Tuesday, October 31. 2006
I attended the BBC Innovation Labs event yesterday, very interesting time. Yesterday's Lab (of which there will be 13 this year regionally) gathered about 35 people working around the New Media space, and then Matt Locke, BBC's Head of Innovation, and his team took us through what the BBC is looking for in this area. The eventual aim is to fund a number of feasibility studies into new services.
There was then a workshop run by Frank Boyd of Unexpected Media to drive "Innovation" sessions around service areas that the BBC is interested in using New Media for. There were 2 main phases - a general Phase 1 session on trends in the "New" New Media, and a Phase 2 group workshop session mainly on BBC specific content areas - News, Kids, Drama, Radio One (i.e. all the usual suspects, and seemingly mainly for the "yoof" demographic, as usual).
However, two of these latter session were for Web 2.0 underlying systems - (i) driving User Generated Content, and (ii) Search & Navigation of multimedia content.
Sort of a User Generated Innovation scheme for new BBC services....
In Phase 2, yours truly volunteered for the User Generated Content (UGC) session, and this was where things got interesting.
It became clear to us that UGC is as much about Video-Jockeying (cf music sampling etc) as producing new content from scratch. The meme was then floated - wouldn't it be interesting if all that BBC content was available to be mashed up, mixed and generally played with.
Just imagine if the BBC puts a huge amount of its content online for UK "New Media" enthusiasts and entrepeneurs to play with. Imagine the kick-start of creativity this would unleash. Lots of people are creative, as YouTube has proved - but few have the time or know-how to make original video content.
This would also become a viable way of producing content for newly commissioned programmes (and perhaps is more economic to make, so can compete with (un)reality TV ?)
The BBC could use an adapted creative commons licence to at least allow legal action against people who misuse the content, and could allow people from other countries to pay for the content, thus funding the service.
To me, this looks like one of those truly transforming things that could catapult the UK into a leading position in the emerging Broadband New Media space, which will be one of the major future industries. Everyone, from schools to startups could use this to get projects underway.
We looked also at the BBC's role in this, and thought it could work best as a sort of "Filtering" Aggregator and EPG - using its mission to "educate, inform and entertain" to commission, aggregate, and find/edit/rate content (probably via a variety of social networking, BBC active editing, and automated algorithms) that fitted its ethos - becoming a "trusted YouTube" as it were (also allowing a more lean back audience experience perhaps)
The thorny issue of Rights came up, and I have 3 main thoughts here:
(i) The benefit to the UK economy of making such an asset base open to the full creativity of its citizens would be a truly transformational event, a sort of Digital Media Big Bang
(ii) Moral Right - "We" paid for all that content, so there is some claim that we should get access to it, at least for the purposes of making new content. Certainly from now on how about structuring rights so the public get access to all content (maybe after a windowing period). Extending existing rights beyond the current time limits should be resisted strongly.
(iii) Realekonomik - the Broadband 'Net will allow us to get at the content anyway, so working with, rather than against the flow makes a lot of sense.
For this to work would also need a powerful search capability, but that is for another post. As we have discussed before on here, the key is to have good metadata - though how to get that on a content base the size of the BBC's would be some project.
Anyway, we had to pitch this idea back at the end of the day, and the BBC team smiled benignly but their comments made us (well, me at any rate) realise that this was still a bit radical, even in an innovation workshop - for now anyway. Still, its an interesting idea...the more I turn it over in my head that more transformational I think its impact would be for the UK.
By the way I haven't named my co-conspirators in case they want nothing to do with this - email me if you want to be associated/ lauded/ pilloried, or comment on the blog if you want me hung me out to dry
A short note on the Phase 1 workshop to end off. It was a group session where people had to note major innovative trends emerging in the overall "New" New Media space. All the usual suspects were put up there (MySpace, VoIP, 2nd Life YouTube, Wikipedia, Google Earth, Rights etc etc) but there were 3 ideas that had a new twist to me:
- A sense of loss of "emotional values" in quite a lot of the Web 2.0 technology - I wasn't quite clear what the real issue at the nub of this was, but the sense was that what we say we want and what we really like are different and no tech can sort this out for us.
- Ugliness fosters self creation - MySpace is ugly, so lots of user creativity. Flickr is beautiful, so not so much. This contradicts what writers on for example Vitamin espouse
- You can tell a new comms method has taken hold when it takes its own vernacular, for e.g. SMS defined a new written language structure ( though I would argue some people spoke like that already). This echoes recent discussion on the changes in 2nd Life content, for example here
There was a huge amount of other useful fascinating stuff, I recommend anyone in this space to attend. I also wish I'd had time to meet some of the people afterwards - in fact yet again was the refrain heard "how do we all connect to each other" - see Mike Butcher's echo here
Monday, October 30. 2006
O'Reilly Radar has an article by Tim O'Reilly called "Search Startups Are Dead, Long Live Search Startups". He notes that "In my talks on Web 2.0, I always end with the point that "a platform beats an application every time."
Hmmm.....I think there is actually more of a "helix" effect between platform and application. Platforms are critical until they become standardised - ie commoditised, at which point applications above that layer rise in importance - until they in turn become subsumed in the emerging next level platform structures....and so begins the Circle of Life again
To be fair, I think Tim O'Reilly may imply this when he says:
We're entering the platform phase of Web 2.0, in which first generation applications are going to turn into platforms, followed by a stage in which the leaders use that platform strength to outperform their application rivals, eventually closing them out of the market
Clearly, starting any search business to compete directly with the old platforms is pointless, it seems to me that the new applications area is where the value lies now - searches we get now are based on smart algorithms to search lousy metadata. If that metadata can be enriched, searches can get a lot better.
In my view the social network approach is already driving a new sort of search, more intelligent than the first generation, as users add tagging, rating and recommendation metadata to basic search, forming the folk taxonomies or "folksonomies".
However, this has its limitations, its unpredictable both in terms of coherent metadata structure and rollout - so the challenge is to arrive at easily structured metadata. I can see 3 possible approaches to this for a new player:
(i) Carve off (valuable) pieces of the searchspace and structure better metadata on the content than the majors can provide in that niche (sorry, vertical is the new "in" word I am told) space.
(ii) Add value on top of an existing search platform by structuring better activity based metadata
(iii) Add value to "me" by knowing "me" better - and this probably means some form of opt in where you volunteer information for a more relevant search.
These will most likely ride on top of the exisiting search engines, like the Trexy system I wrote about earlier.
O'Reilly also quotes a post from Bill Burnham which notes that:
For start-ups, having core search become just another part of the Internet’s infrastructure is actually great news. This frees them from the huge capital costs required to build a competitive core search platform and instead lets them focus on building a great consumer/enterprise application.
So not only is building search applications the best strategic option at present from a competitive viewpoint, it actually is a better option from an infrastructure viewpoint too.
Burnham also notes that:
....some of the most interesting opportunities will come not from trying to improve the accuracy and context of a single query, but from looking at aggregate information about search indexes, results, and queries across time. In other words, the marriage of this search infrastructure, with persistent queries and advanced analytics will likely create an entirely new class of applications.
Quite - New Search needs to be integrated into the feedback system of the closed loop architecture of my life - know who I am, what I want, who is like me and wants the same. Oh, and it has to be simple, intuitive and available on my mobile 'phone too.
Not much to ask, is it
Sunday, October 29. 2006
An interesting report on DRM has been published by the Institute of Public Policy Research arguing essentially that the way DRM impacts citizens is not for the music industry, but for government to define.
In short, the report notes that the current DRM laws criminalise huge numbers of people in the UK for doing things they have done for years - recording music they already own onto devices they already own. Report author Kay Withers also noted that a law universally not obeyed is very hard to enforce:
"The idea of all-rights reserved doesn't make sense for the digital era and it doesn't make sense to have a law that everyone breaks. To give the IP regime legitimacy it must command public respect."
In effect the IPPR is arguing that DRM is now out of kilter with the public good:
.....the emergence of the internet means that valuable information and content can swiftly be shared with a vast audience of users. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is used by companies to micro-regulate how information and content can be used, and has received blanket legislative protection in most developed countries. The once symbiotic relationship between IPRs and public domain has become increasingly oppositional as a result of these technological changes.
The argument is not new, with organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundationarguing similar points. What is interesting is that an organisation such as the IPPR is making this argument now, as both the UK and EU are re-looking at the issue over the next few months. There seems to be a rising sense in the EU that the DRM content lobby got in first, and now needs to be rolled back, and the first EC hearing this month showed the consumer pushback is far stronger than a few years ago.
In fact, the lessons so far for anyone trying to enforce DRM in the medium term makes for pretty pessimistic reading, so a bit of "realekonomik" re-thinking may be advantageous - especially for an early adopter play. Simply put, the Net Present Value (and thus price) of DRM content must by definition be worth less than clear owned content, and this will eventually come out.
In fact we have argued before that in future no DRM may even be better for sales, simply because the content is out there anyway, so the issue is how to encourage more people to pay for the content.
Friday, October 27. 2006
Well, I tried to get onto Habbo Hotel today to attend the Mobile Youth Virtual Networking 2006 session this afternoon.
After going through the nannying Habbo setup screens (can't use these characters, we don't like your username, don't like that password - the one I always use) I finally got to the "done" section - hit the key, and lo - before I even got into the Habbo Hotel I was banned by a moderator with no reason being given! Tried my private email address and agreed to get the spam mail just in case, same result. I even reduced my age to see if the auto assumption is that any older guy is a pervert (or just not wanted), but still the banned result (thankfully, in a way).
Went back after confirming my email address (even though there was no sign that this was a prerequisite), got a congrats you are confirmed - but was still banned.
I let my 11 year old son enter himself, same process, same issue - he is also now banned from Habbo. They clearly don't like Runescape Wizards in Habbo Hotel !
We had, according to the Banning Order, apparently contravened the "Habbo Way". Not that we ever got into the system, so we hadn't a clue what we did wrong. So, off we trotted to the "Contact Us" bit (deeply hidden in the site), and found that there is a 48 hour turnaround to even reply to a query, and a 7 day bar cycle for being banned.
So, net net, thanks Habbo - I missed the meeting, missed an opportunity to try a virtual conference, and my son and I are both totally disenchanted with our treatment - a "room full" or "we have a problem" would have been a bit nicer way to tell us we could not enter - and certainly a better remedy to problems than "you are banned - now FAQ Off" - is required.
Seems like some things never change, rude customer service remains in virtual worlds. Fortunately there is choice - back to Runescape and 2nd Life for us.
Maybe we were unlucky, maybe we are digital untouchables, maybe the system was down, maybe the moderator had a bad hair day, maybe it can't handle Firefox 2.0 - who knows, the system didn't tell us anything - but this is not the way to treat customers, especially online. We have blogs now, and we can talk about this stuff - online, globally.
Postscript - my son eventually got in on IE 6.0 using the same email address (his) for both his parental guardian and his character, so heaven knows what security checking system they use
Post-Postscript - have traded 3 emails so far with Habbo, the basic response (after 2 queries for the same basic details) is that I was been banned for not following the Habbo Way. I have sought clarification as to how I could have done that, having never got as far as getting into the site - maybe, as in the famous Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch, my character's shirt choice was too loud?
Thursday, October 26. 2006
I was at the Linux Expo today, it was still small compared to the Mac Expo next door, but some interesting stuff for us digital media-heads.
The BBC did an interesting talk on their experience deploying OS in their systems, and on the various OS licences - but even more interesting were comments about the Kamaelia code being put up within the next few weeks. One can whinge about the Beeb putting up free new media services (like Podcasting for eg) that hinder startup commercial services, but if they can give back this sort of technology that can only be good news.
The MythTV proposition is also interesting...essentially an open source client to make your PC behave like a PVR - this plays to our views on MyPCTV ie the use of the ordinary PC as the device of choice for TV over IP consumption.
Apart from that I was struck by the Trexy beta...its an added value search engine that remembers where you've been for next time so you go straight there, and as users grow will also match new requests to where other people have gone. But that was not the interesting thing, nor was it the free (toy) goat I got - it was that the person I spoke to said they were already funding a team on the ad revenues they generated from their website. Even if its not break even yet (I don't know if it is or not) in early beta, New Search companies gettting in front of older search engines with their advertising are clearly going to be a feature of the Search battle going forward.
And besides, if I'm not allowed to say I Google anymore, Trexing something sounds OK to me
And finally, seeing the Drupal team there was great - we wrote our website ourselves in Drupal, its a big system so its good to meet some faces we can call on - this stuff matters for Open Source to really succeed I think.
Wednesday, October 25. 2006
Yesterday I attended the NMK session "My So Called 2nd Life" - there were a number of very interesting talks, very perceptive questions, and illuminating conversation in the bar afterwards. The talks were a good mix of big and small company plays and academic work.
It was far more mind expanding than any illegal substance, and so much fun it should be banned - the whole "feel" is like the mid 90's again. (Of course, in the mid 90's this was all called Virtual Reality - and it was very virtual because the computers just could not crunch at the price performance they do now)
As we delved into the various MMORPGS, ARGS, MOORs and so on, it became clear to me that we are actually looking at the early form of the "next" Web development phase after Web 2.0.
To explain..."Web 2.0" is essentially - when all is said and done - the endgame of Web 1.0 dreams. To be fair, the open environment of Web 2.0 has been taken to an unimagined level with tagging, mashups etc - or was until the money started to arrive anyway - but essentially it is about broadband speed and penetration. Massive numbers of web wise "eyeballs" are connected to cheap, fat pipes, doing a lot of the stuff that was dreamed about in Web 1.0 but was just not then feasible or affordable. We had VoIP in 1999 for example, but you had to buy for $200 what your laptop now comes with for free, then set up your own wifi station (with a pringle antenna), and do it all on a dialup line.
The next phase of the Web though will (imho) be both a continuation of this trend, yet different. It is a continuation in that it will do, with ever increasing power and bandwidth, what we have done since the text internet (and before) since time immemorial - form "social nets" and communicate with each other. It is different in that it will be virtual 3D, and that is a much richer contextual environment that will blur real life with virtual life.
i.e., not so much Web 3.0 as Web 3.D!
Taking some of the principles of the Web today and projecting, here is a possible scenario-set:
(i) User Generated Content - building our own spaces, our own personae, and probably using the 3D worlds to make our own content - machima is the starting point, but YouTube has shown there is a lot more talent out there than those officially sanctioned by the Media Moguls. Who will be the first to film Hamlet in 2nd Life or similar?
(ii) Existing content - as iTunes has shown, content at a reasonable price, allowing a high degree of user choice and "playlisting" (a form of user content generation) that is easy to download/upload is very attractive. I also think content rights may increasingly evolve into a de facto "Use it or Lose it"
(ii) Identity and Profile - my 3D avatar(s) becomes the repository of my identity, which I own. This avatar travels between applications and interacts with them, sometimes in 2D, sometimes in 3D. I will probably have a nuber of avatars (profiles) depending on the application, Clearly the management of Intimacy will be far more subtle than it is today on MSN say, and relate more to real life.
(iii) Search will change....at present search in 2nd Life is non existent, that must change and will do so as it becomes open. The current search regimes were built for Web 1.0, (which is why the GYM crowd have had to acquire web 2.0 technology), but the emerging world will have much richer metadata and thus new search techniques will apply.
(iv) Webservices are becoming mainstream, reliable and have an increasingly light touch on the client, allowing dumber and dumber devices to become part of the experience.
(v) Bandwidth - ah, bandwidth. The nay-sayers argue that as soon as we all start consuming movies etc the bandwidth will collapse. But my observaton over the last 10 years is that there has always been a nay-saying about bandwidth, especially by the owners of the last generation of business models. However, bandwidth provision and demand are in a sort of helix dance, and there is still a huge amount of darknet out there. I don't think we will all be consuming TV and VoD movies all the time anyway, the alternatives are just too enticing and will become more so as the blend of real and virtual worlds increases.
(vi) The Customer Environment - Game machines, Mobiles, TV, PC...will all interwork (not as devices, the manufacturers are determined not to do that) as Services. I will set up my service on my PC, consume it on my TV at home and interact with it on a Mobile or Nintendo when out and about. What will be most revolutionary is the the "environment" will blend between the virtual and the real world. My Avatar has already attended seminars on line in 3D, 2nd lifers increasingly arrange to meet in real pubs, and ARG players play virtual games in real worlds - the trend to using reality as a backdrop to the 3D characters' world will continue.
Will I still consume old media - sure, the new never replaces the old - but they fight for the same hours and wallet, so getting attention will be the key issue going forward.
(vii) Analytics - there is a lot of data generated by you online....all the commercial Co's (and no doubt governments) will want to collect it, but I see an increasing counter-drive to privacy as well - the end position will be an Opt-In play - I share data about me, but at a price.
(vii) Advertising.....it must happen, and is to be encouraged as a way of subsidising services - but beware, we can "TiVo" a virtual world quite well. 2nd Life for example has roughly doubled in population in 4 or so months, a mass immigration if ever there was one, and this is attracting mass retail interest. However, caveat retailer - in 2nd Life or similar users can just go somewhere else, so the challenge will be to enhance the existing experience - for example will an easy to navigate 3D Grocery mart be better than shopping online off a web page?
To me it is quite sad the way many Brands are now barging into 2nd Life, boots and all, to get the publicity buzz - the risk is it turns into another overdeveloped tourist resort, the virtual equivalent of Torremolinos or somesuch. (Mind you, I was told yesterday that in 2nd Life life the inhabitants have moved from mainly building cool stuff to buying expensive branded shoes and colouring them in, so it looks like the package tourists are coming in droves! I await the first Virtual Timeshare huckster with trepidation )
Tourism kills the thing it loves, but in a virtual world one can more easily go elsewhere when Costa Cyber is full of Cr*p!
For this reason, one can imagine subscription services also existing, both as business models where longer term commitment is required to build services, or for private services, or simple to avoid advertising supported ones.
(viii) Bad Behaviour. Yesterday we asked the Linden guy about possible money laundering, tax evasion, fraud etc on 2nd Life. One of the speakers actually noted that deviant behaviour is a norm in society. The answer so far is we must be all be excellent to each other and be self policing. .I can believe that in an early environment it is all fine, but by and large cometh the money (the stampede by the Brands shows its arriving), then cometh the crooks.
We are all the same underneath all this...humans do human stuff, regardless of the medium or the media.
(ix) V-Government - it is clear that if the Real/Virtual world mix occurs in a commercial sense, it needs to exist in a governmental sense too. That doesn't mean I want to see Dave peddling his Green V-Bike in 2nd Life, but it does mean that government communication will need to reach into this world. Who knows, maybe this is the way to break the political apathy in so many developed countries. Anyone up for the Ban No Fly Zones Movement in 2nd Life ?
(x) V-B2B - Videoconferencing, meetings, presentations can all be failrly well done in 3G worlds - in fact there are advantages over traditional Videoconferencing, we were told yesterday by IBM that one unexpected effect of Virtual Conferencing is avatars having "water cooler" conversations, which you can't get in a phone meeting or videocon. Private environments where business can be done will no doubt come into effect, if not on 2nd Life then elsewhere.
Thats a brief brain dump summary. One small step for avatar kind......
Monday, October 23. 2006
Last week I met one of the Mydeo team at a presentation about the future of broadband content. Mydeo are a sort of "user defined walled garden" player for sharing media between people in your own social network.
(I like the idea of User Defined Walled Gardens...disrupting Web 2.0 using Web 2.0 methods seems so cool )
The area of trusted data storage has interested me for quite a while, as quite a lot of research has pointed to a need for such services - not everyone likes to chuck their stuff on a public marketspace such as YouTube or Flickr.
BT also recently announced its Digital Vault, again research shows that a utility (especially a Telco) has quite a lot of trust in these areas.
This is not the same as Mydeo, being a secure data repository rather than a secure sharing service, but shows again the rise of Trusted services.
Both are subscripion based, between a fiver and a tenner a month for a useful amount of storage, though BT does have a 2Gb free service which should be great for small companies ( like ours for example.)
It will be very interesting to see how the argument of paid for + trusty competes with Free. With the best will in the world, the trust in free services, even those on Google, seems to be fairly low. There is a cleaer conflict of interest between advertiser and customer. In fact on MySpace you even have to sign up to a recognition that your data is stored in the USA, which does not have the same Data Protection rigour as Europe.
Was reading about the Skype boys' new project, The Venice Project. I love the blurb:
We're working on a project that combines the best things about television with the social power of the internet - a project that gives viewers, advertisers and content owners more choice, control and creativity than ever before.
Can't resist this - it reminded me so much of the stuff going on in the South Sea Bubble in the early 18th century....Among the many companies, more or less legitimate, to go public in 1720 was – famously – one that advertised itself as
"a company for carrying out an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is".
No beta in those days, just hand over the money....
Seriously though, leaving The Original Bubble aside, it started me thinking about what a proper VideoSkype could be. I have VoIP and Webcam from Skype (and MSN.....come back Unified Messaging), but its pretty much for social comms, not professional so you have to integrate a whole lot of things together to videoconference and videowork with colleagues. So at Broadsight we're fairly tech savvy, we can do all that - but its takes time and effort and hassle. The power of a totally integrated, semi pro VideoWorking Webservice would be pretty useful for Small Businesses and Corporates alike.
There has been lots of work over the years on the Integrated Workstation of the Future, but it seems to me that using a combo of the consumer technology around today, Web2.0 principles and a big broadband pipe is a clear way to go.
And if investment is basically just a Webcam plus the service and the gear for MyPCTV, it will come in an order of magnitude lower in cost than most VideoCon systems today.
Just wifi in the mobile phone as well........
The issue initially will be QoS, but I think over the next few years this will largely go away as:
(i) Technology for video transfer over the 'Net improves
(ii) Corporates will buy the most groomed networks
(iii) Cometh the need....the darknet will be lit up
This feels to me like VoIP technology c 1999
Saturday, October 21. 2006
New Media Age today reports on a BT Vision tie up with Viacom, following on from BBC worldwide - and a good collection of other content holders - however it has still to launch, and there does not (yet) appear to be a user driven beta service if you sign up.
We have played with pure Broadband TV (see our other MyPCTV posts ) and we feel that, even though it is crude today, it works, and there is a lot of development potential here. And the reason it works is that 4 Mb pipe from.....BT
Juxtapose this with Tape it Off the Internet (TIOTI), which started as a bootstrap a little more than a year ago and is already in beta test with end customer volunteers. It is a non Set Top Box service, using Bittorrent to go direct to the PC. TIOTI is not the only one of the emerging direct Video - to - Home services.
I wish the BT team well, an IPTV system is a big piece of work - but the Big Question now is, will the Unlaunched IPTV guys (elsewhere as well as in the UK) be able to cope with the rush of the Broadband TV services, which won't need a Set Top Box to work.
I was at a presentation by Annelise Berendt of Ovum this week, where she showed that IPTV growth in the UK would be interesting, but not spectacular. My instinct is that as well as this, non IPTV style services will be far larger than is "officially" estimated today.
The counter-argument is that of course, the PC is not used in the living room, and people won't connect PC's to the TV...but this is, in our view, something that may tip very fast because:
(i) Its probably untrue now anyway - circumstantial evidence is that a lot of people use laptops in the lounge now, and there are spare PC's in many households. Sure, these are often early adopters but that is all that is needed to kick off a shift in such an early market.
(ii) A lot of people now have modern TVs that can take PC screen output, and Christmas is coming.
(iii) Free works........Now TV in Hong Kong gives the STBs away ( allegedly because thet have such great customer data), but They seem to be the exception as a business model.
(iv) After YouTube's acquisition I suspect the funding for these plays will be coming in fast
Friday, October 20. 2006
So thats how they did the deals so quickly.......there I was thinking the YouTube dealmeisters were dealmaking superheroes when it was good old....ummmm - "unique consideration" - all along. Patrick's Razor - that the most cynical explanation is the best one - yet again is proven valid.
This has the whiff of Don Quattrone and DealFather II about it. Take a ride with us and drop all thoughts of those lawsuits and we'll make you an offer you can't refuse, OK?
All credit to Liz Gannes over at GigaOM, about a month ago she floated this possibility based on a piece from PaidContent.
NBC and CBS, who had negotiated earlier, did not get stakes. Shows the advantages of being early movers I guess.
EMI has still to reach a settlement with YouTube, as do most of the TV studios. I'll bet they are delighted with this news.....I wonder if there are seats ready with their names on?
And the billion dollar question - does GooTube stay cool with the dudes once this is all out, do they even care, or do they migrate to new services like Bolt....oh wait, Bolt now have a lawsuit from Universal against them......
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