The OPEN World

Copyright symbolImage via Wikipedia


We are moving from a world with large, centralized, tyrannical power brokers that decide who can access what content, what they can do with it and even what you can say about it. They erect barriers to prevent competition and assert control over the world. They use things like digital rights management and lobbying congress to extend copyrights another 50 years.

Sometimes, they erect elaborate facades or hide behind innocuous concepts like "protecting innovation" or "preserving the rights of artists" but often these are transparent attempts at preserving their status quo grip on their power.

They control the means of production, the means of distribution and the means of consumption. Or, they did.

We stand at the threshold of a new era, however and as new means of communication open up, their power ebbs.

It used to be that producing an LP (that's a big round thing you spin and hold a needle against to make sound in case you've never seen one ) was a costly process. The recording, mixing and production equipment was expensive. The knowledge to run it was relatively scarce. Only people with large amounts of capital could buy the machines and run them so they control what content gets produced. Of course, since they provided for the means of production they want to control the assets they produced so they can get paid back for their investment.

As the cost of the equipment used to produce content has plummeted, ownership has spread. As the number of tools has grown, they've become better and easier to use. Suddenly, the big players don't control the means of production and can't control the rest of the life-cycle. Though that doesn't stop them from trying. Which leads to distribution...

In the old days, content was physically distributed. Atoms were transmuted. Molecules transported. The same powers that controlled production controlled distribution. They controlled where you could get the content and how much you had to pay for it. And yes, you had to pay for it.

Now the starting points and the end points have changed. They can't control either one. They don't control the highway and they can't charge tolls. You can teleport your content's bits straight to your consumers and charge whatever price you negotiate with them.

As the super powerful watched technology evolve, they faced a dilemma. The end of their grip on power was clearly evident. Their days were numbered and they had to do something to stop the bleeding. They decided to try and convince you that it was important that you only consume content in approved ways. Ways approved by them. They invented DRM to restrict you from making copies of assets you purchased, to prevent you from playing back those assets on devices they hadn't extracted their pound of flesh from. They pulled the wool over your eyes as long as they could.

Fortunately, people are more aware than ever of the restrictions placed on them. Increasingly they are rejecting those restrictions and rejecting companies that try to enforce them. Tools like Boxee are providing new endpoints free of central control. codecs like Ogg/Vorbis free us up from paying royalties to transport content. Open source hardware creates devices that end users have complete control over.

Welcome to the new world. It's yours to take back.

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WOW! This is a really neat tool. I even went back and edited some old posts so I could spice them up with it. Good work Zemanta!

Journalism and the Interwebs

This is a followup to a previous post I did in haste after a local "incident" where there was some confusion between a local entrepreneur and a reporter. You can also read Lance Weatherby's take on this at Force of Good.

I think one shift in journalism that's been going on for a while ( and may have accelerated due to tools like Twitter ) is that people's working relationships exist simultaneously in multiple modes.

Whereas in the past you would have to pick up the phone to make contact with someone and get information from them for a story, you can now have a series of short conversations with them with almost no effort. The process of gathering material for your writing work is now mixed in with the many bite-sized conversations you've had with your subjects and the tone gets muddied.

Journalists and writers have always had friendly, informal relationships and met at social functions, eaten meals / had drinks together. There isn't anything wrong with that in and of itself. It's just that when it came time to produce written content there was a barrier that made sure the tone was appropriate and that care had been taken to preserve the usual jounralistic standards.

Another shift is a reduction in the effort and time required to publish your work. It used to take editing, typesetting, proofing, printing and distribution to get your words in front of your readers. Now you can unleash your latest creation with no help from anyone and almost no effort on your part.

In Summary

For journalists, something to ponder: Weigh the need to get something published quickly with the need to be true to yourself, your sources and your community.

For entrepreneurs, keep in mind when talking to journalists, writers, bloggers and others that you need to be aware of what information you are sharing and your expectations as to the privacy of the conversation. If you want to be "off the record", then say so. Don't disclose anything you don't want to see on the front page of the paper, even if you are promised to stay "on background" or "off the record". If you never send it, you don't have to worry about who sees it.

P.S. This Zemanta thing is pretty cool!

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Cable Is Dead?

Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

First, a disclosure: I work for a cable company. I write this from the perspective of someone inside the industry, concerned about its future.

As a consumer, I look at the bills I have to pay and I naturally start asking myself what I really need and what I can live without. Some things are essential services - Electricity, Water, Natural Gas... those things are candidates for increased efficiency / reduced consumption.

Other things I can live without. And lately more and more consumers are making the same discovery.

Home phone? Cable Television? Meh and Meh.

A lot of cable companies, mine included, have invested in wireless phones as a way to add a 4th leg to their three-legged stools of Data, Telephony and Video. MSOs collectively have poured 100s of millions into building these services.

What are we losing? Well, the entrenched phone operators haven't ignored us. They've gone about building video services in an attempt to steal customers away from the MSOs as we steal phone customers from them. So far, we've been winning that battle.

Now, take a look at this post by Fred Wilson. Once again, he's hit the nail on the head. It's not about what a few small focus groups have told a few executives what should be on TV. You are the new focus group.

It's ironic, actually, that DOCSIS signals are based on MPEG-2 timing signals. It's video over data... over video. In a way.

What we're on the verge of seeing is that the only thing people need MSOs or RBOCs to provide is a data pipe and then we'll take care of the rest ourselves.

I don't need a set of copper wires run to my house just to carry analog voice. It's just going to get packetized at the CO anyway. I'll packetize it myself, thanks. I don't need a box on my TV that allows me to tune into programs someone else has selected the availability / timing of (DVR notwithstanding).

I would much rather have a flexible, configurable voice system like Grand Central or some kind of SIP trunk to my Asterisk system than a featureless, expensive, inflexible service like I have now. Why can't I get all my voicemail in one place? Have it emailed to me? Switched between wireless phones? Carried via cellular / WiFi at my choosing? I CAN! Just not with the current offerings from the RBOCs and MSOs.

My wife is very insightful and when we talk about technology, entrepreneurship, global finance she asks me fantastic questions. It's really quite amazing. The first thing she asked me when I was talking to her about the work I'm going at my startup and what's going on in the world with and boxee was, "So how are people going to find shows to watch?" or something to that effect.

If everyone with a DV camera just started making their own shows and uploaded them all to their own personal websites it would be impossible to find good content. No ONE person would know much about any content except what they had created. My answer to her was "You'll find out about content you're likely to enjoy from your social network."

You're much more likely to enjoy content reccomended by friends and colleagues. You understand them intuitively. You know their biases. You know their experiences. You know what you have in common with them and what you don't.

This is the EXACT opposite of the way you get content via Cable / Satellite / RBOC. I only hope the MSOs are preparing to operate in that environment. I don't work in Marketing or New Product Development so I don't know what we're doing. If anyone who does work in those departments wants to talk about it, I'm all ears!
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The New Journalism?

Recent events in a small corner of the Atlanta technology community have recently shone a light, for me anyway, on the evolution of the relationships between journalists and their subjects.

Whereas a reporter in the past might only have occasion to talk to the CEO of a local company or a GP at a VC firm when they had a story to write, they now can converse frequently (and quite publicly) via tools like Twitter, Facebook and others. This shift presents opportunities and challenges for both sides of the equation.

In the old world there were well understood rules for both sides. Rules that had evolved over time but with a pretty low churn rate. The tone of the communication would probably be fairly rigid, formal and concise. Each party's expectations were probably understood equally well by both parties. Both sides recognized the needs of the other that they fulfilled. These are all generalizations, of course. There always will be some exceptions.

All of those things, however, have changed now with the advent of Social Media, the Twitterverse and any number of new communication channels. I'll post more about that later...

Latitude Schmatitude! No Gratitude for the Attitude!

Image representing Fred Wilson as depicted in ...Image via CrunchBase

I've read some people's ideas about latitude. Fred Wilson had a good post on the subject but I think I have a different take on it.

I installed it on my blackberry immediately because I was curious. It seemed ok. Then I started thinking about it. I'm not sure I necessarily want everyone to know where I am. I tend to get paranoid. Yes, you can specify different levels of access to different friends (City only vs. precise coordinates etc...) but I still don't like it. Maybe I am just used to living WAY outside the perimeter and only bumping into my friends when I'm working across the hallway from them. I would love to work downtown and run into people at Starbucks instead of the elevator.

But besides the creep factor I think I have technical issues with it. I added my friend Andy Sweet to it and he accepted the invite. He's got an iPhone, I'm stuck with a crackberry. When he first popped up it showed him being over on the East side of Atlanta which seemed plausible. The next day, however, it showed him as being in Washington D.C. and then Dallas, TX and now Pittsburg, PA.

The problem?

He NEVER LEFT Atlanta! When I asked about his fantastic voyages he swore he never went those places, nor did he know that you can set an arbitrary location in Lattitude if you want to pull off such hijinx on purpose.

Clearly, a few kinks to be worked out. My location is currently set to Maui where apparently I'm surfing waves instead of interwebs. I hope I'm having fun!
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