Archive for November, 2007

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Kindle: The street has its own uses for things

Kindle, Amazon’s reader

I still don’t quite understand Kindle, but I think it’s worth waiting for the street to come up with a use for it. In reading through the overwhelming stream of condemnation, I could only think that something that this many people hate must have something going for it. I’m of two minds: I posted against it, and now I will post something in its favor.

I was listening to Jason Calacanis on Leo Laporte’s This Week in Technology and William Gibson’s quote surfaced: the street has its own uses for things. That lead me to Cory Doctorow’s take on the same theme. Amazon has its intended uses for Kindle, some of them may come to pass.

I’ve previously written on what we buy when we buy creative content. We think we’re buying the writing in the book, but we’re actually buying the physical object, a book. We buy the delivery mechanism. Creative content lives in the mind’s eye as it comes in contact with the physical marks that can be purchased. We often moan about having to buy the same music over and over again in different formats. But that’s all there is, there are only formats and the players that decode them. Music and literature don’t inhabit the physical plane.

Kindle is a delivery method, it’s also a toll booth– a means of collecting fees on content that flows through it. It’s a method of publishing into a different format; this format is a machine. For the street to find uses for Kindle, it will have to win users. The offering price is too high, but perhaps it will be reduced, much like the iPhone. Will we buy the same books in yet another format? We have so far, why wouldn’t we do it again?

I unpushed an elevator button, and didn’t stop on the 5th floor

Elevator Button

I’d like to be able to unpush an elevator button. How many times have you been in an elevator and pushed the wrong button? How many times have you seen someone else do it? The only remedy is to let the doors open on the errant floor, and then push the “close doors” button.

A double-click on the button could unpush it. Could the elevator biometrically register the identity of the button pusher and then limit unpush privileges to that individual?

Hmmmm…maybe I should just take the stairs.

Bring me the dreadlocks of Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier writes in a New York Times Op-Ed piece that creative types need to get paid for “digital content.” Lanier used to be in the “information wants to be free” camp. Now that information has become content and it seems to adding some value when it grows via spontaneous generation in caves like Facebook or Delicious, Lanier is interested in a piece of the action.

Burma Shave Sign

Lanier thought that somewhere down the road the creative people making digital content would find a payday. But the network is what you make it. The network we inhabit isn’t built for collecting tolls, it’s built for billboards along the roadside. There are some closed loop systems like Second Life where payment for digital goods is normal. All that’s required is for the system owner to control the physics of the entire virtual experience. iTunes is an end-to-end experience as well, but it’s an extension of a familiar payment model. These are the kind of models that Lanier is well-known for pioneering.

The question about getting paid is an interesting one. Right now it’s advertising and targeting that pays the bills. Better targeting + big traffic flow = Google.But what if we want an alternative to advertising.

When the work of art is a physical thing or a performance there’s a clear ceremony around collecting payment. The introduction of mechanical reproduction changed the intrinsic value of the work of art, the price, but not the nature of the transaction was affected. Generally the cost of mechanically reproducing art or creative output was still relatively high and required a specialized set of skills. In the age of digital reproduction, the only skill required is “copy” and “paste.” The original and copy are only differentiated by a creation time stamp. The digital is also viral in the network and the packets can be anonymous as they travel through the long series of tubes. When you bought that digital content, which vintage of time stamp is yours? Can we put toll booths on every entry point on the network? Can we implant the toll booth in the user?

This is the point where it would be nice to reveal the magic method by which creators of digital content get paid on an open network. There’s not one answer. Some clues to help us along the road? Philip Greenspun’s book was free and digital before I bought the copy that sits on my bookshelf. The 37 Signals book, Getting Real, was sold first as a PDF download, but is also available to read for free online. Here’s another clue, we pay for the container, not the content. It’s the form of the hardback book, not the text it contains. Think about that in relation to the network. You can see the problem.

Pina Bausch: a glimpse into passionate movement

Just a note about Pina Bausch’s “Ten Chi.” I attended the performance in Berkeley last night. Sitting in the second row I was drawn into the performance when the great Dominique Mercy asked me (and other audience members) if I knew how to snore. And then asked me to do so. The video above is of Dominique.

The audience was filled with Bay area choreographers coming to find inspiration, and the evening delivered. Bausch’s company is filled with every ethnic group, all ages, every body type and real individual dancers. The performance contains hundreds of small dances, poetry recitals, jokes, skits, visual puns. Often several going on at once, a lyrical dance upstaged by a comic turn or a sexually charged moment. The dancers don’t have that abstract blank stare you see so often in modern dance. These are real people filled with emotion and passion. The dancers talk, tell jokes and scream. It’s rare experience.

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