Archive for August, 2008

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Passing the Hat through the Network

Passing the hat

I recently heard Doc Searls talk about his interest in developing a method to send money to musicians, radio progams and other forms of streaming entertainment. If you like something, you should be able to show it by putting your money where your mouth is. It’s a thought provoking idea that challenges the underlying fundamentals and economics of a well established industry.

Presumably some kind of name space would need to be developed for the recipients of payments– a URI that could be addressed from a distributed set of listening contexts. The basic idea is that the listener can set the terms of the transaction, in some ways it’s like the traditional tip jar or passing the hat. I’m not clear if the intention is to link to existing micro-payment systems or to develop new ones, but presumably there would be more than one transaction mechanism.

Much like Wikipedia and other social projects, the idea of creating a real economics for musicians based on voluntary payment has been met with skepticism. Kevin Kelly draws the boundaries of the economic system in his post 1,000 true fans. The gist of the contention is:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A “true fan” is someone who will buy everything an artist produces. Obviously to yield 1,000 true fans an artist may need ten or twenty times as many regular fans. Kelly’s post attracted a number of responses, including one Kelly noted from Jaron Lanier:

Jaron claims that he has not found a single musician that meets this definition. In other words, he claims that there are no musicians who have risen to a successful livelihood within the new media environment. None. No musician who is succeeding solely on the generatives I outline in Better Than Free. No musician born digital, and making a living in the new media.

Kelly followed up with two posts: The Case Against 1,000 True Fans and The Reality of Depending on True Fans.

Doc Searl’s proposal would shift the responsibility of developing payment modes from the artist to a payment system. This is a key friction point for artists, they’re good at making music not managing micro-payment systems. But for me, another question emerges: if I like the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” what are my payment options?

  • The Beatles
  • George Harrison
  • Eric Clapton, for that guitar solo
  • George Martin, as producer
  • Prince, for that guitar solo (RRHOF version)

Who owns which part of a performance? Can they be addressed separately? What about multiple versions of the same tune? What about cover versions? Can a performance be addressed as a complex network? Can we make it easy to pull that one thread from the cloth? Is there a viable Buddhist Economics that can emerge from this confluence of efforts?

The framing of a performance contributes to its total value. This would be true of a performance encountered somewhere on a distributed Network as well. Virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell recently played unannounced in a subway station. That venue, as opposed to a concert hall, altered the audience’s perception of the value of his performance.

Joshua Bell made $32.17 as a busker. He commented:

“Actually,” Bell said with a laugh, “that’s not so bad, considering. That’s 40 bucks an hour. I could make an okay living doing this, and I wouldn’t have to pay an agent.”

Twitter Scrabble

Twitter Scrabble

Now the Scrabble dictionary doesn’t seem to think that the word “OK” is legal. But some would argue for its acceptance. Gavin Rude, an english teacher, makes a gallant attempt in this PDF. However, given the current politcal climate around online scrabble– Kevin Marks and Brian Oberkirch could be viewed as colluding to play team scrabble through Twitter without permission from the Hasbro corporation.

I’m expecting take down notices all around.

Small World Theory: 6 Degrees of Micro-Communities

Six degrees of separation

Just a short thought experiment: picture, if you will, the kind of network graph you’d draw to represent traditional broadcast and print media. Initially a very small set of one to many one-way relationships. All downstream, very little upstream– perhaps the letters to the editor section. Desktop publishing changed the look of that graph, as did the personal video camera, lighting up more broadcast nodes on the network,  but distribution remained a challenge.

Blogs, Podcasting, YouTube and RSS changed the shape of the picture even more substantially. Distribution moved to the common platform of the web and the economics supporting a publishing node changed radically. More publishers light up on the network, but more importantly the means for two-way traffic is established as publishers talk to each other. Two-way traffic expands to a many-to-many relationships and micro-communities begin to form. All of this built on the back of HTTP.

Now think about who has real time broadcasting capability and draw a mental picture of that network graph. Think of the shape of the network, it seems to me the traditional model still dominates. Facebook, MySpace, Dogster, LinkedIn and others concentrated and increased the speed of communication transactions within communities– but they don’t generally achieve real time continuous message flow. Twitter, and more recently, have achieved message flow liquidity and have established themselves as primary markets.  As the XMPP protocol starts capturing the imagination and islands of Laconica instances begin appearing, more real time nodes light up on the network. It’s early days and there aren’t a lot of dots to connect.

Whether or not those dots will be allowed to be connected is currently in question. Our ability to track those XMPP streams is even more fragile still. There’s a real time web emerging and we’ve yet to imagine how it will manifest. It’s something we’ll have to talk to each other about.

The power of real time micro-communities is broader than common wisdom would suggest. Each broadcaster in a real time micro-community is connected and messages to a different circle. We misunderstand the nature and power of micro-communities if we focus on the number of connections in a particular circle. Each circle is embedded in a network of circles, but the network of circles occupies a small world. And you already know this: the whole world is connected through six degrees of separation. 

These Are No Ordinary Times: Time Becomes Real

Bunuel: Chien Andalou

As we may think about the real time web, the image goes in and out of focus. Pieces of the dream materialize for a moment and then are withdrawn. The solid experience of Track and IM on Twitter start to reveal the contours of the possibility of discovery on the real time web– and then in the blink of an eye, they dissolve into nothingness. Twitter pulls the experience back into the darkness, and we set out as a band of gypsies attempting to recreate it from the resources we find in the commons.

“Real time” puts time itself into the frame. In a simple sense, real time means what’s happening right now. It’s the conscious moment that cleaves the past from the future. It’s the thread of our lives being pulled through the eye of a needle.

Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.

We see the past through the future, as it comes rushing toward us, asking us to make a judgment about this present moment. David Byrne and Brian Eno have released some recordings called “Everything that happens will happen today.” I’d go further and say that everything that happens, happens right now. Your only opportunity to act is in the present moment. Your only opportunity to do the right thing is in the present moment. Your only opportunity to connect with another person is in the present moment. Your only opportunity to pick up the thread of the conversation is in the present moment.

As we stand at the crossroads between the past and the future, we must act, and through our actions express a judgement. Do we act in the present moment only for the present moment? Or do we think both of ourselves and our posterity as we make this gesture or that one? There’s a sense in which a person acting in the present moment for the sake of an unknown future is the essence of morality.

As we deepen the questions about the real time web, we uncover the startling fact that underneath all the layers of technology and specialized lingo, we find only ourselves. Human beings, mortals, gathering together to share our joys and sorrows, our dreams and aspirations, our humanity. As we pound out, hammer and tongs, the basic shape of our experience through the real time Network, we would do well to heed the words of that guy who said, “what if all this stuff really matters?”

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