Joss Stone: “Music should be shared”

Today’s musical hero (or heroine) is Joss Stone, the independently-minded pop/R&B singer who likes to perform barefoot and doesn’t seem to care much whether people download her songs illegally or burn them to whatever they want — in fact, she’s in favour of such behaviour. Why? Because music should be shared, she says:

“I think it’s brilliant and I’ll tell you why,” Stone said. “Music should be shared. […] The only part about music that I dislike is the business that is attached to it. Now, if music is free, then there is no business, there is just music.

It’s okay, if one person buys it, it’s totally cool — burn it up, share it with your friends, I don’t care. I don’t care how you hear it as long as you hear it. As long as you come to my show, and have a great time listening to the live show it’s totally cool. I don’t mind.”

Video of the actual interview is here. TorrentFreak has more about Joss’s feelings on piracy, and Mashable has a take on it as well. Some other artists share their views on downloading and music in this recent New York Times piece, and reports continue to come in about musicians giving away music to create demand for live performances. And if you really want to reach back into the Internet time machine and find a female singer with a tremendously level-headed approach to downloading and file-sharing, check out what Janis Ian wrote back in 2002.


John Hiatt has some similar thoughts about the evolution of the music business. Thanks to Changing Way for the link.

Comments splinter again, thanks to Facebook

So, Facebook is launching a new feature that allows users to comment on their friends’ “mini-feed” items, according to several sources — including the press release that arrived in my email box this morning. As Caroline explains at CNet, the mini-feed is what updates your friends when you change your status, upload a new profile pic, share photos and so on. In other words, they will now be able to say things like “LOL!” or “dude, that shirt is so money!” right in the feed, instead of having to go to your wall or super-poke you or whatever. Whether this is a revolutionary development kind of depends on your point of view.

Many people, including Adam Ostrow at Mashable, have mentioned that this commenting feature is a lot like one of the main features of, a “lifestream” aggregator which lets you pull together all of the activities you are involved in — RSS feeds, photos posted to Flickr, items shared with Google Reader, and so on — as well as those your friends are engaged in (my feed is here). The ability to “like” an item by giving it a thumbs up and the ability to comment on items are two of the appealing features of the service, which was founded by former Googler staffers Paul Buchheit (one of the original developers of Gmail) and Bret Taylor. A debate about whether the Facebook feature is a direct rip-off or not is taking place on — of course — FriendFeed itself.

One problem with this new feature, I think, is that it means comments wind up on yet another site, increasing the comment-fragmentation problem (which I’ve written about before). Of course, this plays into Facebook’s desire to be a portal, and the need to keep you coming back as often as possible — and the inability to extract those comments on your items or aggregate them somewhere else, since Facebook is more than happy to allow you to import data from others, but not so crazy about data going the other way (I have a plugin here that pulls comments from FriendFeed, thanks to the work of developer Glenn Slaven and FriendFeed’s enlightened approach to open APIs).

Still to come: Expect lots of posts about how Facebook is “killing FriendFeed” which “killed Twitter” which “killed Facebook’s status feature” and so on. Paul Buchheit, for what it’s worth, tells ZDNet that he and the rest of the FriendFeed team aren’t killers.

Twitter gets cash — can it be fixed?

As has been rumoured for some time now, Twitter has closed a financing round — and with some all-star money types, including Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital — although no one is saying how much the round was (rumours continue to be $15-million), or what the valuation placed on the company is. All that aside, the big question is whether it’s going to be able to fix what is broken at Twitter, and — assuming it can — whether people are willing to wait around until that gets done. For the past couple of months, the downtime at Twitter has been far higher than virtually any other social-media tool I can think of, and there has been a constant stream of people either leaving for Jaiku or Pownce, or moving their social graph to FriendFeed and elsewhere.

As Mike Arrington said awhile back at TechCrunch, it’s possible that Twitter has become so central to some people’s online behaviour patterns that it almost doesn’t matter how much it goes down, because people will bitch and moan about it — and then get right back on Twitter and complain about how much it goes down. I for one hope that Ev and Biz and the team are busy building a completely separate architecture they can migrate the service over to at some point, because I think Twitter has established a clear place in the world of social media, and not just as a conversational or ego-stroking tool, but also as a news delivery mechanism. I would hate to see that go to waste.

Microsoft to Yahoo: I just can’t quit you

Well, looky what we’ve got here: multiple rumours that the Microsoft and Yahoo talks are back on, although whether Microsoft is interested in an all-out acquisition again or just a search deal depends on whose sources you believe: Mike Arrington says the former and Silicon Alley Insider says the latter. I hate to say that I told you so, but… oh, who am I kidding — I love to say I told you so. Well, I told you so (Note: Kara Swisher of All Things D says that the latest rumours appear not to be true).

In any case, whatever the truth of these specific rumours, I — like Kara — continue to believe that a Yahoo purchase makes sense for Microsoft, and that the two should talk. And I think that the longer Yahoo’s stock price remains under pressure (which it seems likely to do, given all the executive departures and general deck-chair rearranging that is going on) the more the software behemoth will want to own it and the more likely a deal becomes.

HuffPo wants to be a newspaper

In just a little over two years, The Huffington Post has gone from being a side project for founder Arianna Huffington — whom many saw as an intellectual dilettante playing around on the Internet — to a new-media powerhouse whose Web traffic is larger than that of many traditional media competitors, and even threatens to topple (or has already toppled, depending on who you listen to) the legendary Drudge Report for largest media destination site, with close to 4 million unique visitors a month.

So what’s next up the Huffington Post’s sleeve? Local journalism, apparently. The site announced last week that it plans to hire editors in major centres, beginning with Chicago, who will pull together coverage from various news sources, including wire services and local bloggers and websites. Ms. Huffington says that she hopes to expand the project to dozens of other major cities, and that she sees the local sites becoming the equivalent of a newspaper — something that many troubled local newspaper chains will no doubt see as yet another nail in their coffins.

Ms. Huffington has also made it clear, however, that just reporting (or aggregating) the facts isn’t enough for her site, which has made its name based in large part on the opinionated commentary of its bloggers — including some well-known names, such as actor John Cusack and comedian/actor Harry Shearer — as well as on the “citizen journalism” it has engaged in through the Off The Bus campaign coverage project, including some controversial reporting on Barack Obama and Bill Clinton by blogger/journalist Mayhill Fowler (which I wrote about here).

At the recent Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York, Ms. Huffington said that one of the reasons why new media like her site has become more popular is that old media has failed readers, due in part to its commitment to a false kind of objectivity. “This is one the major problems of old media,” she said. “The illusion of presenting two sides of a story instead of just ferreting out the truth.” Whether that kind of approach — which some see as a potentially dangerous or at least unwelcome development for journalism — extends to the Huffington Post’s local “newspaper” project remains to be seen.

Radio airplay is “a form of piracy”

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street;
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat;
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat;
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.
‘Cause I’m the taxman;
yeah, I’m the taxman.”

The Beatles, Taxman

We’ve seen the recording industry pull a lot of bizarre stunts in the past few years. And I don’t mean just suing 12-year-old girls for downloading music, but things like suing auto-repair shops for playing the radio too loud (at which point the music apparently becomes a “public performance”), or filing “cease and desist” letters because a tiny portion of a song appeared in the background of a home video on YouTube (okay, that was just Prince, but still). But now, the industry appears to be arguing that the entire radio industry is effectively based on piracy — and no, I am not making this up. I wish I was.

“It’s a form of piracy, if you will, but not in the classic sense as we think of it,” said Martin Machowsky, a musicFirst spokesman.

The argument (if I can call it that) according to musicFirst is that the radio business has pretty much gotten a free ride since the legislation legalizing it was adopted in the 1960s, because it doesn’t have to pay musicians for the right to play their music — around which the radio stations sell advertising, etc. — the way that public venues such as bars and department stores do (radio stations compensate publishers and songwriters, but not artists). The industry is arguing before the U.S. Congress that this historical injustice should be avenged by slapping the radio business with what amounts to a performance-based tax, which it prefers — for obvious reasons — to call a fee.

As Mike Masnick notes at Techdirt, the argument that the radio business has been somehow getting away with murder by playing music for nothing cleverly avoids dealing with the concept of “payola” or “pay to play,” which was systemic in the early days of radio and allegedly still occurs even now. If radio play wasn’t worth anything in terms of driving demand for recorded music or live music, then why would producers and record companies be so eager to pay disc jockeys to play their artists?

It’s possible that the record industry’s argument — albeit unstated — is that radio is no longer any good for driving demand for recorded music or live music (which is absurd, but let’s play along) and therefore broadcasters should have to pay because they are getting something for nothing. But whose fault is that? If the record industry can’t find a way to turn a profit from the kind of free promotion that radio airplay provides, that’s hardly the fault of broadcasters.

Google brings the hurt to comScore

As predicted by many Google-watchers, the “Google Trends for websites” offering that launched on the weekend was just the appetizer — an aperitif, if you will. The main course launched today (as reported by the WSJ, and is a website-analytics service that appears to be aimed directly at the leading analytics companies, comScore and Nielsen, not to mention Hitwise and and other assorted players in the market. But the key, as the WSJ notes, is that:

“Unlike the services from comScore and Nielsen, Google’s will be offered to marketers free, according to ad executives.”

Another industry destabilized by Google’s devotion to free services, and the fact that its massive online advertising engine produces so much free cash that it can afford to offer such features for nothing (in much the same way that Microsoft’s dominance in desktop software produced so much revenue that it could afford to offer Internet Explorer for free, which cratered Netscape’s browser business). The service, called AdPlanner, is aimed at helping advertisers target their offerings better, based on an understanding of what kind of demographic is seeing their campaigns at what websites.

It will be interesting to see whether Nielsen and comScore (whose stock price had lost about 18 per cent of its value the last time I checked) will try to make the argument that Google is so large it is effectively being anti-competitive by offering such services for free. And it’s also worth considering — as some people have mentioned — that advertisers might not want to base their campaigns on data from the same company that is trying to reel them in as customers. Is the Google fox trying to convince advertisers that the henhouse is a nice place to spend the night?

At the same time, however, the numbers that come from comScore and Nielsen are notoriously unreliable, and there will be plenty of companies eager for whatever information Google can provide. Investors in comScore might want to consider having an exit strategy.

Symbian: Android for the rest of us?

Nokia’s announcement this morning that it is acquiring the rest of the Symbian mobile operating system it doesn’t already own (about 52 per cent) and turning it into an open-source OS that anyone can contribute to and use seems like an arrow aimed straight at the heart of Android, the Google mobile effort that is still in its infancy but promises great things. Nokia is clearly threatened by the giant Web company’s plans, and has been bulking up in all sorts of ways.

Despite Google’s geek cred and the iPhone’s cool factor and the BlackBerry’s popularity in the corporate market, Symbian is still by far the biggest mobile player. It would be unwise to count the company out as a competitive threat — not because it’s going to create something as cool as the iPhone or as useful as the BlackBerry, but because having something like 200 million handsets out there running your operating system is a powerful force, and it is going to draw developers in just because of its sheer mass and size.

Imagine what might happen if Microsoft went open source — this is kind of like that, but for the mobile market. Of course, Google likely saw this coming (or at least it should have).

Avril is an anagram for “viral”

Some things achieve YouTube notoriety through some bizarre confluence of interest and desperation, like the six-second-long video clip of a startled prairie dog that took on epidemic proportions last year as a YouTube favourite known as the “Dramatic Chipmunk,” which quickly gained more than 9 million views. Other things need a bit more, well… assistance. At the moment, a fan site devoted to Canadian pop singer Avril Lavigne is pushing hard to get Avril’s Girlfriend video to become the most-watched YouTube video ever with almost 90 million views — and they are using some shady tactics to get there.

At the moment, the top spot at YouTube is held by Judson Laipply’s iconic “Evolution of Dance” video clip, in which the comedian demonstrates all the popular dance styles of the past five decades in one short video clip. Why is it so popular? No one really knows. In any case, a fan site called Avril Bandaids is trying desperately to push its heroine’s video higher than the Evolution of Dance — and in order to do so, it is not only sending out emails to fans to get them to watch Avril’s video some more, but has set up an automated YouTube-view-boosting site. The page automatically reloads Avril’s video every 15 seconds, so as to rack up as many hits as possible, and a letter from the site advises fans to keep a browser window open all day with the page in it.

Will such tactics get Avril to the top spot? Perhaps — although YouTube ireportedly tracks IP addresses so that repeated views don’t skew its numbers. In any case, there are a number of other tricks that marketers use to try and boost their YouTube views, including signing up for hundreds of fake user accounts under different names, or using popular (but misleading) keywords. A marketing specialist named Dan Ackerman Greenberg — who helped teach an entire course at Stanford about Facebook and online marketing techniques — wrote a post for TechCrunch in which he detailed some of the tricks. There are even sites that claim to be able to boost YouTube views for a fee.

Even if Avril does get to number one most-viewed video, however, she will still fall short in some other areas on the site: while the video is currently number one for “most discussed (music)” and number one in the “most viewed (music)” category, it’s still only number four for “most discussed (all time)” and an underwhelming number 15 in the “top favorites (all time)” category. Unfortunately for Avril, automated page refreshing isn’t going to change those numbers much. And who is the most discussed and top favourite of all time? The Evolution of Dance.