Previous month:
November 2005
Next month:
January 2006

December 2005

Paying for our music

I missed this, Paying for the music, a great posting from Julian Bond, when it appeared in October 2004!

In Internet distribution we have economies of scale that become economies of abundance rather than scarcity. A track that's only downloaded twice a year costs no more to host and deliver than one that's downloaded two million times. If you solve the economies of scale, then one million tracks delivered twice each costs you the same as that one hit, but generates more money. The implication for the record companies is that they should be digitising their back catalogues and all those copyright-free recordings as fast as they can and offering them for sale at a much reduced rate. In fact, the best business model for them for downloading looks to be huge volume of inventory allied to a premium rate for the latest hits, rapidly dropping to near zero for back catalogue. …

Now, for this to work, you, the customer, needs to actually buy all this stuff. Somebody, somewhere, has got to pay to cover the costs. Which finally brings me to the question. How much are you really prepared to pay for music? Here's my answer. The first thing I want is a product I actually want to buy. That's a minimum of an mp3 digitised at 192Kb VBR with no DRM. That's the point where the product is as good as something I rip myself from a CD. It's also quite a bit higher quality than that available from iTMS, Napster, Sony, Rhapsody and the other online services. And I can play it anywhere. On my home PC, on my laptop, my portable music player, my mp3 CD player, or in the car. Without jumping through the DRM hoops and with the ability to back it up.

… for me $0.99 (or whatever the UK equivalent is) per song is too much. I have to think about whether I want to blow $10 on this album instead of that one. … Now, what I've discovered is: if I buy it from AllOfMp3.com at $0.01 per Mb or about $0.06 per song, I don't even think about the cost. $1 per album is so low that I'll just do it. The end result is that I'm buying more music and listening to more music, and I'm actually spending more than I used to when buying CDs.

So for me, at least, the price point where I'll switch from trying to get it for free and actually paying for downloads is somewhere between $0.06 and $0.99, or $1 and $10 per CD. My guess is that for most people the point where they stop thinking about the price and download huge quantities is around $0.25 per song. … So, putting this together with the detail from The Long Tail, it seems clear to me that the best strategy for the music industry is to go flat out for scale so that the overheads drop well below $0.25. And then offer up everything they've got, even it only gets a couple of downloads a year. …

From the labels' point of view, this should look like Free Money. It's from inventory that's already covered its costs and wasn't earning anything anyway. And then we can all just forget about DRM, suing customers, price cartels and regional price differences. And at that point maybe the p2p file sharing networks will just fade away because nobody can be bothered any more.

Technorati tags: , , ,


Skip James

Mississippi John Hurt & Skip James, Newport Folk Festival, 1964

I'm so glad, and I am glad
I am glad, I am glad
I don't know what to do
Don't know what to do
I don't know what to do
I'm tired of weepin', tired of moanin'
Tired of groanin' for you

And I'm so glad, I am glad
I am glad, I'm glad
I'm tired of weepin', tired of moanin'
Tired of groanin' for you
And I'm so glad and I am glad
I am glad, I'm glad
I'm so tired of moanin', tired of groanin'
Tired of moanin' for you
I'm so glad, I am glad
I am glad, I'm glad
I don't know what to do
Don't know what to do
I don't know what to do
I'm so tired, indeed I am tired
I am tired

And I'm so glad, I am glad
I am glad, I'm glad
I don't know what to do
Don't know what to do
I don't know what to do
I'm tired of weepin', tired of moanin'
Tired of groanin' for you
And I'm so glad, I am glad
I am glad, I'm glad
I'm so tired, I am tired
I'm tired
I'm tired of weepin', tired of moanin'
Tired of groanin' for you
I'm so glad, I am glad
I'm glad, I'm glad
Don't know what to do
Don't know what to do
Don't know what to do

Take away Skip James' guitar playing and his unforgettable voice, and it would be surprising if these lyrics made you pause. Yet hear it … and marvel. No wonder Guy Blakeslee (Entrance) covers it, and no wonder it caught the attention of Cream way back in '66 (on the album, 'Fresh Cream'). In Wim Wenders' film, The Soul of a Man (Wim Wenders' own site has this page about it and there's some further background/detail here), part of the Martin Scorsese series, The Blues, Beck plays a cover version. (I came across coversproject.com in the course of looking up references online to James. What a good idea. I hope it sees the light of day again.)

I've read:

"I'm So Glad" was derived from a 1927 song by Art Sizemore and George A Little entitled "So Tired," which had been recorded by both Gene Austin and, as "I'm Tired of Livin' All Alone," by Lonnie Johnson. But, as James' biographer, Stephen Calt, maintains, the finished product was totally original, "one of the most extraordinary examples of fingerpicking found in guitar music." memorable tv

Memorable tv also has a good, short résumé of Skip James' life: it's not a happy story. (There's a little more detail at roadhouseblues.)  There's a long essay online about Skip James by Matt Lohr at The Blue Highway. It's at The Blue Highway that I found links to many essays about the Blues, and this map:

Matt Lohr writes (and I'll quote this at length as the argument is quite dense at this point; but there's much more to be read at the link above):

As Stephen Calt emphasizes in I'd Rather Be The Devil, James' music deviated from both the formal standards of blues and the idiosyncratic style of his native state in several ways. The most overtly atypical tool utilized by James in the creation of his sound was the "Bentonia tuning". According to Calt, James learned this tuning, which came to bear the name of his hometown, from an itinerant musician named Henry Stuckey, who had himself picked it up from black soldiers, likely from the Bahamas, whom he met while stationed in France during World War I. In "concert pitch tuning" for blues guitar, the strings are tuned in a E-A-D-G-B-E pattern, creating a natural C tonality considered "standard" by most blues musicians. When a guitar is tuned in the open-string "Bentonia" style, the resulting pattern is E-B-E-G-B-E, which, provided the G string is not raised to G sharp, creates an E minor tonality. The result of this "cross-note" tuning (a term coined by James) is an off-center sound with an unmistakably dark undercurrent, a sound that can be heard most vividly in the bottom-scraping bass notes and chilling ascending treble figures of James' "Devil Got My Woman". Though James used this tuning sparingly (only two songs from the 1931 sessions, "Devil" and "Hard Times Killing Floor Blues", were performed in this minor-key tuning), the strikingly ethereal sadness it produced is so unique within the blues repertoire that he has become inextricably associated with it. The "Bentonia tuning" is Skip's, and Skip's alone.

In addition to the E-minor melancholia of the "Bentonia tuning", James created other haunting musical effects through idiosyncratic utilization of the blues musician's more quotidian tools and techniques. In his original compositions, James forsook both the "rapping" (strumming) guitar style popular during his youth and the telltale sound of Mississippi blues, with its strangulated vocals and thumping, heavily rhythmic musical accompaniment. Instead, James developed a finger-picking style similar to that of classical guitarists, plucking the strings with his fingernails instead of thumping them with the fleshy pads of the fingers themselves and thus achieving what Giles Oakley describes as an "icy precision" by prominently isolating individual notes, rather than blending them into the rhythmic melange commonly found in Mississippi blues. This separation of notes had various effects on James' tunes: in his 1960s recording of "Hard Times Killing Floor Blues", the sparse arrangement of notes within the playing imparts a stark quality to the music that reflects the desolate lives of the characters foregrounded by the song's lyrics, while the rapid-fire 1931 recording of "I'm So Glad" achieves its considerable tension primarily because we can hear literally every note that James is whirling through in this display of instrumental virtuosity. Interestingly, there are several songs within the James repertoire, the bulk of them recorded after the rediscovery, which adhere to a more traditional style of playing. The most notable of these is "Drunken Spree", which James learned in his youth from Henry Stuckey and which he played in a style not far removed from the "rapping" fashion in which he had originally heard it performed. Rather than detracting from the power and importance of James' stylistic diversions, these more traditional tunes are in fact crucial to appreciating the singularities of the James oeurve, for they demonstrate that James possessed considerable knowledge of and facility with the more common styles of blues and folk music, and thus illustrate that the bizarre stylistic decisions that informed the creation of James' sound were not the result of blind luck or musical ignorance, but were consciously considered artistic choices …

James' disturbing guitar sound was matched, and at times surpassed, by his distinctive and bizarre style on the piano. His keyboard work is distinguished by its almost avant-garde utilization of irregularly spaced breaks, helping to create within the music a gripping fits-and-starts tension, and his 1931 piano recordings possess a heavily percussive quality thanks to his complex, syncopated foot pounding, which was picked up by the primitive recording equipment … James was also skilled at using runs, fills, crescendo, and diminuendo to create musical power within his piano pieces, whether he was performing elaborate treble-to-bass runs on "Little Cow and Calf Is Gonna Die Blues" or creating the gut-shot effect of thudding rapid-fire bullet hits on "22-20 Blues". Despite the obvious effects of these outre stylistics, James' playing is nonetheless marked by a sense of classicism which lends his pieces a certain formal sophistication. He was one of the few blues multi-instrumentalists regarded as possessing equal technical facility on both of his chosen instruments, and whereas most bluesmen used their vocals primarily as an embellishment for their instrumental work, or vice versa, James' songs, whether performed on guitar or piano, are unmatched in the synergy achieved by the music and vocals. This reinforces the "art music" feel of James' work and allows the songs to achieve a cohesive, concrete power.

James' vocals strengthen the unnerving atmospheric bedrock laid down by his instrumentation. He does not sing in the growling, raw-throated style favored by such Mississippi contemporaries as Charley Patton and Son House. Instead, James' vocals are delivered in either a pure, keening falsetto or a flat, affectless tenor, both tones almost supernatural in their melancholic detachment and both expertly complementing the chillingly pristine tone of his guitar playing. This voice, eerily ethereal even on the 1931 Yazoo sides, had become even more high-pitched and ghostly by the time of the rediscovery-era recordings; the singing on the 1960s tracks conjures nothing so much as the wailing of a tormented Deep Southern banshee. James' vocal and instrumental affectations frequently render it difficult for the listener to become involved in the music on a direct emotional level, as one does when listening to a recording by Son House or Robert Johnson. James once stated that his music should "deaden the minds" of those who heard it, and indeed, the spiky instrumental techniques and frigid, disembodied voice displayed on his recordings create in the listener feelings of disquiet that linger like unsavory thoughts long after the music has come to a close.

And there's this from pbs.org:

James developed a style quite unlike that of the Mississippi Delta near which he lived. … Few styles so efficiently convey a feeling of unease or haunted despair, making many of James' recorded performances, both in the 1920s and 1960s, some of the most harrowing in the blues, and some of the most evocative of the oppressive societal conditions in which he long lived.

PBS offers plenty of resources for the student (and teacher) of the Blues: secondary material in print and on the web; links to Blues compilation albums and films (the Scorsese cycle); links to US Blues societies. I'll be using the two essays, 'What is the Blues' and 'Understanding the 12-Bar Blues' in the classroom, and there's a raft of lesson plans that look as if they might provide some leads. There's even a lesson about Skip James (and Robert Johnson), which evidently builds upon the same material as Lohr used for his extended essay. (Discovering all of which led me to find out more about PBS — quite something — and this led me, in turn, to the European Blues Association.)

The sleeve notes to Document Records' Complete 1931 Paramount Recordings can be found on the old eyeneer site and the album is reviewed briefly here (Rambles). James' discography looks to be pretty well catalogued here. There are some Real Audio clips here. Wikipedia here.

Stephen Calt's I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues (see above) is clearly a contentious work (and a very expensive, hard to find, out of print title). Browse the net and you'll find pro and contrary views about Calt's work. Ken Ficara's review is worth looking up. (These last three links came via the skipjames.info site, which has a number of other useful links as well as further information.) I'm very late in coming to Skip James and I'd really welcome anyone who knows or cares about Skip James chipping in here with their take on him, Calt's book, the Blues …



Online music

CrunchNotes:

I’m sticking to my prediction that music will have to be free and un-DRM’d at some point. There is just no other way. Labels and artists will need to make money from certified-quality downloads, limited edition merchandise, tours, etc. Bands and managers will make a lot more money. Labels will mostly go out of business. And while this debate and courtroom drama continues, Russia-based, pay-by-the-megabyte allofmp3.com is changing the game permanently. The RIAA either needs to go nuclear on them (if they can) or change their own business models for good, because they can’t just continue to pretend they don’t exist.

Agreed, on all counts.

(This post was made, by way of experiment, with Performancing.)

Plus:

  1. If you haven't seen it already, go read David Berlind's post of today, Why your music collections will bite the DRM dust.
  2. I've written about allofmp3.com before: here and here.

The Apple honeymoon

Surely it's got to end?

I'm thinking seriously of buying a PowerBook once the new ones are out — I'm following Jeremy Zawodny's line of thought. BUT meanwhile, and for other reasons, I can't believe what Apple is getting away with. My sons' iPods have broken down not once now, but twice in their first year of use (and I hear similar stories from other users). Twice my sons have had to go through the 40 minute phone call to Apple UK, clearing the various hurdles before their iPods get sent back to base for repair. Once these warranties are finished, that's it: when they break down for a third time, buy a new one … Or not. Apple have lost two future customers here, so disillusioned are they with the gap between the hype and the reality.

Dave Winer's just posted this:

The user interface on iTunes is awful. It's the worst piece of crap I've ever used. People would tell me when I was a Windows user that it was because the Windows version of iTunes is crap but the Mac version is easy. Well, both programs are head-up-butt impossible to figure out. The user model makes no sense. When is something on the iPod? How many copies of the music do I have? Where the fcuk are they? How do you delete something? Is it really gone? Why does it wipe out the contents of the iPod when I don't say it's okay to?

I don't understand how they get people to buy so much music on their store, I wouldn't give them a dime. I buy the CDs and scan em in. Someone bought me a copy of Alice's Restaurant as a present when I got the new iPod. Well that was gone in less than a week, never got to play it once. What did I do wrong? I swear, I have no idea, and I'm a professional software designer. What about the poor schnook who is just a user?

I'm reminded of Douglas Adams:

… ‘technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’

Merry Xmas to one and all.


Structured blogging

Structured blogging is back.

This is a marker so I don't lose sight of what might be a significant development next year.

Structured Blogging is a way to get more information on the web in a way that's more usable. You can enter information in this form and it'll get published on your blog like a normal entry, but it will also be published in a machine-readable format so that other services can read and understand it. Think of structured blogging as RSS for your information. Now any kind of data - events, reviews, classified ads - can be represented in your blog. Structured Blogging

Almost immediately, controversy. The engaged but non-technical punter is bound to be confused. On the one hand, Stowe Boyd:

My bet is that Structured Blogging will fail, not because people wouldn't like some of the consequences -- such as an easy way to compare blog posts about concrete things like record reviews, and so on -- but because of the inherent, and wonderful messiness of the world of blogging. Because blog posts don't have to conform to any structural standards, they can be used to do anything: nothing is out of bounds, because we haven't created the boundaries. The messiness of the world we are living in is one of the reasons that it is such a rich and rewarding experience. I am not sure who is benefitted if everyone falling into line and adopting consistent standards for the structure of blog posts. Perhaps companies like PubSub -- one of the driving force behind all this -- who would like to be able to sort out all the blog posts about hotels, gadgets, and wine out there, and aggregate the results in some algorithmic fashion, and then make money from the resulting ratings and reviews. But I am not sure that it would be a better world for bloggers, or even blog readers. So I favor the microformat approach, which is messy, puts more of a burden on the blogger, and will require a host of tools to be built to make it all work. But microformats will work bottom-up -- tiny little tagged bits of information buried in the blog posts -- as opposed to structurally. And I am betting -- as always -- on bottom-up.

This feels right to me, but the idea that 'The promise of structured content is that we would have an explosion of software aggregating it into useful, specialized services' (bokardo) is attractive (of course) and when I find David, Marc and Thomas all lining up behind it …

Another source of confusion is the link between this, or the lack of link between this, and microformats. Bob Wyman explains that structured blogging is what we do and microformat is just what it says on the can — the format we use: 'The two concepts are orthogonal. They don't compete. They can't compete. Verbs don't compete with nouns'.

One thing seems certain: if it's as unclear as this, how on earth will it take off (assuming it should)?


Building a better web

I've said this before, but, egad, why the hell are we discouraging people who are building tools - good or bad, useful or useless, on the right track or off base - because everything that is happening right now is necessary to build a better web. horsepigcow

I met Tara at the Scoble/MacLeod dinner. Her energy and enthusiasm are palpable and I'm happy to say I think she's absolutely right to make this point. For reasons that she may, or may not, support, I'm with the Web 2.0 guys because as Stowe Boyd says, 'there is a new sensibility about web applications -- how they are conceived, designed, built, marketed and sold -- that in aggregate is truly different (from) what preceded it'.

And then there's this from Grant McCracken, discussing three, no four models of Internet 2.0 (the first three being disintermediation, long tail, reformation). He's talking about 'doing research in Korea.  Teens and college students were creating new networks with webpages (the local equivalent of MySpace) and and the clouds of photos and messages they were sending one another.  I assumed that this was Model 2 stuff, a change in fundamentals of interaction, until they began to talk about themselves in new ways'.

It became clear eventually that these people were reforming personhood and the self.  The self was not merely better connected, but now more porous, more distributed, more cloud like.  This cultural fundamental, the definition of what and who a person is, was changing. … The reformation model says fundamental categories of our culture (particularly the self and the group and the terms with which we think about them) are changing.  …  This is a change in the basic terms of reference, the very  internal blue print with which we understand and construct the world.

Model four:  continuous presence (everything and everyone all the time)

One way to assess innovations is to make a guess about where we are headed.  I think our economic, social and cultural destination might be this: we will be continuously connected to all knowledge and all people with a minimum of friction, and privilege will be measured, in part, by how good are the filters with which we make contact with all but only the people and knowledge we care about.

As the comments to Grant's posting say, the role of the intermediaries, the filters, is crucial, for the alternative is information overload. (There are some other important points made there that need to be pondered.) Of course, blogs now act as filters.


Uncoordinated acts

Seth Godin writes about 'A great phrase coined by Glenn Reynolds': Horizontal Knowledge.

If we had started planning in 1993, we probably wouldn't have gotten here by now. The Web, Wi-Fi, and Google didn't develop and spread because somebody at the Bureau of Central Knowledge Planning planned them. They developed, in large part, from the uncoordinated activities of individuals. … We didn't need a thousand librarians with scanners, because we had a billion non-librarians with computers and divergent interests. … what lots of smart people, loosely coordinating their actions with each other, are capable of accomplishing. It's the power of horizontal, as opposed to vertical knowledge. … As the world grows more interconnected, more and more people have access to knowledge and coordination. Yet we continue to underestimate the revolutionary potential of this simple fact. Heck, we underestimate the revolutionary reality of it, in the form of things we already take for granted, like Wi-Fi and Google. But I'm not a wild-eyed visionary. As a result, I'm going to make a very conservative prediction: that the next ten years will see revolutions that make Wi-Fi and Google look tame, and that in short order we'll take those for granted, too. It's a safe bet. Glenn Reynolds

Seth Godin continues:

It's best understood by thinking about its opposite: Vertical Knowledge. The stuff you get from the boss or the MSM or the person at the front of the room. Whenever I go to a conference, I learn more from the people in the lobby. And the web is one big big lobby. … Planning implies vertical, top down thinking. And in many areas, it's backfiring.

There's a lot rolling around in my head that says this kind of thing, too, and in education I have never let go of that remark I read years ago, 'regimentation and education are incompatible'. Let things shoot, grow up and develop. Be very careful with, be very wary of the top down.


Nokia's SmartPhone revolution

The Nokia N70 is a fine, fine phone. (I was fortunate to be sent one as part of Nokia's 360 SmartPhone Study.)  Jason Fried sang its praises last month: 'overall the N70 is the best phone I’ve ever used'. Marc Eisenstadt produced a very informative posting of his experiences with one (a 'Swiss-Army Phone') which is also a vade mecum for all phone buyers:

… there are some specific factors you need to consider when purchasing a ‘modern multi-purpose mobile (smart)phone’, and which don’t get mentioned in many reviews … :

1. Grab without thinking: If you have to think twice about whether to carry a gadget with you on Errand X or Trip Y or Meeting Z, then it’s too big. The N70 is an absolute winner on this front …

2. Thumb-centric vs pen-centric operation: if you’re making the jump to a smartphone (i.e. phone with PDA functionality), one key attribute you should consider is whether you prefer to enter short items with your thumb or with a pen …

3. Satisficing beats moving goalposts: when Nobel-prize winner Herb Simon invented ’satisficing’ in 1957, he meant (among other things) that people had a great gift for trimming a search space opting for solutions that were less-than-optimal but ‘just good enough’. Since Moore’s Law means there will always be a better gadget around the corner, and indeed the special-purpose gadgets (MP3 player, camera, etc) will get better even faster than an all-purpose Swiss Army Gadget, you just need to decide on your threshold of ‘just good enough’ acceptability for the features you want, and go for it.

… the N70 is a good all-rounder. The era of ‘jaw-dropping surprises’ is over: the fact that the N70 can do so much of what it does, and so well, ought to amaze us, but our expectations keep growing and we are increasingly hard to impress. … what are my biggest gripes?  Just two:

1. If you are a text-messaging fanatic, you will be unhappy with the N70: the keys are too small, and, most importantly, the ‘Clear/delete backwards key’ is in the wrong place, certainly for right-handed users. For me, this is an acceptable tradeoff given the good screen size and compact size of the phone (all things considered).

2. Scrolling through news/articles/messages/emails of more than, say, 30 lines in length is annoying because there is a ‘discontinuity jump’ as each new segment is rendered, which makes it hard for your brain to ‘do the right thing’, the way it can when scrolling even longish articles on most PDAs. …

So, there you have it.  Now to deploy my new productivity tool (by ignoring it). … Don’t get me wrong, this is one gorgeous phone! By ‘ignoring it’ … I mean ‘letting it blend unobtrusively into my activities, without fuss’.

I agree with Marc on his plus point 1 (but see below) and gripe number 1. As for one-handed (thumb-centric), my experience is that using a SmartPhone when busy makes one-handedness desirable. I'm not yet satisficed (?) with the camera: at 2 megapixel it's much better than what I've had before, but I still long for the day when I can leave my digital camera at home and just take my phone. And I have another gripe about the keypad: the menu/option keys are too close to the green and red (left and right) phone keys and also don't feel sufficiently different to the touch. I've mis-hit these a number of times now.

The N70 does seem to be a huge step on from the 6630 in the clarity of its software. (I haven't tried to work out why, but it immediately felt more intuitive and less like being parachuted into a jungle.) Its ease of navigation and use has encouraged me to run things on it such as LiteFeeds (RSS for mobile devices). I'm pleased with LiteFeeds, particularly as feed-reading on a mobile has been problematic until recently. (FeedBurner Mobile Feed 2.0 is not yet available, but I'd like to try it when it's out.)  Mobile Gmail works well. Audio-only podcasting is a no-no, but video can be done: see here (and there's a pdf guide here).

If I hadn't got the N70, I'd have been looking at the N90 (which Ross has blogged about here) — a far bulkier but very interesting transformer phone. My recent phones (SE P900, Nokia 6630) have been on the heavy side, and the N70's lightness is a delight. (If Christian Lindholm's right, mobile phones will soon be wearable, and the PDA will be a separate item again. And check out Nokia's 770 as reviewed by Russell Beattie and his challenge to Silicon Valley.) However, Ewan Spence's All About Symbian review of the N90 concludes:

To sum up, the N90 is Nokia’s first true cameraphone to focus on the camera, and it’s all the better for it. Yes, the unit has a number of quirks in the design, but the software, the operation and general polish of Series 60 continues, and makes the N90 the high-end phone of the moment in both Nokia’s N range and in terms of smartphones in general. It might be marketed with the camera as its killer feature, but with Series 60 it covers all the bases, and covers them well. Right now, there’s no solid reason to not look very, very seriously at the N90.

But back to light-and-thin: on the near horizon, the slide form factor N80 looks very interesting indeed. All About Symbian had a preview of an early version of this phone:

… in slide closed mode, the phone at 95.4 x 50 x 23.4 mm is essentially the smallest Nokia S60 phone yet. As a slider it is a few mm thicker than a monoblock such as the 6680, but this is hardly noticeable. It is bigger and heavier (134g) that the other modern S60 Slider, the Samsung D720, but that is a reflection of the extra functionality found in the N80. …

High resolution screen support makes a real difference – physically the screen has not changed in size, but the increased density of the pixels results in a much crisper display. … The new S60 browser, based on Safari's WebCore and JavascriptCore components, is also found on the N80. The 'minimap' feature allows you to see a full page at a glance and navigate around it, while other new features include 'visual history' and support for RSS feeds. … In use, the browser is much faster than Nokia's previous efforts (and) will start to change the way people think about browsing the web on a mobile device. Previously, sites aimed at PCs were only accessible using SSR (small screen rendering) technologies and this had usability problems since it was always limited by the intelligence of the re-rendering algorithms. Higher resolution screens, together with minimap, mean that it is possible to quite comfortably view any web site on the phone.

A 3 megapixel camera, Flash Lite, improved Java support, Nokia XpressMusic, UPnP and Wi-Fi (to name just a few of its features — possibly Skype connectivity, too!) add up to a very powerful mobile device:

With features such as UPnP (play music on any device anywhere wirelessly), Bluetooth 2.0 (wireless stereo headsets), 3G and Wi-Fi Connectivity (music download/purchase over the air) the N80 is the most feature rich and powerful digital media playback device on the market. Imagine the reaction that wireless headphones, wireless music sharing and playback around the home and over the air song download and purchase would get if they were features announced in a new iPod and you can start to grasp the significance of the feature set of the N80.

The smartphone is often touted as the ultimate convergence device, and the N80 is just one more step along that road. Nokia made it clear they see the N80 at the heart of the digital home with UPnP, with its auto-discovery and remote control properties as the enabling standard. But it is also clear that this is just the first stage and we can expect to see increasing integration with other devices around the home in the future, which will be achieved through the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) 1.5 guidelines (which aims to enhance interoperability and user experience). All About Symbian

I blog all this because I am personally interested in what these slender, hand-held devices can deliver but I also believe that they will alter fundamentally the way schools and students operate. Moreover, although they are as yet so much the playthings of the richer countries these new generation phones have the potential to make the world more equitably connected — and for education that is also very exciting.

Or, if you prefer, as AAS concldues: all this is 'a story of four years of development in which the smartphone has moved from the initial concept smartphone to a series of feature-rich and powerful multimedia computers which will sell 100 million units in 2006. For the consumer electronics industry, it is an unprecedented story of product-line creation, growth and success and one that is largely unnoticed by mainstream technology pundits'.

Technorati tags: , , , ,


TypePad, oh TypePad

Just back from a quick round trip to Liverpool. I knew something was wrong with TypePad early yesterday, but I didn't expect it to be an all day problem. If you were wondering where this week's posts had got to, well they're back now, having been caught up in a serious problem at the TypePad data centre:

During routine maintenance of our network and storage systems last night, we experienced an issue with our primary disk system where data from published blogs are stored. We are currently running diagnostics on the device, and working to restore your data as soon as possible. Verifying data can be a slow process and will take time.

In the meantime we are currently deploying backup copies of your weblogs from approximately 2 days ago. This is what will be displayed for your blog. The TypePad application is currently unavailable, which means that users will not be able to log in, and visitors to weblogs will not be able to post comments. We are working to bring TypePad back online as soon as possible. Michael Sippey

Most recently, customers of TypePad have had a message that 'The TypePad application is back up, and users can now log in. We've begun the process of republishing user's blogs. As we noted in our last post, if your blog is out of date and needs to be republished, you can do that yourself inside TypePad by visiting the Design tab for your weblog, and clicking the "Republish Weblog" button.' I've gone ahead and republished but, given the number of pages to this blog, publishing and republishing has never been a straightforward process (something TypePad was looking into for me, anyway), so if there are any oddities that you come across please let me know.

More importantly, what are we to make of TypePad's problems and outages, this last one being the most serious? Like Dave Taylor, I have a lot of time for Six Apart, but he goes on: 'I'm a businessman and I've also run startups and managed the hiring of executives post-funding, and I just don't get what's going on at Six Apart and why they're still experiencing the effect of a badly managed infrastructure'.

Dave Taylor points to Jeremy Pepper's take. Yes, this will create much bad publicity and SA will have to weather it. But the really interesting issue is the one that Om Malik raised a while back and raises again now (also pointed to by Dave): scale and scalability.

TypePad has been growing so rapidly that it is finding the hard way that scale & scalability matter. Are they the only ones? Not really. Over past few days Bloglines, Feedster and Wordpress.com have been behaving like a temperamental three-year-old with a flu. (GrabPref is a great site to keep tabs on the performance of these services.) Why even Photo Matt was off line.

The comments to Om Malik's posting are well worth reading. Jeff Nolan: 'the weak link in web 2.0 is in fact the hosting providers'. For Web 2.0 (or whatever) to win the confidence of all users it has to be reliably on.

Update: Steve Rubel has an excellent piece on yesterday, TypePad and history — the history being the 6 August, 1999 eBay outage. And Anil reminds us (as if we needed it!) of how emotional we can get about the social software we use. Like James in the comments to Anil's post, I rate the SA support team. The problems of scale and scalability are not peculiar to TypePad (above) and I'd put money on SA getting this licked. (And I like this from Seth Godin: 'This is the fastest idea-to-tool cycle in the history of the planet. Glitches are part of the deal'.)