15 July 2004

Is Britney Spears the last Superstar?

The new approach to music might mean we've seen the end of the Britney level of global superstars. Music is changing fast (the RIAA's best efforts notwithstanding). We're seeing the end of traditional "Album-oriented Rock" at last; file sharing and legal downloads have both enabled tremendous user choice: you only have to buy the songs you want. That in turn has made the traditional role of the superstar, which is to sell millions of copies of a single easily manufactured physical item, much less important.

Now what matters most is to get a song out there people want to have in their e-music collection, and the number of ways to do that has multiplied. American Idol epitomizes the way in which the once-formidable lock the major labels held on introducing new talent has been attacked by other media. And downloading, especially in the form of iTunes, is its own grass-roots music promotional vehicle; since everyone at my company has switched to pervasive use of the program, the last three new albums I've purchased are music I discovered through other people's iTunes shares.

All of this makes me wonder if we've seen the last of Michael and Britney. It's not that there won't still be stars, for the same reasons there are event movies: we all need particularly popular items to talk about around the water cooler with people we know. But the particular heights of pop stardom scaled by the young Spears, Jackson, or Springsteen may not be needed anymore by the industry.

Before, you needed someone to create excitement and trips to the record store; someone whose multimillion-dollar album production and promotion costs could be trivially offset by the first five million copies sold. Now, the manufacturing, distribution, and inventory issues are gone (or at least, managed by Apple and Real); while promotion is still an issue, it may be more economically productive to have a larger stable of moderate-performing artists who energetically self-promote and use word of mouth, rather than TV commercials, to reach their audience.

12 July 2004


This was the best web humor link I've gotten in awhile. From the Merc's "Good Morning Silicon Valley", the "amazon.com contrarian game".

Only one comment:
I’ve continued to play this game, and it really does work: pick a classic film/book/CD, go to amazon.com, pick “see all customer reviews”, and sort by rating from lowest to highest.

Leo - 12 July '04 - 00:17

08 July 2004

New wave of Webware

The last couple days have proven how far the web has come from a publishing to a
collaboration medium. So, after watching from the sidelines for awhile, I decided to check out the idea
of blogging recently. It took me about an hour to get Pivot, the software that
runs this blog, downloaded and installed on my server
(which is hosted at WebIntellects on a very basic hosting plan).

A couple days later, something came up in an email group where we wanted to
have a Wiki for the group. It took a little longer to get tiki installed, but tiki is an
incredibly powerful piece of groupware -- although all I've enabled
at www.stoneschool.com/tiki is a forum and a single Wiki,
tiki supports blogs, chats, polls, surveys, etc., etc.

A few years ago I was very involved with the SIGGRAPH website. Website work
involved lots of knowing HTML and CSS at a deep level, and web apps involved
mucking around in PHP and mySQL. Although that's still true, the lesson of tiki,
Pivot, plone, or the many other open-source collaborative software is that I wouldn't
bother; the functions I was ultimately trying to provide are already available
through these mature and highly functional tools. Having started to customize and
override various default settings with both Pivot and tiki, I can't imagine going back
to actually having to build all of this functionality myself (aka with stone knives :-)).
While the plethora of "me-too" products and Microsoft crowding out all other
software vendors can make you cynical about the state of software, the reality
is that a few years of progress, plus things like PHP, Python, and mySQL becoming
part of the expected services from an ISP, have made groupware on the web
trivial to implement. That's a pretty big change from just a few years ago.

05 July 2004

Crime and Japan

The Japanese have begun to fear crime in the same irrational way as Americans. One of the interesting (if not pleasing) things I discovered on this trip to Japan is that the Japanese are starting to fear crime. After decades of essentially having no crime, in the last ten years Japan has begun to have a little crime. To us, it still seems like the safest place on the planet, but to them its a rising wave of lawlessness. Virtually every Japanese person I talked to on this trip mentioned the increase in criminal incidents.

Sadly, the reasoning and cause both seem to echo some of the bad tendancies of America. A number of Japanese -- especially older ones -- blame the crime on the influx of immigrants, particularly from Korea and China. There are more Koreans and Chinese working in Japan these days as the demographics of a rapidly aging Japan take hold. Whether that really has anything to do with crime is unclear; especially since the criminals chronicled in the media (at least) seem to be mostly homegrown.

What is clear is that, just as in America, it's the media coverage of crime that is generating the fear of it. Statistically, America is actually quite safe and getting safer; as you can guess from that, statistically this "crime wave" in Japan just doesn't register. Nevertheless, given the ceaseless reporting of crime, as well as a few admittedley sensational incidents like the recent 11-year-old stabbing, it's on the mind of everyone there.

Both "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things" are good places to follow up this topic.

04 July 2004

Sleeping by the Pacific Ocean is incredibly peaceful, discomfort aside. Last night I was camping at Sweetwood in Half Moon as part of a group celebrating my friend Keith's birthday. I haven't been camping in awhile, AND forgot my air pad. Despite all that, I didn't have any problem getting to sleep or staying asleep -- and I'm pretty sure the primary reason is the white noise generated by the ocean. I think we definitely have an intrinsic like of that kind of random, naturalistic noise.

Of course, the other side was the animal. At 2:30am and again around 4:30am, everybody in camp was awoken by some kind of bizarre animal noise. It definitely sounded either like two animals fighting or one animal hunting another. It was a sort of high-pitched scream that was accompanied by a few other sounds and repeated a few times during each episode. The wierdest part was that although we had five or so dogs in camp, none of them went wild when this happened ("Hey, you big humans can go handle this one").