Monday, August 25, 2008

Music Industry Does Not Know the Words to Digital Music's Songs

Since shortly after the creation of the digital music format, MP3, increased Internet broadband access, and the rise of peer-to-peer networks for easy file distribution, we have seen new models of interaction amongst artists, industry, and consumers; however, it has also provoked controversy and animosity.

Initially slow to react to the trend of consumer swapping of music, the "Big Five" record companies (EMI, Universal, Sony, Time Warner and BMG) eventually banded together under their industry association, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), to stop it, primarily through litigation. RIAA initially sued the first MP3 player manufacturer Diamond in 1998, but lost, thus paving the way for the ubiquitous iPod. They then sued MP3 distribution website Napster (1999), Aimster (2002), LimeWire (2006), and several Internet radio stations. Most controversially, they have sued thousands of individuals who downloaded music, including parents of children and deceased people. These lawsuits, however, caused negative publicity for the industry and have been ineffectual in stopping piracy; as Lam and Tan note, “Lawsuits are ephemeral and serve only as a delay tactic for record labels to catch up with emerging technologies. While the issue of contention in lawsuits is often the protection of copyright materials, the real concern for record labels may be the ceding of monopoly power” (2001, p. 68).

While the desire to get free music is no doubt a motivation, some downloaders feel this is a victimless crime and that music industry has a reputation for being greedy and artificially inflating prices. This reputation is not unfounded as Easley, Michel, & Devaraj found that the industry fought digital music due to a perceived threat of lower profits, as a "key economic issue for the recording industry is that the marginal cost of e-distribution of music is negligible, creating intense competitive pressure on prices and established distribution channels" (2003, p.92). MP3 is a universal, open standard, thus preventing proprietary products and corresponding price protection afforded, as McCourt and Burkart add "MP3 developed outside of the Big Five’s control, and offered no intrinsic protections against copying. MP3s therefore threatened the music industry by holding out the possibility of a business model that links artists directly to consumers, bypassing the record companies completely" (2003, p.336).

While RIAA's main efforts to combat this change appears to be litigation, they have also funded public education campaigns. On their website, they use strong language to convince downloaders of the harm to artists that their actions cause:
It's commonly known as piracy, but it’s a too benign term that doesn’t even begin to adequately describe the toll that music theft takes on the many artists, songwriters, musicians, record label employees and others whose hard work and great talent make music possible (Piracy, n.d.).

This appeal that the RIAA is fighting digital piracy to protect artists, spurred recording artist Courtney Love to write a column for Salon, in it she shows the copyright law engineered by the industry gives ownership to the companies, and the creative accounting companies use enables them to keep a large portion of the profits (Love, 2000). She asserts, "How dare they [RIAA] behave in such a horrified manner in regards to copyright law when their entire industry is based on piracy?" (Love, 2000). Love argues that the Internet can offer a great medium for artists to connect creatively and financially with their fans:
Being the gatekeeper was the most profitable place to be, but now we're in a world half without gates. The Internet allows artists to communicate directly with their audiences; we don't have to depend solely on an inefficient system where the record company promotes our records to radio, press or retail and then sits back and hopes fans find out about our music.... The present system keeps artists from finding an audience because it has too many artificial scarcities: limited radio promotion, limited bin space in stores and a limited number of spots on the record company roster. The digital world has no scarcities. There are countless ways to reach an audience. (Love, 2000)

This article was widely circulated, but the message of the dubious copyright laws is also gaining popularity amongst Internet users due to other prominent issues such as remixing, Digital Rights Management, etc., such that RIAA's appeal under this ground may be unsuccessful.

Further complicating this issue is the huge popularity of legal music download sites, such as iTunes, Amazon, Wal-mart, Real, Yahoo Music, etc. in which flat rate downloads per song are flourishing seemingly beyond the power of the industry for price control or to package songs primarily as an album, and thus make more money. In addition, the lowering cost of at-home recording equipment combined with the phenomenal success of websites such as MySpace are enabling musical artists to build direct relationships with their fans completely without any involvement of the recording industry.

RIAA and its constituent organizations seem unable to create a new digital music model or to stop piracy. Their communication strategy appears to be reactive and largely ineffective. The world is singing a new tune, but apparently those in RIAA don't know the words.


Easley, R. F., Michel, J. G., & Devaraj, S. (2003). The Mp3 open standard and the music industry's response to internet piracy. Communications of the ACM, 46 (11), 90-96.

Lam, C. K. M., & Tan, B. C. Y. (2001). The Internet is changing the music industry. Communications of the ACM, 44(8), 62-68.

Love, C. (2000). Courtney love does the math. Salon. Retrieved August 14, 2008, from

McCourt, T. (2003). When creators, corporations and consumers collide: Napster and the development of on-line music distribution. Media Culture and Society, 25, 333-350.

Piracy: Online and on the street. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2008, from

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Six Random-ish Things

If one ever misses those chain letters of one's youth, they certainly haven't disappeared, but are now called "Internet memes".

They can be fun, so I when Eden Spodek, Toronto's fashion and shopping blogger extraordinaire tagged me, I figured I'd participate. However, I'm changing the rules to focus just on random things related to the Internet and I'm not passing the chain on.

Six Random Internet Things About Me
  1. I have a "Adult Contemporary" channel as one of my favourites on Internet radio station, Iceberg. Tom Jones' "Delilah" came on now, and while I know I should feel ashamed, I'm happily singing along.
  2. My first Internet job was temping for Macromedia for their Dreamweaver 2.0 release in Toronto (I hardly even knew what the Net was and had no idea what HTML or WYSIWYG was)
  3. I think I like WebKinz better than my daughter does. I wish I had the koala bear WebKinz.
  4. While I love the Internet, I hate it when people assume I'm some major techie geek. I can't fix everyone's computer problems and hate it when people insist I try.
  5. I do a vanity Google every couple days and can't stand it when others with my name come up in the first 20 results.
  6. When deciding upon a new career direction it was between eco-tourism or the Internet.
BTW, I do like these things but I much preferred a tea towel chain that I participated in years ago.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Home & Away: Physical vs. Electronic Communities

This blog posting is by a guest blogger. She discusses how the Internet is changing another facet of life. While her experience is with boarding schools, I believe her findings apply to residence dorms for universities & colleges.

I work for a private, senior school. The school is a traditional school that fosters and emphasizes a family atmosphere for its boarding students. In previous times, this culture of family was reinforced by the physical distance separating the students from their families and the social networks of their home places. The close, integrated network created between the students and the residential staff (and with the school in general) is an integral part of the traditional boarding experience; it helped the students branch out from comfortable niches of home and family and establish lasting, meaningful relationships with the impromptu “family” offered at their “home away from home.”

With the emergence of recent Internet-based technologies (webcams, MSN, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) the world has changed dramatically. Without going too much into the general impact of these technologies on society in general, I will offer that these technologies have redefined physical spaces and social connections. It is entirely possible to construct a meaningful, diverse social life without any attention to geographical space. As a consequence, the veritable physical isolation that characterized the traditional boarding school experience is broken down. I will offer that this results in the essential breakdown of the traditional boarding house relationship network. Physical proximity means less, therefore it is not as necessary to form lasting, or even meaningful relationships with the people you share a physical space with – you can essentially continue your social network (almost without missing a beat) even though you have transplanted your body half way around the globe. There is no pressing need to establish new relationships or overcome differences (or expand culturally) by interacting with the small global village housed within the boarding house’s walls; technologies have made it so that essentially you never left.

The consequences have been myriad. Students often do not even attempt to learn the language or cultures of the other students surrounding them, they immerse themselves entirely in their familiar cultures online and electronically. Microphone-type telephones (they operate like international walkie-talkies) boom across the hallways in an essential dog’s breakfast of languages. Students can walk around the campus while conversing with a group of students across the world doing the same thing. It is the strangest sensation to be in the middle of a technological gaggle of teenagers when there is only one body to account for. Almost every facet of one’s familiar cultural landscape can be recreated or revisited online. It is an unfortunate truth of human behaviour that we often need to be pushed into engaging with an unfamiliar culture by our veritable submersion within it. This is not to say that I am arguing for homogenization, just that part of the traditional boarding school experience is a veritable broadening of horizons by immersion in cultures and experiences unfamiliar to oneself. This is part of the experience touted by organizations as a positive by-product of the residential school experience. This is broken down by electronic and Internet technologies that have gone beyond providing essential connections to home and family to allowing boarders to essentially live at home while abroad. These changes are evolutionary; they are part of the restructuring of modern times, yet the pace that these technologies develop is rapid.

The organization has attempted to control this change by closely stipulating personal laptop specifications, monitoring bandwidth and Internet activity, and setting up well-demarcated times and physical places for computer use. The problem I see is that technology adapts more quickly and more seductively than the control agents can operate. Furthermore, even though the time and medium might be restricted, the cognitive commitment to these cultural bubbles created and reinforced by even the least amount of time online and on-phone cannot be controlled. Also it is a serious infringement on personal freedoms to limit access to home, family, and one’s culture; it is unanimous that no one wants to limit this.

My proposal is limited at this point. I would suggest that the tradition of the school needs to change – clearly the elements of physical isolation and close proximity to diversity that formerly characterized the boarding house experience are negated by these emergent technologies. The boarding school needs to reflect, incorporate, and encourage these technologies in a self-reflexive way – the school needs to create technological systems that foster connections between students through these same mediums. It seems absurd given the physical proximity of the students to each other and the campus, but I would argue that the same effect that shrinks international spaces creates distance where there is none. While monitoring and limiting the use of these technologies is a challenging and slippery slope, creating new, dare I say sexy technologies that will encourage online participation with a local network will be the proverbial carrot to the stick.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Giving Twitter a Second Try

After a year of denigrating Twitter I have finally given in and started tweeting.

The first impression of Twitter is that it's a great waste of time, and it is, for the most part, as many people use it to share the most mundane details of their lives.

One thing that I have found interesting, however, about Twitter is it really is a completely new form of communication developing. It's only two years old, but only popular for 1 year (already has 2M users). It's interesting to watch norms developing, see people trying to figure out how to use this new medium, and imagine how it might evolve.

Twitter in brief:
  • works via text messaging and/or by the Web
  • combo of micro-blogging/status updates & social network
  • posts (tweets) are limited to 140 characters
  • can be public or private (just to your network of friends)
I'm using my Twitter account now to feed "breaking" news to my blog. Great alternative for blog posts that you don't have time to write up or for subjects that don't need a full post.

Here's a good article on the communicative value of Twitter (particularly compared to blogs and Facebook): Why Twitter Hasn’t Failed: The Power Of Audience

But the main reason I'm writing, is that for me (or anyone) to realize value it relies on network effects. Check out my Twitter page and start following me if you're interested in what I had for dinner (I promise not to post this type of stuff - seriously).

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Delicious Gets Even Tastier With Age

It's been two years today since I started using and my love for the site continues to grow! Read my prior posts on the joys of the site & social bookmarking in general.

This anniversary is well timed as the web service has just been relaunched, and happily I'll never have to type that name with all the weird punctuation again as the site is now just Delicious.

The new features are mainly along the lines of increased performance, improved search, and a new design. Others have written about the changes, so rather than add to the noise on the issue, here are my Delicious bookmarks on this topic.

Delicious has always had a simplicity of design that made it a breeze to use. Things have changed a bit and like any redesign it takes old users some getting used to. But overall, it seems that things are much easier and quicker to use now. (My only beef so far, is it's now much harder to bundle unbundled tags.) It also looks classier too - less like a mess of plain text as it did before.

Considering how much I love Delicious and that it seems to be getting better, you'd think I'd be happy. But a few nights ago, I lay in bed dreading that as Delicious still doesn't seem to have a viable model for making money it could shut down. My nightmare with Delicious is Yahoo (owner of Delicious) will do what they did when they shut down Yahoo Photos and encouraged me to move my photos to Flickr. Yahoo Photos, unlike Flickr, was a great free service. Yahoo Photos let me host tons of photos and organize them into albums, etc. With Flickr, after importing all my Yahoo Photos pix there, I was horrified to learn that my old photos were now locked away from me and I can only view the most recent 200 unless I pay. I also have to pay to create more than 3 albums. Flickr basically sucks now, so I have moved onto PhotoBucket. But my old photos are dead to me on Flickr. I hope Yahoo doesn't one day do this to my Delicious bookmarks. Photos are nice to look at, but I can't live without my bookmarks!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Interview Questions for Prospective Website Managers

Before I left my previous job, I was asked to come up with some questions on what would be good job interview questions to ask of a prospective website manager. This is for a jack-of-all-trades and hands-on kind of manager that needs to know a lot of things to run a website. Here's what I came up with plus some new ones I just though of (in no particular order):
  • Can you describe a situation where you helped make a website more user-friendly? More client focused?
  • What would you say is a good measure of website performance that might not commonly be thought of?
  • Describe your experience with web analytics?
  • What are you thoughts on interactive media? Any success stories? Any caveats?
  • Which web authoring software do you use?
  • How proficient are you with HTML? With CSS? JavaScript? XML? ASP or PHP?
  • What methods of troubleshooting a problem with a webpage do you use? How do you uncover buggy code?
  • What's your favourite browser and why?
  • When testing which browser do you use?
  • How do you gauge if an online effort is effective?
  • Tell me about your experience soliciting feedback from your users? Which methods did you use and tell me which you found most effective? Any inexpensive or invaluable methods you recommend?
  • What is your graphic design experience or training?
  • What image editing software can you use?
  • What is the secret to effective web design?
  • Tell me you favourite website and why?
  • What's your least favourite website and why?
  • Which websites do you go to every day and what can we learn from them?
  • Do you have any experience with content management software?
  • Do you have experience with Adobe Acrobat? Making PDFs? Making interactive forms?
  • What's your level of familiarity with search engines? How important do you think they are?
  • What's your experience with email list software?
  • Any tips or caveats for email marketing?
  • Tell me about a successful use of social media that you worked on?
  • How familiar are you with databases and SQL?
  • What are some security issues should a website be concerned about?
  • Are the websites you previously worked on accessible? If not, why?
  • Tell me about how you used information architecture to help make a website more effective?
  • Have you written any article for print or online? Can we see samples of your work?
  • How proficient of a copy editor are you?
  • Give me an example of good or bad web writing?
  • How did you acquire your Internet skills? Self taught, on the job, school?
  • How do you keep in touch with trends in the industry? With new technical standards & software?
That seems like a daunting array of skills to have, but I know many website managers who are proficient at most, if not all, the above.

Every website will have unique needs, based not only on software used but also resources available, but I think I have got some standard items. This list is certainly not definitive, so I'd love to hear some suggestions.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Making the Most Out of LinkedIn - For You & Me

Now that I'm no longer employed by my former company, I have updated my LinkedIn settings. I also registered yesterday and thus am now qualified to join Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), so I added that to my profile as well.

LinkedIn offers a lot of features that are really promising. However, many of these features depend on network effects to make them useful. Lots of people I know have registered on LinkedIn and many have developed good networks, but otherwise I don't see many people doing more than that.

This short, informative video by CommonCraft outlines how to make the most out of LinkedIn.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Canadian Coffee Websites Need a Pick-Me-Up

I conducted a review of the websites of Starbucks, Second Cup, and Tim Horton's for my current class. I also reviewed Starbucks' parent company website, which is a bit slicker than it's Canadian counterpart. My impression from my review (based on content, design, multimedia, etc.) is that while Starbucks (unlike many multinationals) cares enough to have a unique national presence, they don't want to fork for a good website.

Starbucks' Canadian website comes across as quite cheap and hokey compared to Second Cup & even Tim's. Second Cup's seems like a rich, discerning and expensive website (although the wait time for loads would seem unacceptable to their customers). If I judged Starbucks solely by their Canadian website, I would think it is a very small, young company. Or it is possible they don't see the business value in using the web - which is possible, but considering their competitors are doing more, one would think they'd be forced to keep up.

Overall, all of the sites have some good features. Starbucks makes a more convincing case for prospective employees, Second Cup offers a more enticing depiction of their menu, and Tim's offers the best nutritional information options. All of the websites could be doing a lot more - and I don't mean expensive gimmicks or design , just some well-placed content would do the trick (except for Starbucks, which does need a redesign).

CharacteristicStarbucksSecond CupTim Horton's
Canadian websiteYesYesYes
Use of .ca domainYes NoYes (but redirects to .com)
Bilingual Yes - but defaults to English Yes - must choose language firstYes - must choose language first
Main colourBeige Brown Brown
Secondary colour Khaki CreamRed
Overall design critique Functional, spartan Rich, sleek Clean, professional
Approach to graphics Amateurish sketches Slick photography Colourful photographs
Store locator present Yes Yes Yes
PlatformMicrosoft content management system
PHPContent management system
Multimedia None Extensive use of Flash & slick user controls (many pages have wait time to load) Videos of happy employees (couldn't bring myself to watch)
Ability to load card Yes YesYes
Bells & whistles None Storybook presentation of their teas, which is graphically lush & ability to turn pages - also has virtual tour of a location Road trip planner - so you can plan your trip around Tim's
Glitches Dead links Content below the fold with no way to know it's there Road trip planner - took more than 5 mins. to load
Menu Bare bones -lists with descriptions, with exception of coffee -some content for connoisseurs Rich, graphic presentation with descriptions - special feature sections for coffee & teas Standard presentation of menu
Nutrition infoNoFairly detailed - but hard to find Extremely detailed including those with special needs - has a nutrition calculator
Social responsibility Very prominent -
item in nav and graphic promoting - although many links on this dead - supports several charities, including employee charitable work
Link on homepage to one charitable campaign - otherwise nothing Very prominent graphically and in nav - emphasizes charitable efforts for children & community
Corporate history As expected - no mention of CanadaEmphasized Canada Long, included storied history (ie. Tim Horton bio)
Mission statement Yes No Essentially
Employment info Detailed, enticing - emphasized commitment to diversity - links to own job finder microsite Brief & lackluster
Very detailed
Email newsletter No Yes (I got this for awhile - it was nicely designed, had a few useful mentions of new products, but was ultimately boring) No
Coupons No No No
Contests No Yes No (links to info on in-store contest)
Innovative use of web No No No
Compelling reason to return to site No No No
Notes significantly different from US parent company website
Extensive investor relations material & press info