Tag Archive for 'music'

There’s something about you turntable.fm

Three weeks ago, Turntable.fm became the hype in the echo chamber. Like I do with everything, I’m been observing and reflecting on how it’s being used by other people and myself. In short, I like it. It’s such a simple idea that could further disrupt the traditional radio business.

What it is
For the uninitiated, it’s an an Internet radio station, with a quirky web page that people interact in. People either sit in the room bopping their heads (approving the music) or people put themselves in the DJ chair and compete against another 4 DJ’s for the best tunes according to the room theme.

Turntable: room

My first observation: Spotify will kill it. Or not.
While they appear to be completely different, I keep thinking about my Spotify experience a year ago when I was in Europe: I was hooked. And it was for the same reason — I could subscribe to a friends playlist (turntable I can follow a friend and hear when they play). The benefit is that I can get filtered serendipity and discovery, like how radio has done for decades. (For example, you may love a particular kind of music but have no idea what the latest tracks are or the time to curate playlists — but you have friends who do so would rather follow their enthusiasm.)

Turntable’s cool, but I keep thinking it’s Myspace and Spotify is Facebook. When Spotify launches in the US (rumoured to finally be this month), then turntable’s core value in providing this discovery will be replaced as Spotify is just an amazing service. But I’m not so sure about that now, as actually it might be away where playlists in Spotify get generated so it’s completely complementary.

My second observation: it’s competitive curation
In this explosion of social media, people are starting to appreciate the role editors played in the traditional media. Curated content is a skill that algorithms still can’t beat humans at (and actually, the best kinds are based off existing human preferences).

With Turntable, you select a room and sit there listening to the music. People compete for the “DJ” spot at the table (of which there are a maximum of 5). A chat room allows people in the room to chat like the old days of IRC and give direct feedback to the DJ’s or discuss music. The vote meter helps regulate the quality of music as high votes not only impact the DJ’s rating but down votes can cut the song being played and move onto the next DJ’s track.

This motivation to please the crowd means there is an active effort to curate the playlists into something worthwhile. That’s an interesting concept to consider, as playlists in past have tended to be done by people along without real consideration of others listening to it (or at least, real time feedback to consider it).

My third observation: it’s social, like the Athenian assembly social
Turntable: chatroom

I don’t fully understand why yet, but the chat room aspect is the most powerful component of the experience despite being the most subtle. While the voting mentioned in my second observation creates a motivation to enhance their DJ reputation by playing good music, the chatroom makes this curation directly in touch with the audience.

It’s like a democracy, where those representing and controlling the room’s music are actually completely dependent on the goodwill of the audience. The voting is the main way this is enforced, but the chatroom is where people will negotiate. Games will be determined where certain patterns in music will be played; feedback of bad songs will be given to DJ’s; and requests will be sent. It’s like a radio station completely accountable to its audience.

Like Twitter, the service will evolve based on these discussions. Some of Twitter’s most useful features like @ replying (which turned it into a communications tool) and hashtags (which turned into into a information resource) were invented and popularised by their most passionate users. Turntable.fm offers a similar utility around music and I think will evolve in a similar way. Like any startup, it’s hard to know where turntable.fm will be in six months time, but one things for sure: it’s sticky and it’s only going to get better.

My media consumption – three years on

I was reflecting on a conversation the other day where I said I no longer read the news, a bizarre fact given as a teenager and young adult I was a newspaper junkie. Certainly, things have changed – even since three years ago when I wrote about my media consumption.

And it’s true – I don’t read newspapers or many news sites anymore. But I’m actually better informed about the world now.

How so?

– My iPhone has improved my productivity. I’m reading things constantly off it. It’s an important distribution tool worth pointing out, which is why I consume information like I do now.
Current homescreen
– Like I did in 2007, Techmeme is something I religiously check every day and increasingly Mediagazer. Both are icons on my iPhones’s homescreen.
Twitter and Facebook are a huge source of how I find out about things or come across interesting content. (Also both on my phone’s homescreen.)
– I am a subscriber to the geopolitical thinktank Stratfor, which tells me where the US navy is on weekly basis, breaks news to me for major political news or dramatic calamities, and gives me essays filled with complete perspective. I don’t have the ability to read all the emails, but like Techmeme, merely reading the headlines is enough to keep me on top of things. And the interesting point to note about this, is that this is premium analysis – the stuff the intelligence community and government policy makers subscribe to. It’s seems like I’ve cut the middleman out (the newspaper journalists) and gone closer to the source of the original analysis. By implication, I’ve chosen the better analyser and that has now become my default news provider.
– I have BNO news and the Associated Press applications on my iPhone, which send me alerts to news items through the day via push notification. I also have the NY Times and WSJ journal apps and which I used to use religiously a year ago, but for some reason I no longer do. (Maybe because they are now buried in my iPhone’s menu.)
– Recently, I changed my homepage from Techmeme to be three homepages: my company’s internal blog, OneRiot which flags the top news shared through Twitter, and Techmeme. The addition of OneRiot has got me hooked these last few weeks: its given me a great source of headline news and useless news, like celebrity gossip that I don’t normally seek. That’s not to say I like celebrity gossip, but it completes my knowledge gaps of what’s happening in the world and that other people are talking about.
– I no longer listen to the radio, the prime reason being I don’t have a car here in San Francisco. If the iPhone had a radio, I probably would – I have my headset in my ears usually every day at work, to help me focus.
– I am a paying subscriber to Pandora, the online music discovery service. (I’m listening to it right now as I write this post!) I prefer it not because my music collection is weak, but because I like being introduced to songs I might not normally know about.
– I have cable TV in my apartment (Comcast), but I never watch it. And when I do, it’s when I want to just switch off for a bit.

My current approach has gaps: for example, I am detached from Australian news. Regardless, its proved an interesting point: I no longer have time to read newspapers like I used to as a teenager. What’s changed is the way I consume information, which allows me to consume more with less effort. I’m one of the busiest guys I know, but thanks to technology, I can be efficient with my time.

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.

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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.

The change brought by the Internet is a correction

I was sitting at a restaurant with Mick Liubinskas of Pollenizer the other week, who I regard as one of the best minds in the Australian tech scene. Mick in a previous life used to run marketing at Kazaa, which was the music-industry’s anti-Christ during the early 2000s. Kazaa was one of the higher profile peer-to-peer technologies that made the distribution of music so widespread on the Internet.

I said to Mick how one of the things that plagues my thinking is trying to work out the future business models for content. Naturally, we ended up talking about the music industry and he explained to me the concept of Soft DRM which he thought was one avenue for the future but which the record labels rejected at the time.

DRM

DRM or Digital Rights Management is the attempt by companies to control the distribution of digital content. Hard DRM places control over access, copying and distribution Рwhile soft DRM does not prohibit unauthorised actions but merely monitors a user’s interaction with the content.

The basic difference, is that Hard DRM protects copyrights by preventing unauthorised actions before the fact, while Soft DRM protects copyrights by giving copyright owners information about infringing uses after the fact.

As I questioned Mick on this, he compared it to us sitting in that restaurant. What’s stopping either of us from getting up and not paying the bill? The restaurant let’s us sit, serves us food – and only at the end do we pay for the service.

Hard DRM is not congruent with our society
Part of the music industry’s problem is that they’ve focused too much on Hard DRM. And that’s wrong. They could get away with it in the past because that’s how the world worked with controlled distribution lines, but now that world no longer exists with the uncontrollable Internet.

In a restaurant, like any other service industry, the risk that you don’t get paid is real but not big enough to prevent it from operating. Our social conventions are what make us pay that bill, even though we have the ability to avoid it.

To insist on the Hard DRM approach, is going against how the rest of the western world works. Our society is philosophically based on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Likewise, you pay after a service has been rendered – and you pay for something that has unique value (only scarcity is rewarded). What existed with the media world was unique over any other industry, but unique purely due to technological limitations, not because it was genuinely better.

The record companies (not the artists) are hurting
Artists practically sell their soul to get a record deal, and make little money from the actual albums themselves. This change for music is really a threat to the century-old record company model, of which the Internet has broken their distribution power and their marketing ability is now dwarfed by the potential of social media.

Instead of reinventing themselves, they wasted time by persisting with an old model that worked in the industrial age. They should have been reflecting on what value people will pay for, and working out the things that are better than free. Unfortunately, the entire content business – movies, television, radio, magazines, newspapers, books and the rest – have made similar mistakes.

The Internet is transforming our world and every object in our lives one day will be connected. In some ways, the great change brought about by the Internet is actually a step back to how things used to be (like it is for music where the record model was an anomaly in our history). Even the concept of a “nation state” is a 20th century experiment pushed after the first world war, where for our entire history prior to that, our world was governed by independent cities or empires that governed multiple ethnic nations – the Internet is breaking down the nation-state concept and good riddance because its complicated our lives.

Future

We need to clear the white board and start fresh. The Internet is only going to get more entrenched in our world, so we must re-engineer our views of the world to embrace it. With content, distribution was one of the biggest barriers to those industries to get into, and now it has been obliterated. Business models can no longer rely on that.

We should not let the old world drive our strategies for business because the dynamics have changed completely. If you are looking to defend yourself against an oncoming army – stop polishing the sword and start looking for the bullets to put in the machine gun.

It’s the experience that matters

One of the great things about working on the DataPortability Project, is the exposure to some amazing thinking. Today alone, I stumped on this great piece questioning the point of a music label (via Crosbie Fitch ). Separately, I also came across this interesting bit of thinking about imagining what a world would look like without copyright . Those pieces helped give me more solid arguments with something that’s been on my mind a lot. That being, consumers don’t pay for content’s representation per se. Instead, they pay for the associated experience.

With the digital age, we have seen an uprooting of these traditional industries that operate in the content industries as we have seen with the recording & publishing industries. Our traditional approaches to managing content are being challenged, because we (or rather, they) grew complacent on the technological limitations of content distribution. However, now that we have a new type of technology to distribute content (due to computing, the Internet and the web), we are seeing greater potential for content to be consumed – and it’s also exposing something we have forgotten. The digital revolution is changing business practices but it highlights the true nature of content: it’s about the experience.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s define content as being products like music and books.

When you buy a album, you are not buying it for the physical CD or the plastic casing. The reason you are buying it, is so you can get access to the music. This access entitles you to experiencing the music. On a similar note, when you go to a concert to hear a band, you are not paying to stand in a concert hall. You are paying for the experience of hearing the music live, which also incorporates the associated experience of being a part of a crowd. Both those experiences trigger an emotional reaction – which can be positive or negative, but regardless, is what makes us feel alive. Humans pay for music, because the emotions being triggered by that content, helps them feel like humans.

beyonce

Beyonce’s movements: something you pay to experience

With books, what you are purchasing is knowledge. The paper that you read the novel on, which although can sometimes been done up nicely, isn’t why you buy it. What you are buying, is an experience to consume that knowledge. Some books offer intellectual stimulation; other books offer excitement through a riveting storyline. Regardless, the experience of the book reading is what you are purchasing.

It’s about the experience, stupid
Talking about cultural artifacts like music and books is one thing. But there is no reason why we can’t consider this with information in a generic sense – as the initial data is simply a stage earlier in the value chain . In the context of my personal data, this is something that I have generated. Nothing really special about it. But it becomes special, when a web application can do interesting things with that data. That meaning, when a application can process my data in such a way that gives me a new experience.

For example, there are certain Facebook applications that reveal some interesting information about my friends, by generating insight. Knowing that 58% of my friends are male is useful when I’m considering a party (more beer and Beam; less wine and champagne). Knowing that some of my friends are traveling or living in a certain country, is useful because it gives me awareness that I can meet up with them. By Facebook allowing applications to process my data in the context of my friends, the information they can generate is a lot more valuable if Facebook locked this down. The experience of having access to this information, is not as emotionally driven as a Jane Austen book; but the experience of insight is still something I get out of it.

The ability to offer a unique experience to a consumer, is what is key to any information-based products. Triggering emotions is a powerful thing about humanity, and a consumer when consuming information is looking to get an experience which in reality can only be captured in their memory. Of course, content in the form of entertainment is more about the emotion, whilst news is more about the access , but that doesn’t take away from the inherent characteristics of information.

Recognising that information-products are an experience, should give a better understanding about what we do with them. For example, writing this blog I don’t get any monetary benefit from it. However, the more people that want to copy my "original work", the better. Whilst that may sound contrary to smart business sense, it’s because I recognise the benefit I get from blogging is reputation (well one of them at least). And despite the fact people can ‘steal’ my content, doesn’t mean they can steal my brain. As a content creator, I am being rewarded with the associated benefits of a good reputation, despite the fact I cannot assert ownership over my words.

permission

"If you put that picture on the Internet I’ll call my lawyer"

So why do we obsess over control?
If you are a web application, a book author, or a musician – the way you make money isn’t through the information you generate. Instead, what you are being rewarded with is with a brand; a relationship with your consumer of trust; or just simply attention. Open source developers can appear to be like some hippies helping the world. But look closely at how they make a living, and it’s on the associated expertise that has been recognised onto them through their brand, which allows them to charge for consulting.

If you operate in the information industry, the way you make money is on the experience you create for the consumer – and by generating that experience, you can then create a monetary stream off it. For example, a band that no one knows about has no demand for their music. A cult following, because people get obsessed over their songs played freely everywhere, allows them to make buckets of money on merchandise and concerts. Twitter is a web application, that when I first heard about it, I would never have used it. Now that I use it, I am willing to pay for certain benefits that make my experience more enjoyable (ie, profiling of tweets, etc). Twitter has an opportunity to make money because I value the experience they offer me, and I’m willing to pay to make it a better experience.

In the information business, experience is ultimately your product. Ignore that, and you will be making decisions that at best, will amount to a huge amount of opportunity cost. Here’s hoping that as we move forward with DataPortability, the thinking of businesses can change. Locking down data is not how you make money; it’s the compelling experience you offer your consumers that is the true source of competitive advantage and ultimately, revenues.

Bulgaria

Having checked the map, I’ve realised that my trip-to-be isn’t really Eastern Europe in as much as it is Central Europe. And the term ex-Eastern Bloc is so passe. So let me start again: Greetings from the ex-commie bastard countries, before they turn into capitalist prick countries! Oh, I am excited!
The doctor ordered I stay in Greece another 10 days to recover, since my last blog posting. She could feel my anger, and did not charge for the session. The next visit, although better, she said I needed another month to fully recover – on top of the previous 25 days I had, locked up in Athens with rare glimpses with the outside world. Fearing for her life, she said it should be okay for me to leave. The next day, I was on a train north.

St Alexander Nevskis cathedral

Orthodox Christian iconography, at the big mother of a church in Sofia. Love them. And so does the Vatican, which sells them – the churches may disagree on doctrine, but they both know what sells well

So what to say about Bulgaria? The women are ridiculously hot (even the store mannequins looked good); the country is ridiculously cheap (and apparently, those two facts are not mutually exclusive, as I explain below). And I have never said the word “ridiculous” so many times, to describe a country.
I spent two days in Bulgaria’s capital – Sofia – and four in a former capital – Veliko Tarnovo. Sofia was pleasant; VT was great but could have been 10 times better if it wasn’t raining. We spent two nights hoping it would clear up, and I had to spend another night there because my bus to my next country broke down on the way. Unfortunately the day I left was also when it started clearing up, but I figure I will explore the country another time.

P1030883

Managed to get some pictures on my last day. The castle at Veliko is built on one of the three hills that the city sits on.

I enjoyed Sofia because it was bustling with people, had chic areas to hang out, and I had trouble trying to spend my money – always a good sign! In VT, despite the rain, I had some good company. I had met two British kids – Lydia and James – in Sofia, and said to meet them in VT. Although they left the day before me, they arrived at the same time and found me as I was walking to the hostel in VT, with a taxi driver that had no idea where they wanted to go. ?Ѭ? was wondering why it took them an entire day to get here, and they explained. In Bulgaria, like in Albania, they shake their heads sideways for ‘yes’ and up-down for ‘no’. Put simpler, the opposite to the rest of the world. So when on the bus the previous day, they asked the bus driver if the current stop was VT. He shook his head sideways, to indicate yes. The kids read it as a no. And so they spent the night on the Black Sea resort of Varna, a few hours from where they had originally planned to be.

Although it was raining, Lydia and James – who had met one week earlier but looked like a married couple together (something I think a lot of travelers can relate to when traveling alone) helped pass the rainy days with me. Lydia with her slapstick humour and James with his political incorrectness, wit, and political incorrectness. We found this amazing restaurant and we would eat there all day whilst laughing. On more serious discussions, James and I would reminisce the good old days of the British Empire, and how good the times were with slavery. James and I realised we are also a compatible writing team, as we discovered when writing an entry in the guest-book, and we are currently brainstorming a book we promise to write for the growing travel market. The book is called “Islamic Jihad on a shoe-string” or how to blow shit up on the cheap, for the budget traveler. I think we may have cornered a niche market here.

P1030826

The food was unbelievable. And ridiculously cheap: this dish cost about Five Lev or Three Euros. Also, they iron the tables with table-cloths when re-setting. Maybe that is what Sydney restaurants are missing?

Bulgarians look different from the rest of the people that inhabit the Balkan peninsula. Like the Serbs, there is a hint of Slavonic blood in them, but their unique look is obviously more dominated by other tribes. There is obviously some Thracian blood in them, but there is also a Turkic central-Asian look, from the Bulgar tribes that migrated in the 7th century AD. They have this characteristic round look, as in round face – like a teddy bear face. Having said that, there is also the sharp nose, sharp face look. Either way, they look different. And on the highly charged issue of Macedonia, I have to say the Macedonians do look a little different.

Sofia is located near the Republic of Macedonia’s border. It was picked as capital, because of the wishful thinking that one day Bulgaria would be reunited with “Western Bulgaria”, with Sofia as the capital in the middle of the country. Bulgarians claim the neighbouring Macedonians are actually Bulgarians, that speak a dialect of Bulgarian. I personaly find the Macedonians to be a little more Slavic in appearance. Either way, it’s a hotly contested issue. Maybe if the Bulgarians learnt how to move their heads for yes and no like the rest of the world, there wouldn’t be such a communication problem when discussing senstive issues like these? I was very confused when talking about the subject.

P1030850

Veliko is bu?Ѭ±lt on these hills. It was a strategic city, as it lay on the Rome-Constantinople road.

Bulgarians are very pro-Russia. In fact, when most of the commie bloc countries in the north where trying to get out of the Warshaw Pact, the Bulgarians voluntarily asked to be a part of the USSR in 1973. Whilst cheap Vodka may have something to do with it, the “we love Mother Russia” view is probably also due to the historic relationship with the Russians, where the Russians liberated the Bulgarians from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.

Russian church St Nikolay

Russian Church, built by the Russian Ambassador in the 1800s. They reckon he thought the Bulgarian Orthodox Churches spooked him, so he needed some Real McCoy Russian spritual protection

Squashed by the Byzantine Empire, supressed by the Ottoman Empire, and ‘liberated’ by the Russians – the Bulgarians are slated for joining the European Union in 2007. People don’t seem to understand why, nor care. The owner of the hostel at Sofia that I stayed at, reckons Bulgarians don’t have a deeply rooted culture of democracy. The concept of being an independent state isn’t a concept they understand. Whilst they are very proud of their culture, they are not so proud about their country. He reckons Bulgaria needs to be ruled by someone, because they don’t know better themselves.

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Sofia city centre.

Turbo folk music seems to be popular, music that has swept the Balkan states. I was told in Serbia, everyone hates it but it seems to be popular in Bulgaria. The girl at the VT hostel hates it as well, saying it is a bit like American R’n’B music with cars, naked girls, and sex. My Serbian friends claim it is nationalistic propaganda music. With short skirts and girls, I think I now understand how propaganda works.

And finally, a funny story. Was taking pictures.

St Alexander Nevskis cathedral

Actually, this picture to be exact

And a young man in a business suit asked me for the time. Then, he gave me his business card. It was too funny to refuse the card.

Medical control!

"non stop"

The card he gave me. Notice “non-stop”, ” medical control” and the generous discount.

Unfortunately, that is all I have to say. Blame the rain. Currently in Turkey and lovin’ it.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Who would have thought that bombs, death and bullet holes in buildings would ruin a city? And when I say ruin it, it has nothing to do with war – but tourism!

I spent four nights in Sarajevo, and a night in Mostar – where both cities are beautiful in themselves, but whose local economies are inflated by international organisations, and the European Union has created a facade of a well-functioning country that is actually run by the mafia. In between dodging landmines, putting up with Americans at the hostel who get defensive on discussions about their screwed up economy, and seeing money flow out of my hands like I was in a western nation, I feel like I have learnt little about Bosnian culture despite staying for nearly a week. Although as the Serbs had me believe, there is nothing to learn, because Bosnians are just Serbs that happen to pray with their bums up, five times a day. Hmm, I don’t know about that.

When you enter Bosnia, you don’t need a sign to tell you, because the change in landscape could not be more dramatic. From flat, green Serbia to mountainous Bosnia, with farmers at times growing their crops at 45 degree angles! Bosnia and Herzegovina are geographic terms, with the later suddenly becoming flatter and drier, reflecting the intense heat that resembles the Croatian climate as opposed to the colder inland climate.

Dotted along the terrain are cities bearing the scars of war – that one-by-one, and totally unsuspecting to the local population, were sieged by Croatians and Serbians, as communications were broken between cities during the war. The modern historical term is genocide, with the number of deaths totaling 250 000. And our world let this happen for four years, before something was done about it. My tour guide in Sarajevo ended his talk about the war with a joke, which he said we should interpret as we want to, but clearly illustrates the commonly held view as to why the West did not act sooner: a Bosnian was digging a hole. He kept digging and digging, and then a friend of his asked what was he doing. “I’am looking for oil”. Apparently one Iraqi’s life, living in an oil rich nation, is worth a lot more than a person living in a oil-poor country. Reminds me of what is happening in Africa today, and how we all choose to be ignorant on the crisis there

The tour guide had a bone to pick with the United Nations, and his anger illustrates how the UN was designed for a bi-polar world, and how its peace keeping efforts are inadequate in the modern world. A Swedish woman whom I met on the road, was telling me during the war that her boyfriend was in Bosnia with the UN forces, and he came back fatter than when he left! The reason being, the UN effectively could not do anything, and they just sat there watching with their hands tied behind their backs. So he just spent his days, drinking and eating, and basically having a holiday, whilst 1600 of Sarajevo’s children were murdered. The city of Sarajevo was under heavy siege for 3 1/2 years, and yet it took NATO 5 days to bomb the surrounding Serb forces into withdrawal.

Another story that made me sick with disgust, was with the media. There is apparently a Frenchman, who filmed a woman dying on the streets. Rather than help her, he just kept filming – and in America has been awarded with a Pulitzer price. Another story is how journalists would pay children to run across “sniper alley”. The infamous Sniper Alley as a road that runs alongside the river Miljacka in the middle of the town. The Serb forces sat on the surrounding hills, and one-by-one killed civilians. Read more about the seige here.

The city

It was interesting to hear about life during the war. The top item on the black market was make-up! An advantage touted of war, is that there is no television! As such, Bosnians are extremely well read, and once done, would use these books for winter fires. But more so, it was interesting to hear about Bosnian spirit during the war. Every man and woman was fully mobilised during the war, and they never let their spirits down. A joke that illustrates Bosnian humour is as follows: A Bosnian is on a kids swing, moving back and forth, when another Bosnian yells out “what are you doing?”. To which the first Bosnian replied “just fucking with a sniper”.

Whilst the Bosnians have a sense of humour, deeply rooted in sarcasm, I also found the youth to be wild. I caught a cab from the bus station to the town centre, and at one point a tram was running beside us. On the back of the tram was a metal plate/bar, which I suppose is used to tow the tram with a truck. However, what I saw was a little boy of about eight sitting on it, making broom broom sounds like he was car racing! Just above him, on the back right of the tram, a little girl with her friends, was sticking her leg out whenever they passed a pole or a person! My view that the youth of Sarajevo are wild was further impressed by the sight of the kids playing in the main square of the old town. As I sat there eating my burek, a bunch of boys were shooting at each other with toy guns. I know they are just toys, but seeing as the country is still trying to rebuild itself from war, I was really bothered by that sight. I am not sure why you need to know all that, but it really made an impression on me watching these kids act the way they did.

Disturbing

Sarajevo has become the focus of world attention three times in recent history: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that sparked World War I, the 1984 Winter Olympics, and the Balkan war in the 1990s that left 11,000 people in Sarajevo dead. Despite the tour operator’s best efforts to talk up the city due to its great alpine scenery which made it suitable for the Olympics, he knew that the only reason why people came to his city was because of the war. You could feel how this annoyed him, when he clearly let it be known that the only time we would ask questions about the war was when we were at the Jewish cemetery. After giving us a 10 second period to ask questions, he said “Okay, question time over. Lets go.” The war is still very recent memory, and every family was affected, he would tell me a little later just between the two of us. But they are trying to move on, and the impression I have that they want to move on, and leave the past behind. I don’t see that as unreasonable! So whilst tourism is helping inject money into economies of the main cities, the actual reason for this tourism, is going to mean the pain of the past will not disappear quickly enough.

The country is actually divided into two countries: The Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska (RS). The Federation and RS governments were charged with overseeing most government functions.”Democracy” exists, under the supreme authority of Paddy Ashdown, who runs the Office of the High representative in order to implement the civilian side to the government, on a mandate from the UN Security Council. However our main man Paddy has come to admit that his job now, is to be able to abolish his job! It will be a long road for Bosnia, but with such a strong EU investment, there is potential. A five-year plan to eliminate the heavy presence of international military officers, began last year. Here is hoping that when they leave, security will be a non-issue (they still have to sort out the fact that the country has 16 police forces) and that they get what they really need – foreign investment – to rebuild this extremely fragile country.

One story worth mentioning is a night out we had in the city. The girls in the hostel where whining about sitting around, and wanted to hit the town for some night clubs. So after we sculled our bottle of beer (two litres for three Aussie dollars…and yes, it tasted every bit of the cheapness) we headed for some clubs. However on the way, we heard music from a shop along the road. It was a sort of bar, with about 20 people that were in the 45 to 65 age group. The Americans with me were shocked at the atmosphere (which I felt was very similar to Greece). The “oldie’s” would buy us drinks, and have us wiggle our bums, dancing to that oriental music infused by the Ottomans when the Balkan peninsula was under its rule. And as we would dance and dance, and speak in broken English, every so often they would tell us why they were so happy. “It is not 1992-1995 anymore. It is not 1992-1995 anymore. Let us celebrate!”. Whether it be war or peace, the Bosnians still know how to laugh.


Further reading
, found by a fellow traveller:
http://www.boyntonweb.net/Policy/Balkan/Bosnian.htm