogs.com, which apparently had a rough start but has since grown into something worth paying attention to. Not only is its primary audience in India (see the co-founder’s comment on this below), but the community that has grown up around the site is remarkable, and the site is very well designed and customizable.

I wouldn’t want to say that “big media” in the context of the blogosphere won’t work, because it’s clear to me that Gawker is working, and so are PaidContent and GigaOm and others. But I think there is definitely some room for the Craigslist approach too: follow the community and the business will (in some cases at least) take care of itself. Oh yeah — as it turns out, Instablogs is raising money too 🙂 Congratulations to founders Ankit and Nandini Maheshwari.

Now that’s a real Indiana Jones movie

Aspiring filmmakers have all kinds of trials and tribulations to overcome — balky actors, nervous financial types, a bad script, etc. — but very few have to put off filming because their mom is afraid the crew is going to burn their house down. That’s just one of the many hurdles the young filmmakers behind a movie called Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: An Adaptation had to confront. Why? Because they were 11 years old at the time, and they were trying to film the Nepalese bar scene from the movie in star/writer/director Eric Zala’s basement.

By now, the story of how a troupe of pre-teens from Mississippi made a shot-by-shot remake of the classic adventure film from George Lucas and Stephen Speilberg in the 1980s is pretty well known — the young filmmakers, who are now in their 30s, have met the two directors and have even touched the actual idol prop used in the original film, during a visit to Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch. But the movie itself has only been seen by a chosen few, at film festivals and special events (like Sprockets in Toronto), in part because it is an obvious copyright violation.

More recently, copies of the movie have started popping up on BitTorrent and other file-sharing networks, but they are hard to come by. As a taste, here’s the first 10 minutes of the movie — thanks to a link from Panopticist.com (turn the sound up, because it’s very faint through most of the clip). And remember that these kids are 11 and 12, that they made or bought all the props, and that they dug tunnels for months in order to film the opening scene. Even the storyboarding for the movie took over a year (and making the boulder took four).

More than one filmmaker will sympathize with Zala, who said that the first thing he felt after looking at the “rushes” or footage from the first summer of filming was disappointment because “we worked so hard and the end results looked so crappy.” But the group kept filming, and eventually finished their 100-minute remake for a total cost of $5,000. They showed it to some friends in an auditorium at a local Coca-Cola plant in 1989 and then put the tape away for 15 years, at which point a copy somehow made its way into the hands of Harry Knowles from the movie fan site Ain’t It Cool News and the story started to filter out.

It might be too much to ask for a major studio, but with the new Indiana Jones movie coming out, what better time to show the world’s greatest fan tribute film (in terms of sheer effort at least) to the world?

Video: Obama speech is YouTube gold

It may not have achieved the 17.8 million views that Chris Crocker’s classic “Leave Britney Alone” video has — or even the 7 million views that the startled prairie dog known as “Dramatic Chipmunk” has gotten — but then, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech on racism has only been up on YouTube for less than 24 hours (as of mid-day Wednesday), and it already has over 1.2 million views.

That’s not bad. Another month or so and maybe it could get into the same territory as “The Evolution of Dance,” which has a mind-boggling 78 million views. Of course, Obama’s speech has an actual message that is somewhat deeper than the average YouTube video — hard to tell whether that will help or hinder its advance up the charts.

Blogs and the settling of the Wild West

Mike Arrington has a lengthy post at TechCrunch about the evolution of the blogosphere — a topic he launches into with a roundup of some of the financing rumours that are swirling around properties like Silicon Alley Insider and PaidContent, both of which are reportedly looking for several million dollars. Both of those sites are also excellent examples of blog evolution in action: PaidContent.org started with Rafat Ali and has become a media entity that I would argue rivals any business magazine (be sure to read Rafat’s response to Mike), and Silicon Alley began with Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget and has also become a force to be reckoned with.

I think PaidContent and Silicon Alley have set themselves apart primarily by writing excellent content, and focusing their efforts instead of trying to be all things to all people. Although Mike doesn’t mention Gawker (likely because he despises founder Nick Denton, who is the Darth Vader to Mike’s Obi-wan Kenobi), blogs like Gawker.com, Engadget — and yes, even Valleywag — have become success stories by doing the same thing, although in their case it’s more of a tabloid-style approach that takes advantage of controversy just as much as it does good content.

Mike makes the point that the blogs that are raising money now might be making a mistake, in part because the good old days of being able to build a blog empire with nothing but a few computers and some writing ability are largely gone — now, writers want to be paid a decent salary (imagine!) and then there’s the whole VC snakepit to navigate. And he also mentions how competitive and political the blogosphere has become, with pitched battles and people taking sides, and describes how he has tried to help B-list and C-list bloggers (including yours truly) by linking.

I appreciate Mike’s take on things, and the fact that he sees me as one of the “non-crazy influencers” (although I have criticized his point of view before, as many people know, and am more than willing to do so in the future if I think he is wrong on something). And as much as I would like to pretend that it isn’t a competitive game, there’s no question that it is. Are the good old days gone forever? Are we now where the Wild West was when the developers and the settlers and the banks took over and the gunslingers were put out to pasture? Perhaps.

Towards the end of his post, Mike suggests that he has a bigger picture in mind when he advises some of the other bloggers not to take investment money — he talks about how he would like to see the creation of a blogging “Dream Team” that could take on CNET (not really that difficult a task, I would argue). I for one would like to see that happen, mostly because I think it could be a lot of fun to watch, or even to take part in. It sounds like Henry Blodget just might be up for it as well, judging from his post. And if it comes to that, I want to be Magic Johnson 🙂

A literary and scientific giant dies

The death of Arthur C. Clarke didn’t exactly come as a surprise when I found out about it earlier today (via Twitter, of course). After all, the man was 90 years old and had suffered from post-polio disorder for decades. Toward the end he looked a lot like the wheelchair-bound figure that shows up in the movie he is most famous for — 2001: A Space Odyssey — when Keir Dullea sees himself transformed into an old man. And yet it was a sad event nonetheless. Clarke was a giant in more ways than one.

Not only was Arthur Clarke one of the world’s best-known science-fiction writers, with books like Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama to his name, but he was also a bona-fide scientist as well — the man who first popularized the idea of geosynchronous communications satellites, a concept that was almost rejected by Wireless World magazine as being too far-fetched. He also wrote science articles about rocketry and space flight, long before such things became a reality.

I remember when I first saw the movie 2001 — my father took my brothers and I to see it in a theatre when I was about six or seven years old, and I can still remember how awe-inspiring some of the scenes were (perhaps in part because I had no clue what the hell was going on). That started a life-long love affair with science fiction, and Clarke was always one of my favourite authors because of his deep understanding of science. He also continued to be an avid geek well into his 80s, sending emails and writing Web columns from his home in Sri Lanka. He will be missed.

Disqus and the comment-o-sphere

As a number of people — including Nick Gonzalez at TechCrunch, Dan Frommer at Silicon Alley Insider and Om Malik over at GigaOm (who I think broke the story first) — are reporting, the hosted-comments company known as Disqus has raised money and launched some new features. There’s a post by Fred Wilson at the Union Square Ventures blog, since USV led the $500,000 round. Disqus says it has about 4,000 bloggers using the tool now, and about 60,000 commenters in total.

I know that the “Comment 2.0” space has a number of players in it, including SezWho.com and Intense Debate, but I think that Disqus is a more interesting play in a lot of ways, so it’s probably not surprising that — as Adam Ostrow notes over at Mashable — I use them for the comments here on my blog. I like the interface, I like the fact that it handles spam almost effortlessly, and I like some of the new features like the “community page.” Most of all, as I’ve mentioned before, I like the fact that I can respond to comments as easily as I respond to an email (SezWho has a somewhat pissed-off response to the Disqus announcement).

As I mentioned in that previous post, there are a few quibbles I have — such as the lack of support for trackbacks, which CEO Daniel Ha has said they are working on a solution for — but overall it’s a solid service. It also supports OpenID (through ClickPass) which I think is important for any kind of centralized comment system. Some people don’t like the idea that the comments are hosted somewhere other than their own server, but I think that is actually a benefit in some ways, and in a comment on my earlier post Daniel said the service would soon support synching between your server and theirs, which would be a cool feature.

There are hints in Fred Wilson’s blog post about where Disqus might be heading with all this. For example, he says that he sees the company as doing for comments what RSS did for blog posts and other information, and that Disqus could be the one that “unlocks comments from blogs and brings them into the mainstream” and also “surfaces the most interesting blog comments and blog commenters.” All of that presupposes that everyone starts using Disqus, of course — a tall order — but it’s still an interesting glimpse of where blog comments could go in the future.

Video interlude: Big Dog robot

This is very cool, and yet kind of creepy at the same time. If you thought robots still couldn’t do very well at walking like regular people — or even animals — watch how the Big Dog handles walking through the forest, or crossing the slippery ice on a pond (turn down the sound though, because the buzzing of the motor is pretty irritating). Be sure to watch the part where the guy pushes it as hard as he can without knocking it over.

(found via a link on FriendFeed)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1czBcnX1Ww&w=425&h=355]

Update:

This video now has about 1.3 million views, just two days after it went up on YouTube. There’s more info on the robot in this NineMSN story.