Muxtape: What’s our lawyer’s number again?


It doesn’t sound like Muxtape is coming back anytime soon, judging by the statement that Portfolio magazine got from the RIAA (hat tip to MG Siegler at VentureBeat for the link), which said that the record industry group had “repeatedly tried to work with them to have illegal content taken down” and that the site “has not obtained authorization from our member companies to host or stream copies of their sound recordings.”

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Muxtape, one of a host of popular online music-sharing apps that have sprung up over the past few months, has shut down, but claims that it isn’t gone for good. The website says that it will be “unavailable for a brief period while we sort out a problem with the RIAA,” while the Muxtape blog says that “no artists or labels have complained” and maintains that “the site is not closed indefinitely.” Will the site be able to strike a deal with the record industry’s lobby group/enforcer? Many music-sharing services have tried and failed to do so in the past.

The issues are laid out fairly well in a recent Valleywag post about the startup, which is run by Justin Ouellette, formerly of Vimeo, and financed by Vimeo co-founder Jakob Lodwick. The fact that Muxtape allows you to share your music with others is a legal grey area (depending on whom you talk to), but the ability to download those songs quickly and easily is likely what has the RIAA’s knickers in a twist. According to Valleywag, Ouellette has talked about changing the format of the songs streamed through to make it harder to capture them.

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Katie Couric gets Diggy with it

Kind of surprised this hasn’t gotten more coverage in the Digg-obsessed blogosphere (other than this and this): Katie Couric, the not-so-critically acclaimed CBS News anchor, has uploaded a video to YouTube in which she asks the Digg community for questions they want her to ask when she’s at the upcoming political conventions. Flashing her Digg T-shirt, Couric comes across (at least to me) as playing along with something she doesn’t really feel committed to — likely true, since I doubt it was her idea — but at the same time cheerfully willing to take a flyer on the idea. Plus, I have to say she looks kind of cute in that Digg T-shirt. But the last laugh could be on me: the video, which got a bump from Digg founder Kevin Rose, has over 3,000 Diggs already, and many of the questions (in fact, most of them) are about serious political issues.

I can has bizness model?

The company behind the I Can Has Cheezburger site, the leading purveyor of “lolcats” photos and related merchandise — as well as the always excellent and several other similar properties — has launched a new site called Engrish Funny, which features… yes, you guessed it: funny pictures. In this case, they are photos of T-shirts, store signs and retail products from Asian countries with mangled English printed on them (if this strikes you as familiar territory, it’s probably because has been around for quite awhile).

As with I Can Has Cheezburger, however, which wasn’t the first to come up with LOLcats (that dubious honour goes to the popular 4chan network), the company known as Pet Holdings says it is hoping to put its own “spin” on the Engrish phenomenon. Pet Holdings’ other properties include I Has a Hot Dog (like LOLcats, but for dogs), the political site Pundit Kitchen (like LOLcats but with politicians), Totally Looks Like (celebrities and their lookalikes) and GraphJam.

According to co-founder Ben Huh, who talked with Mike Arrington on video in the TechCrunch founder’s backyard recently (embedded below), the company plans to launch some other sites soon, and also wants to work with some major media partners. The interesting part of the video for me, however, was when Huh started talking about pageviews and revenue. According to the Pet Holdings CEO, the sites get a total of about 3.3 million pageviews a day, and about 5 million unique visitors a month, with the majority of those going to I Can Has Cheezburger and the Failblog (in recent interviews, Huh has said that I Can Has Cheezburger gets about 1.4 million or 1.5 million or 2.2 million pageviews a day).

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NewsCred launches public beta

After a year or so of invite-only alpha testing, NewsCred launched as a public beta service this morning. The site, founded by Shafqat Islam and Iraj Islam, is trying to create a kind of outsourced reputation system for news websites and blogs, in which users vote on the credibility and accuracy of specific news stories or blog posts, and those votes are combined with the site’s own algorithms to generate a credibility profile. It’s an interesting effort, and one that I think will likely appeal to many news and blog readers, since we’ve probably all read things and snorted in derision at the unbalanced or inaccurate take someone has taken — both in professional media and on blogs. But is NewsCred the solution?

In a sense, Newscred is trying to take the Digg or Slashdot model a step further. When people Digg a story or link, they are often simply voting on whether they like the topic, or the photo, or in some cases whether they like the person who Dugg the link. wants people to explicitly vote on the credibility of the site itself, (or at least the author of the story or post). As more than one person has already pointed out however, credibility is a difficult thing to measure, and it’s not clear whether it’s the kind of thing that a site like NewsCred is going to be able to outsource or generate through an algorithm. If someone clicks the “discredit” button, is it because they don’t like the author? Or because they simply disagree with them, if it’s a blog?

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Byrne and Eno make it happen online

After listening to a couple of the new tracks from David Byrne and Brian Eno’s first collaboration in 30 years — which you can do through the widget embedded below — I’m not sure whether I like it or not, but I am sure of one thing: figuring out how to experiment with the different distribution and marketing models the Web allows isn’t confined to young folks like Radiohead and Trent Reznor. The former frontman for the Talking Heads (one of my favourite bands of all time) and the former keyboard player for Roxy Music — whose real name, Wikipedia informs me, is Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno — have a combined age of about a hundred, but they have still put together a pretty good online package for this album, I think.

The album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, can be streamed through the associated website, and the widget player can be embedded anywhere — an option I’m surprised more bands don’t take advantage of. The songs can be streamed for free (and one can be downloaded free of charge), and the rest can be bought through the site in a variety of formats, including what Byrne calls “a limited edition deluxe package designed by Sagmeister Inc.” All formats can be downloaded immediately, the site says, while physical CD versions will be shipped in the fall. The digital-only package is $8.99 for 329kbps mp3 files with no DRM controls, and also includes a 17-page lyric booklet.

The release is also one of the first big releases involving Topspin Media, the technical support system for artists that former Yahoo Music executive (and former Winamp exec) Ian Rogers and some partners formed earlier this year. He has a post about it on the Topspin blog.

Google wants the Internet everywhere

I know that Google’s push to get new wireless spectrum in the U.S. — what the company is calling “TV white spaces” — opened up for unlicensed access has a self-serving aspect to it, in the sense that Google wants to use it to develop “WiFi 2.0” and get more people using its services. And yet, I can’t help but cheer them on, even though I don’t live in the U.S. and won’t get any conceivable benefit from the proposal. Why? Because I think that Internet access in general is a public good, and should be as widely available as possible, and yet in most cases we wind up — in both Canada and the U.S. — being forced to use quasi-monopolistic telecom and cable companies. Any new source of competition in that department is double-plus good in my books.

I also like the style of Google’s lobbying effort. They may be spending millions on back-room lobbying of the Federal Communications Commission members for all I know (who are scheduled to rule on whether the spectrum becomes free for unlicensed use or not), but they are also putting up videos featuring actual human beings talking about the benefits of widespread Internet access, including some non-profit agencies. The company has a relatively unbiased explainer video featuring Google product manager Minnie Ingersoll, who describes the process by which the spectrum became available in simple terms, complete with ums and ahs, just like a real person. It’s a lot better than the slick videos the broadcasters would probably come up with.

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Mac vs. Windows: Does it even matter?

I know the question in the headline of this post might seem like anathema to a whole host of Mac and Windows fans, who treat their operating systems the same way some people treat their religious beliefs (namely, as something to argue incessantly about). But C.K. Sample asked the question over at the O’Reilly blog, and it’s one that has occurred to me more than once over the past year. There will likely always be people who need a specific operating system, because certain software or tools they use at work will only function with that OS, and there will always be people who prefer one over the other. But for my own purposes, the operating system has become almost irrelevant.

I used to use a Mac for work years ago, then switched to Windows (and before either of those, I used an Atari 1040ST). At home, I used Windows up until a year or so ago, when I switched to Ubuntu. I have a box running Ubuntu and one running XP side-by-side, just in case there’s an app I want to try that only runs on Windows. And if I could convince my chief financial officer to approve it, I would probably buy a Macbook and run Parallels, so I could have two operating systems side-by-side. But in the long run, it doesn’t really matter to me what the OS is, since virtually everything I do involves the Web.

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A look at browsers and music

My friend (and mesh 2008 interview subject) Ethan Kaplan, the vice-president of technology at Warner Brothers Records, has posted an interesting analysis of the browsers and devices that have been accessing the websites of Warner artists. Internet Exploder still makes up the majority of the traffic, but the interesting part is what has been happening in the bottom 1 per cent or so of the access logs: a growing proportion of devices that aren’t computers. At those levels the numbers are going to be erratic, given the small proportion of users — most of whom are likely “edge cases” — but it’s still interesting.

There are iPhones and Nokia mobiles, not surprisingly, but also PlayStations (portables and PS3s), Nintendo Wiis, Danger smartphones and others. As Ethan notes in the post, this is just one part of an ongoing evolution in Web access, with more and more people using their phones and high-definition TVs (as billionaire Mark Cuban points out in typically bombastic fashion) to browse content — and that will have an impact on how content is designed, delivered and consumed. What exactly that impact is, of course, no one really knows, but there’s no question that Google is thinking about what that means.

Let a hundred Facebooks bloom

Om Malik posted recently on something I’ve been thinking about a lot: namely, the tension between one-size-fits-all social networks such as Facebook and a more personalized approach using blogs and tools such as Moveable Type and WordPress, both of which have been adding more social features (including WP’s purchase of Buddypress). Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital also posted on this topic, and said that an interest in more social blogging tools is why he invested in Tumblr, and as Om points out, Chris Messina and a group of other developers have also been working on a broader standard for such things through what they are calling the “DiSo” or distributed social project.

Blogging isn’t for everyone, obviously. There will always be those who prefer to use Facebook-style networks — or even Marc Andreessen’s — because of their simplicity, and hopefully those networks will be able to “federate” or share information with blogs and blog-based social networks, using OpenID or some other similar standard. For those who want more control over their online data and destiny, however (a group I would like to think is increasing), I think blogs and blog-based tools are the best route, and could be a lot more flexible than any other option given the plug-in friendly nature of WordPress.

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Is Internet radio on the brink?

The arcane system by which songwriters, publishers and other rights-holders get compensated when their music is played on the radio in the United States is complicated enough, with quasi-governmental bodies that decide how many pennies each instance will cost, and so on. But at least the fees that are charged aren’t so high that they threaten to make it uneconomic to run a radio station (not yet). Internet radio, by contrast, is almost at that point, according to Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora (and a former musician), one of the leading Internet streaming-audio services — and one I used to enjoy using until it was forced to cut off access to users outside of the United States.

This danger, which Westergren describes in the Washington Post story linked above, isn’t new. The Pandora founder was warning about it in interviews over a year ago, and so were other Internet audio players. The freight train that is currently bearing down on Pandora and similar services got underway more than six years ago, and since then there has been much frantic lobbying by both sides. Finally, last year, a federal agency boosted the rate that Internet radio stations have to pay — it has already doubled, and by 2010 will have tripled. Westergren says the licensing fees that Pandora has to pay this year will consume about 70 per cent of the company’s revenues of about $25-million.

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