Thinking about social objects

You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

Andrew Largeman, a character in Garden State, a film that was written and directed by Zach Braff some years ago.

A group of people that miss the same imaginary place. That phrase really stuck in my head when I saw the movie, and it’s stayed there ever since. Go see the film if you haven’t already, you won’t regret it. [And you don’t have to take my word for it either. An IMDB rating of 7.9, spread out over 90,000+ votes, nearly a thousand reviews, that’s some going.]

It wasn’t long after that when Jyri Engestrom started riffing with the idea of social objects, and when Hugh MacLeod picked it up and spoke to me at length about the concept, part of me was still completely stuck in the Andrew Largeman mindset. The same imaginary place.

And that’s part of the reason I share some of the things I do via twitter: The music I listen to. The food I’m cooking or eating. The films I’m watching; the books I’m reading; the places I go to. Sometimes what I share is in the immediate past, sometimes it’s in the present, sometimes all I’m doing is declaring my intent. Because, paraphrasing John Lennon, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

When we share our experiences of sights and sounds and smells, we recreate the familiar imaginary places we share with others. We use these digital objects as the seed, as one dimension of the experience to flesh out the rest of that experience. So we take the sound or image or location or even in some cases the smell, and we extrapolate it into a rich memory of that particular experience. Which is often a worthwhile thing to do, for all the people who shared that “imaginary place” with you.

This has become more valuable as a result of phenomena like Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, that have made it easier for you to share the digital objects with the people you shared the original experience with. Which is why any tool that helps you capture what you’re watching or reading or listening to or visiting or eating is worth experimenting with.

This is something I’ve been doing for some time now, playing with every tool that comes on to the market, trying to see what it gives me that others didn’t. [When I started doing this, I had to come to terms quite quickly with the fact that some people don’t like being on the receiving end of all this “sharing”. More than once, I thought long and hard about segmenting my stream so that people could tune in or tune out of the particular segment. But I’ve stayed “whole” nevertheless. More on this later].

I’ve written about social objects a few times, even touched on the topic of something analogous to a graphic equaliser for an individual lifestream, yet I felt it was worth while in discussing them further in the context of “a group of people that miss the same imaginary place”. This time around, I want to concentrate on the ecosystem, on the tools and conventions we will need. Because that’s how sharing of experiences can become simpler, more extensive, more valuable.

I think we do five things with digital objects:

  • Introduce the object into shared space
  • Experience (and re-experience) the object
  • Share what you’re experiencing with others
  • Place in context that experience
  • Connect and re-connect with the family that has the same shared imaginary place

So to my way of thinking, once I start going down this road, every music site, every photo site, every video site, every audio site, they’re all about helping us introduce digital objects into shared space.

Many of these introducer sites also double up as experiencer sites: so you can watch the videos, hear the music and so on.

Every community site then becomes a way of sharing the experience of those objects: every review, every rating, every post, every link, every lifestream, all these are just ways of sharing our experiences, sometimes with commentary, sometimes without.

As more people get connected, and as the tools for sharing get better, and as the costs of sharing drop, we’re going to have the classic problems that we’ve already learnt about from the web in general. There are too many firehoses. It becomes hard to know what is out there, harder to find the right things. Errors, inaccuracies, even lies abound. (Digital objects are easy to modify).

So metadata becomes important. Preferably automated, so that authenticity is verifiable. Preferably low-cost and high-speed. Preferably indelibly associated with the digital object. Preferably easy to augment with tags and folksonomies and hashtags. Times, places, people. Names and descriptions. Devices involved, settings for those devices. History of views, listens, access, usage, editing. The edits themselves.

Authenticity becomes even more important. Watermarking the object while at the same time allowing copies of the object to be modified.

Search tools have to get better. I’ve been reading and re-reading Esther Dyson’s The Future of Internet Search for some time now, linking what she’s saying to what I’m thinking about here. Esther has been a friend and mentor for a long time; when she has something to say, I shut up and listen.

Visualisation tools also have to get better, which is why I spend time reading stuff like Information is Beautiful, why I visit feltron or manyeyes.

Sometimes many of these things happen in one place, elegantly and beautifully. That’s why I like Chris Wild’s Retroscope, why I like How To Be A Retronaut. It helps us place into context some of the things we share, some of the things we used to share.

Sometimes the tools for doing some of this move us into new dimensions, as in the case of layar and augmented reality, or for that matter AR spectacles. Noninvasive ways of overlaying information on to physical objects, ways that allow us to share the imaginary place more effectively.

As a young man, I was an incurable optimist. While time has tempered that optimism, my outlook on life continues to be positive, so positive that people sometimes claim I’m almost Utopian. Yet I still remember two quotations that were like kryptonite to the Superman of my optimism.

The first was Thoreau’s: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. And the second was Burke’s: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing“.

There are many things we have to get better at, and many people working hard to make sure that, collectively, we get better at them. Feeding the world, eradicating poverty and the illnesses associated with poverty. Making sure every child has access to basic education. Improving healthcare, moving from cure to prevention, moving from symptom to root cause. Being better neighbours. Being better stewards of our environment.

I have never found it easy to accept that so many people are fundamentally lonely; I have never found it easy to accept that so many people are fundamentally depressed. And I have always wanted to do whatever I can to prevent these things from happening.

The tools we have today can help us eradicate loneliness and depression in ways that pharmacology can only dream of. Those tools can and will get better.

Of course there are things that come in the way, things we have to deal with first. Concepts like intellectual property rights have to be overhauled from the abominations they represent today, rebuilt from the ground up. Concepts like privacy and confidentiality have to be reformed to help us bring back community values that were eroded over the last 150 years or so. Human rights have to be reframed in a global context, the very concept of a nation re-interpreted, a whole new United Nations formed.

But while all that happens, we can help. By continuing to create ways that people remember the familiar shared imaginary places, by reminding ourselves what family means.

Family is not about blood alone, it is about covenant relationships. When something goes wrong in a covenant relationship, you don’t look for someone to blame, or even sue. You look for ways to fix it. Together.

Families don’t just share a past, they share a present. And a future. Social objects are, similarly, not just about the past, they’re about the present, they’re about the future.

We’re on the start of a whole new journey, and so we spend time learning about sharing by declaring past and present experiences. Soon we will get better at sharing intentions.

Soon we will get better at sharing imaginary places that are in the future, not in the past or present.

Soon. to paraphrase the prophet Joel,  our old men shall dream dreams, our young men shall see visions.

Getting Better

  • I’ve got to admit it’s getting better
  • A little better all the time
  • I have to admit it’s getting better
  • It’s getting better

John Lennon/Paul McCartney, Getting Better (Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)

I listen to a lot of music. Particularly in the evenings and late nights, particularly at weekends, and particularly when I’m travelling. But I used to listen to a lot more music, in my teens and early adulthood. Between 15 and 22 I must have listened to music at least 8 hours a day, sometimes twice that.

As you can imagine, my musical taste was heavily influenced as a result; so even now, most of the time, I listen to music created between 1965 and 1975, give or take a few years on either edge. It’s not that I don’t listen to any other music: I do. But I tend to think that there were so many wonderful albums made during those years, so many talented musicians, that I don’t need to venture out from there. Call it my comfort zone if you must. I just happen to think the music was great.

Now many of the people I listen to are dead, sometimes as a result of personal excess, sometimes as a result of accident and tragedy. So it comes as an incredible privilege to me when I get to see any of my boyhood heroes play live, when I get to see the musicians and bands of my youth in the flesh. Over the years, I’ve been able to see the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Queen, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, John Martyn, Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Don McLean, the Moody Blues, just to name a few. And I am so grateful.

In the early 1980s getting tickets used to be very hard; you tended to have to queue up at the venue box office. Sometimes, if you were very lucky, you got them on the phone. And if you couldn’t get them in person or on the phone, you didn’t go. Scalper prices were too high. By the early 1990s phone-based sales became more common, at least for the bands I wanted to watch. And it took till the late 1990s and early 2000s before the web became a potential route. Potential. I use that word advisedly. The early days of web sales were diabolical, even more roulette-ish than the telephone. Sites crashed more often than British Rail cancelled trains. You wouldn’t be able to get through. And when you did get through, the tickets had all gone.

If you really wanted to see someone, and you just couldn’t get through, you still had the touts. But their prices weren’t cheap, so it was not something you could do anytime you liked.

Roll forward to today. I’d been travelling for some time, came home, went through my personal mail, and found an email from the Royal Albert Hall. Offering me the opportunity to buy Eric Clapton tickets for next May before they opened for general sales tomorrow. How convenient. Why was this? I don’t really know. I assume it was because I’d bothered to register some years ago, that I’d listed my preferences, and, over the years, I’d bought a considerable number of tickets. Any of the above. All of the above.

Who was I to complain? So I clicked on the link, hoping against hope that the early release tickets hadn’t sold out. And then I was taken somewhere I’d never been taken before:

A waiting room. How nice. With a little counter that counted down to when it would be my turn. When I clicked on the link, I was something like 1250th in the queue; in about 20 minutes I was through. But I didn’t have to wait there doing nothing while I waited. And I got the tickets I wanted. Restricted view, but I know those seats and they’re good enough for me.

We’ve come a long way in the last 30 years, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Priority booking for registrants. Alerts and offers based on profile and preference. A humane, almost-friendly queueing system, with excellent feedback loops. Keeping the customer informed.

All that, in the month before I get to see Santana for the first time, Winwood for the nth time and Jeff Beck on his own for the second time.

I’ve got to admit it’s getting better…..

The Digital Economy Bill: Be Careful What You Wish For

Do you find it easy to be moderate about things? It’s taken me a long time to learn about moderation, about knowing how to leaven and temper my passion with patience. For most of my life I’ve been an extremist, either full-on about something or not at all engaged. As a result, particularly of late, I’ve had to take time to learn one thing: If you feel really passionate about something, take the time to step back and look at things from the opposite perspective.

Now the Digital Economy Bill is something I feel passionate about, which is why, as we approach Tuesday 6th April 2010,  I’ve been writing a post a day on the subject for the past few days. The Bill covers a litany of subjects; the particular bit that bothers me is to do with the treatment of downloaders, the what, the why, the who, the how, the whole shooting match. As far as I’m concerned, I feel that the premise is wrong (illegal downloading does not take place at the levels claimed); the people are wrong (the Bill is being pushed through by unelected people who have clear bias in favour of “rightsholders”); the process is wrong (such an important Bill should not be finagled through parliament without proper debate) and the punishment is wrong (as BT CEO Ian Livingston pointed out recently, a fine is more appropriate for the crime, it’s easier to administer and it does not affect others in the household).

Notwithstanding all that, let me try and look at this issue from the perspective of the “rightsholder”. In fact let me go further, let me look at it from the viewpoint of the rightsholder after the Bill, in its current state, has become law. Ostensibly as happy as a creature of the porcine persuasion in an environ of excrement.

What could possibly go wrong? Let me count the ways:

1. People stop downloading all digital music, not just “illegal” music

Retaliation: The music industry, particularly through organisations like BPI and IFPI ,has spent a long time telling its customers what rotten people they are. In the latest report issued by Ofcom, the country had around 17.3 consumer and small business broadband lines; which suggests that a very high proportion of digital music customers acted illegally. Irritated by the change in law and by being treated like criminals, people may just give up and stop downloading music altogether, legal as well as illegal.

Fraud: Given the level of internet fraud going around, people may not want to take the risk of losing their broadband connection by buying music in good faith from a pretend-legal site. When they buy anything else, they tend to get their money back from the credit card company. When buying music, even in good faith, they run the risk of losing their broadband connections. So they stop buying music online altogether.

Streaming: Man’s ability to record and replay music is itself less than 150 years old. Newer than the postage stamp, newer than the locomotive, newer than the Grand National, newer than the FA Cup. By British standards, recorded music is a mere stripling, a callow youth. Man’s ability to own the recorded music and retain it for personal enjoyment is even newer, it hasn’t been there that long. And it may not be in vogue for long either: there is a growing body of evidence that the Millenials prefer streamed music to owned music. My own habits have changed. I still buy vinyl, but in dribs and drabs. I still buy CDs, but also in dribs and drabs. For the most part, I use services like Spotify.

So whether it’s frustration or fear or a change of habit, people may use this opportunity to stop downloading altogether. Since digital music sales are reported to be booming, the industry runs the risk of killing the baby goose before it really has a chance to lay any golden eggs.

2. People stop downloading music illegally, but there is no materially positive impact on revenues

Download levels estimated wrongly: The Mandelson 7 million figure turns out to be hogwash. [And, like Churchill, I shall resist the temptation to say I told you so]. So even though everyone behaves legally when it comes to downloads, the market uplift just isn’t there. [ I am so tempted to ask that, in the event of the law being passed unchanged, the music industry is asked to put down 15% of the loss figures it has claimed into escrow in advance,  to pay ISPs for the cost of implementing the technical solutions].

High price elasticity of demand: The pirated downloads might have been real, but there is greater price elasticity of demand than was anticipated by the industry. Rolex watches sell for thousands of pounds. Rolex ripoffs sell for tens of pounds. No one in Rolex honestly believes that the customer who paid a tenner for a ripoff was a real contender for paying five hundred times that for the real thing.

The end of try-before-you-buy dampens sales: There is evidence that people who download music are also the ones who buy digital music. After all, they must have the connections, the access and the equipment in the first place. By being denied the chance to try the music out, they may not buy at the levels they used to. So any uplift in digital revenues via the change in law is compensated and balanced by a drop in the revenues that used to be there.

It is one thing to lay out a whole series of “facts” in order to browbeat busy politicians to do something; it is another altogether to expect that those “facts” become real in the process. In this respect, the Digital Economy Bill may turn out to be a case of shutting the stable door after the piglet has bolted.

3. People stop buying from established labels and channels and move to new, independent channels that offer them what they want

In a fascinating study entitled The State of Music Online: Ten Years After Napster, the Pew Research Center makes the following, telling,  observation:

While the music industry has been on the front lines of the battle to convert freeloaders into paying customers, their efforts have been watched closely by other digitized industries — newspapers, book publishing and Hollywood among them — who are hoping to staunch their own bleeding before it’s too late. And if the music market is any indication of how consumer expectations will evolve elsewhere, the demands for free content will extend far beyond the mere cost of the product.

In the decade since Napster’s launch, digital music consumers have demonstrated their interest in five kinds of “free” selling points:

  1. Cost (zero or approaching zero).
  2. Portability (to any device).
  3. Mobility (wireless access to music).
  4. Choice (access to any song ever recorded).
  5. Remixability (freedom to remix and mashup music).

All of this makes for a tall order, but if history is any guide, music consumers usually get what they want. And as researchers look back on the first decade of the 21st century, many will no doubt point to the formative impact of file-sharing and peer-to-peer exchange of music on the internet. Napster and other peer-to-peer services “schooled” users in the social practice of downloading, uploading, and sharing digital content, which, in turn, has contributed to increased demand for broadband, greater processing power and mobile media devices. Further, the Napsterization effect extends to non-media areas such as sharing health information, oversight of politicians, access to government data and online dating via free social networking sites.

Remember this is about digital music consumers, not “dirty rotten illegal downloaders and filesharers”.  The people who crafted the current version of the Digital Economy Bill appear to have thrown away all the input and consultation to do with the consumer side of the music business and concentrated on the “rightsholders”. [I suppose this should have been expected, since that is the precise problem with a lot of modern copyright law, too one-sided to be useful or progressive]. Consumers want the five things stated above. If they don’t get it from the established digital music industry, they will go somewhere else to get it. Which gives independent labels and new entrants the chance they’re waiting for, to drive a bus through the barndoor of opportunity that’s opening up for them. Artists have the opportunity to set up their own label and distribution capability, like the Grateful Dead did nearly fifty years ago. There are many who are watching and learning from the Dead, from Radiohead, from Nine Inch Nails, and so on.

4. Content is not king: simplicity and convenience rule

There was a very interesting article published by Andrew Savikas in the middle of last year, talking about content being a service business. In it he quotes from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails:

[W]hat you NEED to do is this – give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people’s email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special – make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan. Make a premium download available that includes high-resolution versions (for sale at a reasonable price) and include the download as something immediately available with any physical purchase. Sell T-shirts. Sell buttons, posters… whatever. [emphasis added]

Reading through what Reznor had to say in his original post, I found another extract telling in the extreme:

The database you are amassing should not be abused, but used to inform people that are interested in what you do when you have something going on – like a few shows, or a tour, or a new record, or a webcast, etc.
Have your MySpace page, but get a site outside MySpace – it’s dying and reads as cheap / generic. Remove all Flash from your website. Remove all stupid intros and load-times. MAKE IT SIMPLE TO NAVIGATE AND EASY TO FIND AND HEAR MUSIC (but don’t autoplay). Constantly update your site with content – pictures, blogs, whatever. Give people a reason to return to your site all the time. Put up a bulletin board and start a community. Engage your fans (with caution!) Make cheap videos. Film yourself talking. Play shows. Make interesting things. Get a Twitter account. Be interesting. Be real. Submit your music to blogs that may be interested. NEVER CHASE TRENDS. Utilize the multitude of tools available to you for very little cost of any – Flickr / YouTube / Vimeo / SoundCloud / Twitter etc.

The key phrase for me is this one: make it simple to navigate and easy to find and hear music.

When I read the Savikas article, one of the points I understood was this: the success of iTunes lay in the quality of the service they offered, the simplicity and convenience, rather than in premium content. In fact, the pricing of digital goods tends to reflect this: prices for songs, albums, films and books tend to be very similar for a given class of digital good, suggesting that the content behaves like a commodity, that the perceived value is in service simplicity. When you take into account recent developments such as Ofcom’s stance on Sky’s exclusive premium content, there is every possibility that there’s going to be downward pressure on the prices of premium digital content.

So let me summarise. I don’t know much about  how the world is changing as a result of the internet and the web, as a result of digitisation. What I do know is this: these changes are putting real structural pressure on a number of industries, particularly on the “publishing” industries of music, film, journalism and books. Every participant in the supply chains of those industries is feeling that pressure.

During such a time of flux, the customer becomes even more of a scarcity, even more of an asset. Any action you take which alienates customers, you take at your peril.

In this context, the actions of the music industry at this time, particularly in the context of the Digital Economy Bill, seem foolhardy in the extreme. Foolhardy enough for shareholders and activists to look at the consequences very carefully, and to take legal action against the decision makers.

You know something? If I was one of those people who’d lobbied to put all the garbage in the Digital Economy Bill, I would start praying. Now.

And I would write to my MP and ask that the Bill be withdrawn. Even if I worked for the BPI. Particularly if I worked for the BPI.

Sometimes it pays to Be Careful What You Wish For.

The Digital Economy Bill: Fred Figglehorn, won’t you please come home?

Do you know who Fred Figglehorn is?

He’s is a fictional 6-year old with his own TV channel. Not any old TV channel. It’s modern, it’s 21st century. And yes, it’s on YouTube. I quote from Wikipedia:

Fred Figglehorn is a fictional character created and portrayed by American actor Lucas Cruikshank (born August 29, 1993). Cruikshank, a teenager from Columbus, Nebraska, created the character for his channel on the video-sharing website YouTube.[1] The videos are centered around Fred Figglehorn, a fictional 6-year-old who has a dysfunctional home life and “anger management issues”.[2]

Cruikshank introduced the Fred Figglehorn character in videos on the JKL Productions channel he started on YouTube with his cousins, Jon and Katie Smet. He set up the Fred channel in October 2005. By April 2009, the channel had over 1,000,000 subscribers, making it the first YouTube channel to hit one million subscribers and the most subscribed channel at the time.

Over a million subscribers. And creator Lucas Cruikshank is 16 years old. He calls his channel “programming for kids by kids”. By kids. Let’s remember that.

Now fast forward to IMDb, let’s find out a little more about this Lucas Cruikshank. Here’s an excerpt:

Lucas Cruikshank is a teenage director and actor who got his start by making videos with his cousins John and Katie, and posting them on YouTube. Together, the trio is known as JKL Productions. Recently, Lucas decided to make videos by himself and came up with the character Fred, who is an annoying 6-year-old with an uncaring mother and is most noted for his sped-up voice. Lucas said that he created the first Fred video to poke fun at video bloggers who talk about every single thing that they’re doing in the video. The first video received tons of positive feedback, and Lucas continued to post videos in the Fred series, which he edits, directs, and acts in by himself. When not making videos, Lucas auditions for movie and TV roles, and also pitches ideas to television channels. He is also a dancer and takes jazz, tap, and hip-hop classes. Lucas resides in Columbus, Nebraska, with his two brothers and five sisters. He is the middle child.

  • Uses a Zip It instant messaging and e-mailing device in the Fred videos as part of a deal with its manufacturers.
  • His Fred videos receive between 1 and 9 million views per video.
  • JKL Productions, the video-making trio of his two cousins and him, made a grand total of US$14,000 from their videos and merchandising during one year.
  • Is very appreciative of his fans.

IMDb Mini Biography By: Secretherapy

…receive between 1 and 9 million views per video. Let’s remember that.

Is very appreciative of his fans. Let’s remember that.

Now let’s move on to another Lucas. George Lucas. Here’s an abstract from his wikipedia entry:

Lucas was born in Modesto, California, the son of Dorothy Lucas (née Bomberger) and George Lucas Sr. (1913–1991), who owned a stationery store.[2]

Lucas’ experiences growing up in the sleepy Central Valley town of Modesto and his early passion for cars and motor racing would eventually serve as inspiration for his Oscar-nominated low-budget phenomenon, American Graffiti. Long before Lucas became obsessed with film making, he wanted to be a race-car driver, and he spent most of his high school years racing on the underground circuit at fairgrounds and hanging out at garages. However, a near-fatal accident in his souped-up Autobianchi Bianchina on June 12, 1962, just days before his high school graduation, quickly changed his mind. Instead of racing, he attended community college and later got accepted into a junior college to study anthropology. While taking liberal arts courses, he developed a passion for cinematography and camera tricks.

During this time, an experimental filmmaker named Bruce Baillie tacked up a bedsheet in his backyard in 1960 to screen the work of underground, avant-garde 16 mm filmmakers like Jordan Belson, Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conner. For the next few years, Baillie’s series, dubbed Canyon Cinema, toured local coffeehouses. These events became a magnet for the teenage Lucas and his boyhood friend John Plummer. The 19-year-olds began slipping away to San Francisco to hang out in jazz clubs and find news of Canyon Cinema screenings in flyers at the City Lights bookstore. Already a promising photographer, Lucas became infatuated with these abstract films.

[Incidentally, I just want to say thank you, publicly, to Jimmy Wales and all the people at Wikipedia. It is such a privilege to be able to annotate my posts using Wikipedia. Thank you.]

Souped-up cars. Bedsheets in backyards. You see a trend here? Fast forward to 2006. On August 2, 2006, the following post was made on Star Wars Blogs:

We would like the fan film community to know that this was not done at our request. Let’s remember that.

Fast forward to a week ago. Take a look at this story from techdirt:

Official channel blocked due to a copyright infringement issue. Let’s remember that.

Many of you will be aware of the Lenz v Universal case, where Universal Music Publishing Group asked Youtube to remove a 29-second clip of a child bopping up and down to a Prince song:

Mere allegations. Let’s remember that. These are the sort of abuses that happen when the law is so badly crafted that “mere allegations” have this kind of effect. Note that the music company involved in the 29-second fiasco is none other than Universal, whose Group CEO Lucian Grainge is a “known associate” of the Dark Lord.

Where is all this leading?


  1. The kids of today are adept at making stuff out of digital raw material. People like me are of an older generation, less adept at these things. We know this. We were adept at making stuff with physical tools working on physical things.
  2. When it comes to digital culture, the barriers to entry have been sharply reduced, so much so that 16 year olds can make home videos regularly enough to run a channel that has a million subscribers and gets nine million views. The world of “content creation” is learning to adapt to this, with people like George Lucas leading the way.
  3. What George Lucas and these kids have in common is also simple: they know how to treat their fans.
  4. Many of the organisations that are being made irrelevant by the digital youth of today, in contrast, don’t know how to treat their fans. Instead, they go to court to attack 29 second videos of very active children.
  5. Attempts to mutate the laws of yesteryear to cope with the challenges of tomorrow are riddled with failure.

Human beings like to make things. They also like to unmake things, to take things apart. They like to get under the hood of things, dismantle stuff, unscrew stuff, put them back together in ways that no one had dreamed of before. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Alex Deschamps-Sonsino and team at to come and work with the leadership group at BT Innovate and Design. A splendid time was guaranteed for all. And a splendid time was had by all. Smiles everywhere, as people built stuff and unbuilt stuff. Serious play.

This maker instinct is in all of us, and has been captured brilliantly by Cory Doctorow in Makers and by Larry Lessig in Remix, something I’ve written about before.

As the maker instinct begins to manifest itself in the digital generation, strange things are beginning to happen. Things I cannot conceive of, but things I hear and see. Things that fill me with glee and with sadness, things that teach me, things that I can learn from.

Things like Line Rider. Things like stop-motion video of Monkeys and Engineers, which I wrote about here. Things like this Hips Don’t Lie Parody. Things like the Team Hoyt “My Redeemer Lives” video.

Stray off the beaten track a bit. Watch RIP: A Remix Manifesto.

This is an extract from a blog called Copyright in the Digital Age, in a post headlined Brazilian Dance Party: In it, a journalist called Barry Hertz is quoted as saying:

“After marvelling at the artistry occurring within the shantytowns, the director stupefyingly proposes that the future of art and commerce lies not with the over-branded environs of New York or L.A., but within the copyright-free slums of Rio, oblivious to the fact that he is standing hip-deep in abject poverty.”

The copyright-free slums. Incidentally, thanks to a comment by Martin Budden, I’ve had the opportunity to read James Boyle’s The Public Domain, and then order the hardback. Excellent book. Well worth a read.

Copyright is in a mess. Takedown notices that shouldn’t have been sent. takedown notices that were claimed not to be takedown notices, takedown notices that hadn’t been asked for. Official channels shut down, official material no longer available.

  • Folks, there is a new generation out there. They do things we couldn’t. They make magic in ways we don’t begin to understand.
  • We cannot allow them to be criminalised via the Digital Economy Bill.
  • We cannot constrain their maker culture just because we don’t understand them.
  • We cannot allow others to constrain their maker cultures just because they feel threatened.

There’s enough bad law out there already, particularly in this space. Even as I write, I think it’s still illegal to copy songs from a CD purchased by me on to an iPod purchased by me via iTunes on a computer purchased by me.

Every time the maker culture meets the digital generation, wondrous things happen.

We have to make sure they continue to happen. So contact your MP, push back against this Bill, make sure your voice is heard.

The Digital Economy Bill: The Power of Not Being Elected

Gordon Brown, the UK PM, will be calling for a general election very soon; he may even become the first to make that call in the Commons.

This is happening at a time when trust in the parliamentary process is low, perhaps even at an all-time low; my perspective is clouded by reports about expenses and second homes and cash-for-questions, cash-for-honours, cash-for-lobbying, cash-to-protect-oil, cash-for-something-or-the-other.

Against this backdrop, it would seem prudent to surmise that one of the issues this election is likely to be fought on is that of trust.

Trust. I’ve always seen trust in the way I see beards. It takes a long time to grow a decent beard. And minutes to lose the beard. So it is with trust.

Which is why I find the behaviour of our elected officials bizarre in the extreme when it comes to the treatment and passage of the Digital Economy Bill. If you want to know more, read Cory Doctorow here.

Did I say “elected officials”?

My mistake. I shouldn’t have said “elected officials”. Because when it comes down to it, many of the players in the Digital Economy Bill are anything but elected officials. Let’s take a look at who’s pushing the Bill and some of the key people involved in the debate.

Lord Mandelson. Unelected. Appointed. Powerful friend of  the Powerful. Friends include Lucian Grainge (Universal) and David Geffen (Asylum, Warner, Dreamworks SKG). Lord Birt. Unelected. Appointed. On the Supervisory Board of EMI. Lord Triesman. Unelected. Appointed. Chairman of the FA.  Lord Clement Jones. Unelected. Appointed. On the board of a company that makes its money on intellectual property law, and publicly showing himself to be of the opinion that civil breaches are similar to criminal offences.

A bunch of unelected officials. With clear ties to vested interests in music, film and intellectual property rights.

I’m used to bias. We all have bias. I think it was Einstein who said that common sense is the collection of prejudices we build by the time we’re eighteen. We all have masks and anchors that frame what we think and say.

But this is not about bias alone. Because, besides being unelected officials, we need to look at the way the Bill is being bums-rushed through Parliament. With no time for a proper debate. With a complete disregard for all the debate that has taken place earlier, proper or not.

Major amendments being put through in the days before Easter, in the days before the calling of a general election. Major amendments that would give presidential powers to ministers with scant regard for law or for human rights. Major amendments that would not stand the close scrutiny and heated debate that would normally take place. Major amendments being relegated to the horse-trading of wash-up, at a time when many of our elected officials are too busy thinking of a precious break away from it all, at a time when many of our elected officials are preparing to fight to be re-elected.

So we have unelected officials. With clear and present bias. Driving a process that is as far removed from trust as it is from democracy. Hoping people won’t notice.

People are noticing. And people will notice. There are many people who will make sure that people will notice.

The Digital Economy Bill now represents a wonderful opportunity for would-be next-Parliament MPs. Show us why we should trust you. Show us that you will stand in the gap and uphold democratic rights and due process. And think before you alienate a good slice of your electorate.

I guess dinosaurs have to be allowed their ritual dances as they exit the evolutionary stage. And this Bill, flawed as it is, may still become law. Because of clever timing, apathy. And the Power Of Not Being Elected.

But there will be consequences. You cannot tax salt.