An interesting debate between two realisms was kicked off with Cory Doctorow's take on Microsoft's Digital Rights Management (DRM).
It's a weird kind of Big Lie strategy by the DRM people to talk about how DRM can prevent "piracy"
when there has never, ever been an example of this happening.
He also criticised Wired Magazine for not being critical in their reviews of devices with DRM. In response, Editor Chris Anderson offers his take on DRM:
This is just being realistic: much as we might want it to be otherwise,
content owners still call most of the shots. If a little protection
allows them to throw their weight behind a lot of progress towards
realizing the potential of digital media, consumers will see a net
Cory Doctorow then makes a compelling argument on all DRM fronts (go read it, he sees a net loss), but especially on how effective DRM is in practice to prevent piracy:
DRM is not protection. There has never been a DRM-covered file that was kept off the Internet. Ever. ...
DRM isn't protection from piracy. DRM is protection from competition.
Jon Lebkowsky summarizes that DRM breaks your technology and limits your access to content that you paid for, requiring you to pay more. As all goods turn into services, the rights for more than digital content face redefinition, sometimes transparently, sometimes not.
Shulgin eloquently argues for individual liberty while debunking many
myths that prop up the failed prohibitionist drug policies in this
country. Prohibitions -- whether of drugs or books likePIHKAL
-- predictably fail. In this era of de facto censorship, when people do
not discuss drug use openly for fear of incarceration, it is deeply
refreshing to hear someone reprise with truth.
DRM is Prohibition, not Protection -- an ineffective yet lucrative assault on your liberties (fair use).
If you are reading this, you are probably an early adopter. So when the holidays come around you spend time with your family doing In-law IT. These days it can be dreadfully easy:
If at all possible, switch them to a Mac -- You know that experience of visiting family only to find their PC infested with spyware and viruses. Call it the crud of mainstream adoption. They complain about things simply crashing, you have a solution, move them to a Mac with at least OS X. This is the greatest gift you can give them, simplicity that simply works. If not, reinstall and update everything.
Solve that connection problem -- If they don't have broadband, solve that. If they have laptops, wifi (especially if you get them on Macs, and of note, if you get them on Macs, layering on lifestyle services like photos and music is a breeze).
Kill off IE -- One of the worst problems, just install Firefox. Then load the bookmark bar with the sites they spend time on.
Simple Start Page -- For media junkies, My Yahoo (a simple RSS intro opportunity), for those who want answers, Google.
Move them to Webmail -- Email is really all they want to do anyway. But running it on the client not only means problems, but you will have to migrate them in a year or two anyway. Get them up on Gmail or Yahoo and the app will feel more than good enough. Plus you won't have to help them in the hunt for the hidden email.
Flickrdom -- While you are at it, set them up on Flickr so they get photos shared by consequence of your daily interaction.
Communicate -- For more advanced users or stable systems, IM & Skype. You can always set them up with Vonage if you don't want them meddling with headset periperals.
Don't set them up with blogs -- What do you want, them to read yours?
I tried to keep suggestions as simple as possible. Of course, you are highly technical and could install some fandooglydoo thats cool and sexy to you, but that just means a new problem for you when it conflicts with something else. If you started from scratch, setting up such a system would cost around $1,500 at the least, so its not workable for everyone. But at least get them on broadband and move things to web apps.
I'm interested in stories of the simplest thing that possibly works for families. Being tech support for the family isn't an easy job, mostly because it isn't easy enough in the first place.
I'm a huge fan of The Long Tail, but the demand it represents is nothing new. What's new is how we discover it.
Latent Demand (also known as Induced Demand) is the potential earnings if a market is served efficiently. Its the stuff business plans are made of, but its a difficult intangible to value. Back when developing internet businesses in Eastern Europe, we argued that the fall of the wall unleashed the latent demand for technology that was pent up for years. That argument proved true with how quickly consumers embraced the internet and mobility.
The argument was abused by the telecom market during the boom. Gilder, Level 3, Nathan Myrvold and, well, just about everyone embraced Says Law: "Supply creates its own demand." A "if you build it they will come" mentality ensued with a large-scale herd. The notion that bandwidth could be a vacuum sucking in demand, without drawing indeflating competition was like saying lightbulbs suck dark. It also blew a bubble.
But I happen to believe that the Long Tail represents a different kind of latent demand for several reasons:
you don't create demand, you discover it
what you discover mostly already exists and is largely measurable
it does, however, require a different focus of attention within the power law (focusing on and within the other 80%)
when its not discovered by the supply side, as Doc says, "the demand-side supplies itself"
The Long Tail represents more demand than we have realized, but its premised on market efficiency that brings competition. So when someone comes to you with a business plan saying they are targeting the tail say: fine, go prototype it and bring me back some numbers and how you will be able to sustain the trend with competition. That's the difference between a tale and tail.
But if you have an existing business, think about how you will participate in the early days of discovery before your new competition does. You probably have one layer of data analyzed and at your disposal (e.g. unfilfilled auction bids), but probably miss social discovery and how to map it to supply.
Now the great conduit is the blogosphere, both a neologism itself and
an uncharted space that, the more we map it, looks more and more like
our collective unconscious. It dreams up the new words and disseminates
them directly into the language, no longer by IV but by instant
messaging - a term, by the way, that may soon require its own retronym:
Case in point are a few would be words that arose to prominence in the Glossary for 2004:
podcasting, n., the automated distribution of
radio-like programming - interviews, music or even content from
established broadcasters - to portable digital audio players. From iPod (the most popular portable MP3 player) plus broadcasting.
wiki, n., a community-built Web site that allows
content to be edited by anyone. From the Hawaiian wiki, which means
fast, or wikiwiki, which means very fast. Wikipedia, Wiktionary and Wikinews are examples, although many smaller sites exist, too, often for software projects.
"Attention is more expensive than it used to be,"
said Susan Crawford, an assistant professor at the Cardozo School of
Law in New York, in an interview. But she noted that there might even
be something positive from the data maelstrom. In her blog, she asked,
"Are we just getting better at processing information - so that we
really can listen to a podcast, write an e-mail, open a chat session
and write the Great American Novel all at once?"
Whew. My eight year old still believes in Santa. During the last two weeks she has been asking, why does Santa's voice sound like Daddy? She laid plans to stay up and catch him.
Its pretty amazing we have been able to pull it off so far. While my wife made a heck of a costume, I've been described as tall and gangly for good reason. We celebrate Christmas Eve the Estonian way and Christmas day (its as good as marrying into Haunakka). On Christmas Eve, after dinner, I sneak out back and get in the red garbs in the garage, hoist the bag of goodies over my sholder and announce myself at the door with a ho-ho-ho. The trick is to get in and out as quick as possible. No close eye contact, get the gifts in the door, give the munchkins a hug, Merry Christmas and get out while you can. This year I even stuffed my cheeks with a paper towel to disguise my voice.
Now she is asking why Daddy always misses when Santa comes by. And also said that when she hugged Santa his tummy felt like pillows. If she starts Googling for answers I'm in real trouble (Hi Sweetie! Hope the magic stays with you).
Mary is absolutely right that the meaning of Beta for software releases is so diluted its practically meaningless. Most startups and now major companies (except their flagship products) are perpetually in Beta. This is, in part, a good thing. If a vendor warns against flaws and develops a track record of improving them. Users accepting products at face value and being involved in its improvement through testing. Software is a flawed creature, not just because of the developers behind it or the users in front of it, its meant to be broken. Accepting a little informality and being open to conversation leads to better products and can be the basis of great long term relationships.
However, the brand dilution of Beta may have gone to far. Consider where it started:
"hardware or software systems often go through two stages of release testing: Alpha (in-house) and Beta (out-house?)." "This term derives from early 1960s terminology for product cycle checkpoints, first used at IBM but later standard throughout the industry. Alpha Test was the unit, module, or component test phase; Beta Test was initial system test. These themselves came from earlier A- and B-tests for hardware. The A-test was a feasibility and manufacturability evaluation done before any commitment to design and development. The B-test was a demonstration that the engineering model functioned as specified. The C-test (corresponding to today's beta) was the B-test performed on early samples of the production design, and the D test was the C test repeated after the model had been in production a while."
Software development today has increasing overlap between design and implementation. You might recall that Netscape pushed the envelope of overlapping
design and implementation while making Beta sexy for users. Yahoo took
the practice a step further with tighter iterations and a practice of
releasing Beta to a subset of users. These and other marketing and development models defined release cycles during the internet time of the boom. Through bust it was sustained, perhaps because increasingly turbulet markets have led to failure, which leads to learning, which adapts practice -- the better practice is to release early and often.
The decline of packaged software means constant connection between vendor and user, implying a different form of relationship. Even if the user doesn't report bugs or demand updates, the software does for them. In many cases, particularly for consumer apps, the default allows the user to decide whether to submit automatic feedback or update. This is hardly conversation that leads to relationship, but the connection is there nonetheless. Just as important, the software evolves before our eyes and we expect it to.
Language evolves as well, especially in marketing. The brand of innovation that Beta implies has led to its wide adoption and consequent dilution. Perhaps because industry standard software from major vendors is buggy and especially insecure, the bar has been set lower. But that does not mean that users have necessarily become more innovative or less laggardly. The psychodemographic segments of the technology adoption lifecycle still remain, although segments have greater influence over each other and the speed of diffusion can be accerated over the network.
If Beta is diluting as a brand and it doesn't represent industry practice, a couple of scenarios could unfold:
Status quo dilution increases the pace of commoditization. When an industry cannot define relative quality, signaling quality has a higher cost while prices fall to the lowest common denominator.
Users revolt and the market flocks to those who incur the cost of signaling quality. Fresh Outta Beta would regain meaning and development is done in pursuit of quality. In some ways, this is what is happening with consolidation in enterprise software as savvy buyers limit relationships to what they can manage.
The industry attempts to standardize on quality, driven by a dominant vendor like it IBM did in the above excerpt.
Language shifts to define the missing stage between traditional Beta and software ready for the mainstream market. The emphasis of marketing shifts from information to relationships. Products become judged less by their stage of development, but by their rate of change.
Perhaps the latter is already happening. Where we used to have Fresh Outta Beta, we now have fresh out of the Lab or Research. Somehow R&D has become a marketing mechanism. But the reframing these terms provide is really an aside.
If value is shifting from software to information services and community, its not just because the network enables it -- its because the people behind and in front of the software demand it. The only constant in software development is change, and its not just developers that want to embrace change. Users want software that improves over time and to be a part of conversations on where it is and where its going. This overlap in preferences, as well as the desire for a community that surrounds a tool to connect, provide an opportunity for relationships and incentives that are stronger than branding -- where we embrace change together.
While the conversations unfold, I'm not sure where the language is going. Maybe to the next letter in the alphabet, Gamma -- implying a rate of change, a relationship of the highest energy.
Got to admit when you are wrong. Looks like the iPhone may preceed the Wifi iPod, way to go Russell and Mike. But does this mean I have to upgrade my Airport Express to play tunes from my phone? Still doesn't make sense to me and the rest of the installed base (stations).