Tivo vs. Apple TV

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That was quick. I thought the distribution of home movies directly downloaded to Tivo would have been handled by the Amazon Unbox arrangement which I wrote about last week but I instead Tivo is promoting a service called One True Media.

Here’s how it works. Upload your photos and short movies to the service that allows you to add a soundtrack, titles, and simple effects. In return for your subscription ($3.99/month, $39.99/year), you will get a special Tivo subscriber’s code. Any broadband-enabled Tivo can then use this code to subscribe to anything you upload to your One True Media account. More details on the One True Media site.

While this is exciting, there is also a compelling alternative with the Apple TV which supports subscription to any Video Podcast via the iTunes store. While Tivo’s solution seems well integrated and easy to use, it still relies on the publisher to give the Tivo owner a subscription code that they manually need to put into their Tivo setup.

  1. Tivo/One True Media – $$ to publish, free to download, editing platform restricted to One True Media
  2. Apple TV/iTunes – free to publish, $$ (or free to download), use whatever editing platform you like

Historically, the more open publishing models prevail. I’m afraid that charging your publishers to upload their videos is going to limit the market to just those that want to push home movies of their kids to their grandparents. I wonder how many grandparents have an IP-enabled Tivo?

A better idea would be to set up Tivo’s to publish so all you need to do is upload your finished movies to your Tivo box via the USB port and then it’s available on a peer-to-peer network. When grandma or anyone else who browses the Tivo catalog wants to pull a file (either via one-time request or RSS subscription), the peer-to-peer network copies the file either off the seed Tivo or off any other Tivo that is hosting the file. Tivo can manage the index and use the metadata on what you watch to improve recommendations and suggest other things to watch, either from the networks or from the peer-to-peer network.

Who do you think will be the winning solution a year from now? Apple TV or Tivo?

Movies downloaded to your Tivo via Amazon’s Unbox service

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I decided to give Amazon’s new Unbox service a whirl over the weekend (they are offering $15 in credit if you register your Tivo broadband service with Amazon by April 30th) and was very pleased with the experience.

It took only a few minutes to link up my Tivo account and after that, any movie listed on the Amazon Unbox catalog was ready for one-click purchase and download.

I chose two movies (Devil Wears Prada and Little Miss Sunshine which run $3.99 each) and they began to download within minutes and were available for viewing later that evening.

You have 24 hours to view the movie from when you begin viewing and have full Tivo control over stopping, starting, rewinding and fast-forwarding through the movie. Notice the new “red flag” icon which alerts you that the movie will be deleted. Also notice the “save to VCR” option is avaialble although I didn’t try it yet.

It’s early days yet and Netflix has also mentioned that they’re in the download on demand business as well (the Netflix CEO has been quoted as saying that they’re not called “mailflix” for a reason) and from what I see here, it looks like this could be quite a compelling reason to move off of expensive cable plans for HBO and other premium channels if you’re able to get what you want via an on demand service. Add an archive of standard television series and specials and you’ve got a nice alternative to the Apple iTunes/Apple TV product.

Additional bonus is that purchases made here feed into my Amazon recommendation profile (most likely my Tivo profile as well). This will be a space to watch.

Sparkletack is Back!

sparkletack.jpgMy favorite podcast , Sparkletack – the San Francisco history podcast, as told by a distant relative of Mark Twain, is back after a longish hiatus. If you, like me, have a long commute and are looking for something to listen to and enjoy a good tale, subscribe to Richard’s podcast.

The latest episode, The Crocker Spite Fence, is about the 40-foot tall fence built by the railroad baron Charles Crocker around the one fellow who would not sell so that Crocker could build his hill top mansion on Nob Hill.

SXSW Day Four, Tuesday

After Bust 2.0: Ten Years Later, Where Will We Be?

Most of the optimism on the panel came from the fact that “this time it’s different.” Bandwidth and hardware is cheaper, storage is cheaper, we know how to scale effectively, we can do more with less, we won’t get fooled again.

Then Ted Rheingold of Dogster brought up the point that costs are rising again. While we may be saving on infrastructure accounts, traditional business costs for things such as rent, salaries, and consulting are creeping back up. This has a ripple effect on startups which need to put this into their business plan. If they need more funds to run the company, they need to raise more money in financing which requires a greater return and before you know it, you’re back in the bubble again. Almost on queue, today’s Wall Street Journal cover story (“Tech Companies in the Red Pursue IPO Gold“) talks about IPOs for non-profitable businesses.

Dave Hornick on the consumer media business. “There are two markets to serve and any successful service needs to serve both.

  • People with more time than money.
  • People with more money than time.

Napster failed because it only served the former and didn’t start making money until it served the later.

Lane Becker views customer service as the next great untapped opportunity for web 2.0 optimization.

All panalists view USA Today’s addition of digg-like voting and recommendations as turning point. Until then, there was no mainstream media company doing this and the model to emmulate was digg or slashdot. Now, with Gannett serving as a validation, others will follow.

Will Wright Keynote

The Ultimate Music Recommendation Smackdown

Nice touch, the moderator had each of the representatives of each company introduce and describe their competitor’s company. Everyone was quite complimentary of each other until the Last.fm representative described Pandora as a bunch of people in an, “ivory tower.”

Pandora vs. Last.fm – both use collaborative filtering but Pandora uses human “experts” to classify the music in their library while Last.fm is based on algorithms with very little human intervention.

Pandora’s editors play a key role in “jump starting” the insertion of music into their “radio stations” that make up the collective library of genres of Pandora. Many of the songs they surface would have never made it into rotation on other systems unless they were pushed there by their categorization.

Bruce Sterling Rant

Transcript of Bruce Sterling’s rant

 

 

SXSW, Day Three Monday

It poured last night but had the good fortune to tag along with with Dan Theurer out to the Austin City Limits studio to catch Voxtrot. It was so nice to be away from the mad rush of conference posers and chill out to a some great music with people that were there for the music and not just the scene.

It took a little while to get a cab back but I actually went to bed at a reasonable hour and woke up fairly rested.

Getting Unstuck: Moving from 1.0 to 2.0

Always a pleasure to hear Chris Messina talk and he did not disappoint. This session covered strategies that get you out of a rut and onto the next level in product design. Chris’ advice to put it out in the open was spot on. Ideas that stay in the dark fester and die. The process of communicating your idea to others and bouncing it around for advice not only helps you formulate the idea and how best to explain it, it also gives you an opportunity to stress test it against reality and shore up its weaknesses. “Explore the blind spots, the negative spaces.” Once you make something a conversation piece, then you know it’s strong enough to stand on its own.

Along these lines, another panelist (sorry, I was in the back of the room and couldn’t read their names) said that one shouldn’t underestimate the power of reducing your idea into an easy to remember “sound bite” that can be internalized by your team so they can help spread the word. This is very much like Guy Kawasaki’s advice to kick off projects with a mantra and write it on a t-shirt. If you can fit your team’s rallying cry on the back of a t-shirt, you’re well on your way.

“Listen and build what their users need, not something that fits into your companies process.” A process  is about your company, not the people or its customers. Too many companies get wrapped up in process and loose focus on their ultimate goal which is shipping products to their clients. A simple timeline with deliverables will do. The process is no more complicated than “Explore, think, create, act.”

The Future of the Online Magazine

A lively session that featured editors from Salon.com, Media Bistro, The Onion, and College Humor. Moderated by Rufus Griscom of Nerve.com which has a great new site for, “urban parents”

  • Media Bistro – 27 total staff, 3 full time editors, 14 bloggers
  • Salon.com – 64 total staff, 28 in editorial
  • College Humor – 40 total staff, 9 in editorial
  • The Onion – 13 writers, 20 for their entertainment section, AV Club.
  • Nerve/Babble – 25 writers

The Onion gets 80% of its revenue from advertising. Much of it’s traffic comes via direct links to it’s stories.

75% of traffic to Salon.com comes directly, not via links.

Media Bistro, much of their traffic heads straight for their job boards.

Question in the audience from editor of smithmag.net, a participatory storytelling site, about the value of turning over the creation of content to your readers. Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com says that the editor is important because they can smooth out the volatility of the public’s interest. If you see a story about Africa on the front page, you know that Salon is taking a hit to their traffic but (and this is my example) much like green beans, they are part of a healthy and balanced media diet.

Salon.com on how to moderate comments and discourage trolls. They have a “red star” system which editors award red stars to comments that they like to highlight. Readers can filter out and read only comments awarded a star so the community aspires to write comments that get awarded a star.

Salon.com pleased that their story on Walter Reed (which they broke two months ago) is finally being covered.

Interesting (and revealing) debate over the value of letting your writers have their own blogs. Rufus of Nerve encourages it because it allows them to explore topics that he may not necessarily carry on his site. A nice side benefit is that these writers often point back to their work on his site anyway which broadens the audience (and allows his readers to find out more about the author’s interests). Laurel Touby from Media Bistro didn’t get it. She didn’t want any of her author’s output going anywhere outside her site.

I think I’d rather write for Rufus. Smile

Dan Rather Keynote

It was great to see such a seasoned veteran address a room full of bloggers and share his perspective of the future. The quote of the day was, “What American journalism needs is a spine transplant,” which a quick search shows is not such a new line after all.

Most of his talk was about dangers of journalists becoming too chummy with their sources. The old saying is a journalist is only as good as his source. In the old days, a journalist would nurture a multitude of sources but perhaps there is now too much dependence on just a handful of sources which puts pressure on the journalist to bend their stories to curry favor and maintain access.

“Investigative journalism” a redundant phrase to Dan Rather.

On Corporatization of news. The news operations of the large media divisions are such a small part of the overall business of the parent companies (NBC owned by GE who also makes nuclear reactors) that the CEO is too focused on profits and stockholder value to care too deeply about news operations. There is not enough competition in the major markets which waters down coverage and alternative viewpoints. It’s all too formulaic. Here’s what the governer said > here’s what his critics said > here’s the governer’s response > next story.

On the rules of the game. There were several layers of disclosure that were well understood in his day but are increasingly ignored today.

  1. On the record – attributable and can be used
  2. On background – the source cannot be directly identified, i.e. “a Senior White House official”
  3. On deep background – you cannot even point to the source’s organization
  4. Off the record – this conversation didn’t even happen, even if it means going to jail

People respected reporters like Dan because they took him for his word. He mentioned that there are things that he was told in the past that he would never tell anyone, even today. I really go the sense from him that he meant it.

Dan’s talk was liveblogged by Pat McCarthy on Conversation Rater.

When Communities Attack

Chris Tolles of Topix.net (soon to become Topix.com) gave a great talk about how best to moderate online communities based on his experience managing the comments on the Topix site.

  1. Anonominity enables certain bad behavior.
  2. If members identify themselves, opponent fights break out and often devolve into attacks on the other’s behavoir. Moderating these types of cat fights is much like the being the playground guard.
  3. There are people that manage multiple accounts so they can use their multiple logins to give the illusion of popular support. These schemes are easily discovered because they often use the same IP address.
  4. Sometimes mob fights follow each other from site to site.

In each case, there are three possible responses:

  • Shut the site down – you can take down a blog but you can’t take down the blogosphere.
  • Abdicate – this is kind of the MySpace approach, “hey man, it’s not our problem.” If you set out this way, it’ll be near impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.
  • Moderate – encourage good behaviors and try and get the community to moderate itself.

If you moderate, besides things such as Captcha registration, profanity and semantic filters, the recent activity log which shows per post, per user, and per IP address/domain activity is the most powerful tool you have to manage volume. Community flagging, voting, (dig/bury) are tools you can use to get the community involved.

The Ni-chan paradox. Registration keeps out most good posters from your forums. Only the trolls have the time and energy to register. The Ni-chan forums in Japan had absolutely no registration but managed to keep its forums clean with a minimum of effort. The Ni-chan paradox is covered in detail on the topix blog and on the Shiichan BBS. More interesting perspectives from Clay Shirky in his talk, The Group is its own worst enemy.

I would have loved to have caught Jay Allen’s talk on the Invisible Blogosphere and Justin Hall and Joi Ito on gaming but various conference calls and work things pulled me away. Joi especially is a mind-blower. In a chat we had about World of Warcraft on Saturday while waiting to checkout Dorkbot (he was wearing his guild’s logo on a t-shirt) he mentioned that he’d like to engineer it so that he could Twitter others from within the game so when he needed, say, a level 60 priest, he could put out the call to help.

SXSW, Day Two Sunday

Part two in a continuing series. I was up late watching Ze Frank and his hilarious deconstruction of Airline Safety Seat Back Instructions (“So what does this mean? No interracial dating?“) and other general silliness. Compounded by the fact that 2am instantly became 3am I passed on the 10 am sessions and opted for a run by the river where I caught the Heart of Texas Regatta.

Lonelygirl15 Case Study

As they got into developing the concept, they realized that what they were doing was not unlike what Orsen Wells did with his War of the Worlds broadcast at the dawn of the radio age. The general public is not literate in internet video and how truth can be manipulated.

Even after it was discovered that Lonelygirl15 was a fictional character, people still tune into the site which has become an, “internet soap opera” with a following that is comprised of 70-80% female, most in their 20’s.

On the site, fans are encouraged to submit their own videos to add to the plotline. Fans take minor characters and expand them with their own backstory which the producers then roll into future episodes.

How do they make money? Product placement and videos hosted on Revver. They are also investigating more integrated promotions such as inviting viewers to go to fedex.com and type in a tracking number to follow a package to delivery which will coincide with an event.

Keynote Conversation: Limor Fried / Phil Torrone

Photos and descriptions of various projects including:

Bacon-cooking Alarm Clock

Gummy Bear Chandelier

A 225 HP Monowheel

RFID-activated Flame-throwing trampoline

The OpenMoko – an open source cellphone

Plants that call you when you need to water them

Building an Online Fan Base

Lance Weiler walked us through the site for his movie, Head Trauma. A series of pages tell the story of the movie and at one point you are prompted to SMS a message to a number. Once you do, the site calls your cellphone and continues the narration of the site over your phone, augmenting the spooky music on the site. At one point, the voice on the phone asks you your “darkest secret” recording what you say into the receiver and then plays it back to you OVER YOUR COMPUTER SPEAKERS. It continues to loop what you said over and over again until, sufficiently chilled, you leave the site. The site monitors the clicks and knows when you leave the site so it then CALLS YOU BACK!

At this point the entire room let out an astonished gasp of horror.

Lance has a number of SEO tricks up his sleeve as well which he has documented for other filmmakers at his site, workbookproject.com.

People-Powered Projects

Jamglue.com – totally cool flash-based remixing console with social “favoriting” features thrown in to surface the best mixes.

Despite the fact that some of the most creative material is coming out of community-based sites such as flickr and JPG Magazine, getting “published” by a big-name publisher is still a mark of validation.

 

SXSW, Day One Saturday

It’s my first SXSW and I’ve kept off the laptop so that I can devote as much attention as possible to what’s going on in the sessions, conversations, and parties in between. I have been taking notes and for the benefit of readers (and just in case I misplace my notebook) I’ll dump them here in the next few posts.

Online Publishers & Ad Networks

Cody Simms (Yahoo!) points to very informative research report from Morgan Stanley. Direct Mail still a jaw-dropping 25% of the total advertising budget for the US.

Larry Allen (Tacoda) – Advertisers consider anything with comments as “user generated content” and are wary about having their messages appearing alongside anything they cannot vet in advance.

It bears watching how this view will impact advertising revenues alongside the recently launched USA Today redesign. Learned on the Trade Show floor that these comments are powered by the Pluck SiteLife product which has a broad agreement with the Gannett chain to power all their papers so I’m sure they are watching this closely too.

Bridging the Online Cultural Divide

People are using the web to either build a false persona or exaggerate an existing tendency. Like drunkards at a loud party, people take controversial things to get attention and traffic to their site. Add crude methods of monetization that are a derivative of your traffic and it only makes the problem worse.

Arguments online are often two dimensional where as in the face-to-face world they are more nuanced. The analog to this is modern politics where democracy boils down the candidate race to a yes/no vote – there is no room for grey and that is what polarizes us, pushing out more thoughtful discussion.

Under 18: Blogs, Wikis, and Online Social Networks for Youth

danah boyd – everything is moving towards mobile but you need cluster effects to really get things going. There is no such thing as a concept of “net neutrality” in the mobile world and the US carriers are just standing in the way.

The room erupted in spontaneous applause.

Kathy Sierra Opening Remarks

All apps have a Asperger’s Syndrome.  They cannot pick up on visual queues from their users such as when someone is angry, frustrated, or confused. If a user has these reactions to software, they quickly fall below the suck threshold.

Successful apps quickly push someone beyond the suck threshold and up beyond the passion threshold to a zone where users realize that they enjoy using an app because it helps them do things that have an impact in the offline world.

To prevent users from falling into the “canyon of pain” why not provide a WTF button. Allow users to tell you when they are lost and at wits end. Help and FAQs are for more reasoned times, it’s the happy tech support with the clipboard. A WTF situation is more dire, a time when you need to open with a “Don’t Panic” and speak to the user in a language they understand. Provide links to sections written in a conversational tone – user testing and feedback emails are a good source of the questions you need to answer.

There are two levels upon which a user can enjoy a product. High and Low resolution. A wine critic enjoys the, “subtle hints of tannin” in a fine bordeaux. A low resolution user (she used an example of Robert Scoble) enjoys the one-bit choice between red and white wine.

Web Hacks, Good or Evil

Kent Brewster (Yahoo!) showed off a number of simple hacks with links to how it was done. Badger will take the JSON output of any Yahoo! Pipes feed and turn it into a simple linkroll which you can put on your page. In such a world where information becomes ubiquitous and readily mashable, the only thing of value is attention. It is less a world where finding the information is the problem but more a world where efficient presentation is the key.

Pay Up! Should Publishers Choose the Porn Path?

The affiliate model is where the real money is made in the porn industry. The selling of subscriptions to “networks” of affiliated sites is the most advanced of these models. Mainstream media is only just now starting to catch on.  The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Economist, MIT Technology Review are available as a “conglomerated membership” for a single price. (I would argue that services such as Factiva and Nexis have been offering this type of access for years).

Another model is where a mother site (i.e. spookycash.com, NSFW) offers tools such as hosted galleries, pic of the day, and integrated RSS feeds so that affiliates can customize their own site and start feeding leads with a minimum of effort.

John Halcyon Styn on value – in the pre-internet days, “porn was more valuable than gold.” Now that it is readily available, the value comes from features such as interactivity and privileged access.

On design all panelists agreed that, for porn sites, the temptation for slick design should be suppressed.  Think of the audience. They want to find something “dirty” or “raw.” One panelist told the story of a non-profit that had their site refreshed and then saw their donations go down because their donors felt that if they had enough money for a smart looking website, they didn’t need their donations.

Mapping: Where the F#*% Are We Now?

Currently, mapping applications feed simple location data to your device. In the future, they will be able to layer additional metadata to provide a rich interaction. With GPS enabled, a mapping application can set up a two-way dialog with your mobile device.

Imagine a world where, when walking from one neighborhood to the next, the mapping application polls a crime statistics database and, upon entering a high-crime neighborhood, a heat device makes the back of your neck hotter.

 

 

Lumos Labs – brush away the cobwebs of your mind

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Lumos Labs is a new site which, through a series of simple online games, excercise your brain. The site’s games are “scientifically proven to improve your attention, memory and processing speed.” Like doing situps for your mind, the site sends you through a series of short games that are fun, engaging and beautifully designed. Scores are tied to your account so you can push yourself to beat your high score or invite your friends to top you.

The screenshot above is from a game called Raindrops where you solve the problems in each bubble before the raindrop hits the lake. As you progress, the math gets harder and the raindrops become more frequent. The game ends when the lake fills up.

There are other games which require you to focus on pattern recognition, spacial memory, or attention and processing visual information. The approach here is similar to Brain Age (which runs on the Nintendo DS) but the appeal here is that all you need is an internet connection and a web browser with Flash to play.

A glance at the about us page shows there’s some serious science behind the fun and games and there are presentations that you can download to learn more.

And the best thing? Two of the founders are roommates of my sister! Way to go guys!

Lumos Labs is in beta and free of charge.

Leftover notes from Jimmy Wales talk

jimmywales.jpgBack in January I saw Jimmy Wales speak at a Social Media Club gathering in San Francisco. I scrawled down a few notes but never got around to transcribing them. Better late than never!

Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia principles

1. Assume good faith
2. Intentional vulnerability
3. Accountability rather than gatekeeping

Q: Why don’t more people contribute?

A: They either (a) want to withhold value that they may cash in later or, (b) they are not sure if they will get credit for their contribution. Credit from your peers is a very powerful motivator. One of the most important things you can do if you manage community-based ecosystems is to highlight and thank your most valuable contributors.