Monthly Archive for March, 2009

The Australian cancer that will kill the Internet

grainy girl censored There is a cancer growing in our society. This problem may seem small, isolated and insignificant, but left unchecked, could grow to affect everyone in the world. Because when a small nation validates a disastrous idea, it gives the larger countries evidence to pursue it – and like domino’s, we all fall.

Logging into a Bogota internet cafe last year as I was backpacking around South America, I nearly choked. Australia’s new government had slightly tweaked their election commitment: they no longer wanted to help parents filter the Internet to prevent their children from stumbling on child porn (children don’t watch child porn, and lets not forget the fact that child pornographers have a sophisticated offline network that bypasses technology), but now the government was going to mandate a “clean” feed on everybody. Mandatory censorship on the Internet is not a future I want. It made my blood boil.

It was to be a filtration regime, that the government would censor whatever they thought was deemed censorable. An unaccountable, shady regime using the high moral ground of claiming to look after children, but in subsequent examinations, has proven to be just the start. A recent leak has shown that there has been considerable scope creep. Pornography, gambling, abortion websites – all the good stuff in life that make conservative Christian’s pray for a flood and famine to clean society up – would be part of this black list, despite being perfectly legal for adults. The question isn’t why is the government banning porn and the like; it’s where will the line be drawn and who determines that? We are seeing a moral crusade, cloaking a very real civil rights issue.

Censored face

I wrote an email to every senator of the Australia government several months back, speaking on behalf of the Silicon Beach Australia community (which will give you all the background you need). Fortunately it worked – I not only educated, but I was acknowledged from two important senators that the current administration needed to pass the legislation. It was a temporary win, and thankfully since then the Australian mainstream media have taken an absolutely beating on the government. But very rarely does this get international attention.

More recent announcements suggest the legislation is dead in the water. But let’s not get complacent – we are only as safe as the next election, where the numbers in the Senate shift. This has been an issue for several years being pushed by the parties to win the growing Christian conservative vote. This dangerous policy hasn’t died – it’s just undergoing an evolution.

Why the rest of the world should care…and be scared
One thing that I’ve learned from this experience, is that the Australian government will cling onto the flimsiest of evidence and pathetic moral rhetoric, to position their case. Distorted perspectives, exaggerated linkages – it almost makes me laugh and then cry to see how desperate the government is to sell its case, by citing overseas efforts in an inaccurate way, in order to build their case. It is a propaganda war based on lies that we are getting sick of .

self-censored

If an economically insignificant – but credible nation – like Australia introduces this filteration regime, it means it’s a global precedent. We don’t want a precedent. All it takes is one solid example, and governments around the world can jump out of hiding on this sensitive electoral issue.

The Internet needs to be open, free, and available. It’s going to be the infrastructure of our society that will allow new opportunities for the development of the human race. So when a government starts flirting with the idea of internet censorship – don’t get complacent. Every piece of legislation passed, is a step closer to a control regime we don’t need.

twiter_vanuatu_nocleanfeed

We need to make this issue political suicide around the world. Our public pressure needs to get to the point, where no politician in their right mind, will try to implement this policy. I’m not asking you to suddenly become an activist, but just understand – there is no room for leeway in this. This issue has been under-reported by the media across the world – let’s kill this cancer once and for all. Because unless we exterminate this fake moral crusade, this cancer is going to slowly grow in the background – only for us to realise it’s all over when it’s too late.

It’s not often I will breakout in anger over this, but I think about it everyday (like how my Twitter avatar is in constant protest). No need to chain yourself to a tree – but let’s start making this the bigger deal that it really is.

Downloadsquad.com interview

The bulk of the panels at SXSW have been on the whole ordinary. Rather than pulling interesting people around a topic to project new ideas about the future – the panels seemed to have a different formula. One that is “how can I promote my company/personal brand the best, under the guise of an interesting topic filled with buzz words that will suck the audience in”. There are outliers of course, but that’s how I feel most of them have been.

It’s wrong for me to be judgmental of the entire conference, but I have to contrast that with the bloggers room. I’m a new face to the industry, especially the US world where I know few people. But sitting down working on my things (outside of the bubble that is SXSW), I randomly meet people who introduce me to other people. Interesting conversations, interesting people, and you never know who you will bump into.

Like Grant Robertson who interviewed me for one of the most trafficked websites around! (number 23 blog in the world.) Check out what I say, explaining what the DataPortability Project is, and what we’ve been doing since last years SXSW. I wish I said more informative stuff (ie, this is not self-promotion, if I think I did lame!) – but just goes to show where the real value out of a conference like this is: the centralisation of so many people that think alike, interested in each other, thinking about the future.

Best error message ever (for Data Portability in action)

As we were preparing for the upgrade of DataPortability Project’s website, we realised we needed to close off some of our legacy mailing lists…but we didn’t want to lose the hundreds of people already on these mailing lists. So we decide to export the emails and paste them into the new Google group as subscribers.

I then got this error message.

email permissions

The has to be one of the best error messages I have ever seen. Yes I’m happy that I could port the data from a legacy system/group to a new one, using an open standard (CSV). Yes, I was impressed that the Google Groups team supports this functionality (who I am told is just one Google engineer and are completely understaffed). But what blew me away was the fact Google was able to recognise how to treat these emails.

These particular people have opted to not allow someone to reuse their e-mail, other than the intended purpose for which they submitted it (which was to be subscribed to this legacy Group). Google recognised that and told me I wasn’t allowed to do it as part of my batch add.

That’s Google respecting their users, while making life a hell of a lot easier for me as an administrator of these mailing lists.

I’m happy to be helped out like that, because I don’t want to step on any toes. And these people are happy, because they have control of the way their data is used. That’s what I call “Awesome”.

The music industry and a glimpse into its future

Before I share this insight, I want to explain how I met the guy which just validates the uniqueness of SXSW. Otherwise, skip to the subheading below the first image to get to the meat of this post.

sxsw2009

At 6pm, I went to my first social event at SXSW, and walked around a pub (“divebar” in America – I’m learning!). I was alone, didn’t know anyone, and so sat down on a couch near the pool tables sipping my beer.

Some dude was sitting there, and we got into conversation. We had absolutely nothing in common – he was a project manager from Virginia, and I was an accountant from Sydney. The conversation was strained, and was injected with occasional remarks where this fairly camp guy was trying to find out if I was gay. When it was clear I wasn’t, he got up to get another drink, and that’s when the man of the hour sat down.

Again – I introduce myself. I’m the accountant from Sydney, but this guy was a product manager at a music company. After realising that he effectively drives strategy in one of the world’s biggest music companies, I couldn’t help myself and started prodding him with questions about the new music model.

And so that’s my story. I randomly came across one of the more influential people in the music industry. I also finally found someone that thinks about the same problems I do, which is how to monetise content. And after I revealed later on I was the vice-chair of the DataPortability Project, I floored him and so ensued hours of conversation where I got to test some of my unpublished thoughts about business models.

The fact this conference is the intersection between interactive, music, and film – is the reason why we know each other and could challenge each other on ideas. Austin is for this week a city with the worlds best minds in New Media. SXSW – we are both thanking you for creating this relationship!

So now to the insight I got, which was before I corrupted his views with what I think!

Artist

A view where the music industry is going
The record label model is actually going to work (as I was told). What’s happening is a change, and the crisis the industry has faced is actually a good thing, because its forced them to rethink and renegotiate their value proposition.

Record labels have realised that the value they provide to artists is that of a talent management agency. In fact, an almost complete parallel can be made with the venture capital industry. A new internet startup, like a new musician, is fresh and not able realise their potential. Venture Capitalists discover this talent, and invest in them for a future return. The VC’s will give them money and access to their exclusive networks – and the startup in return, gets to grow in ways they never thought possible.

The record label is now evolving into a similar model. Overnight, they can make a new star by giving them exposure to foreign markets, the capital they need to record music and distribute it to the masses, and all the other costs that are needed to become a big star. In return, rather than deriving 90% of their revenue from CD sales as record labels used to, they instead ask to get a 50% stake in the artist.

I raised this is effectively like slave labour, but when you think about it, a five year contract is completely reasonable given the amount of investment the label puts in. The labels are finding they can generate a lot of money on the merchandise and live concerts sales, as opposed to just the distribution sales. By taking a more diversified revenue mix, and taking more of a partnership approach to an artists career, what we are seeing is a more robust music model.

Records

Will that mean music can now be free? Well this company makes several billion dollars a year on music sales still, of which 75% are due to CD sales (and just the fact they make 25% in digital amazes me in itself). If music going free is the trend, my friend doesn’t see it happening for at least another decade.

And by that time, they’ll be ok. It appears the music industry is experimenting with a new approach to monetising artists based on the “experience” and is more about creating a connection with their fans. It’s still early days, but after our very long chat, I’ve now come to realise the record label isn’t dead – it’s just evolving. And they are well onto that path of a future model that works in this new world.

Impromptu video on DataPortability.Org

Daniela Barbosa and I caught up with David and Kaliya. After we finished coffee, David decided to spring a video on us for the Social Web TV!

If you are wondering on what we are doing with the DataPortability Project, then here’s your update.