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About this site

The rise of mass media in the last half of the 20th Century turned us all into "consumers" and took away much of the natural human inclination to be creators, performers, singers, musicians and storytellers.

Today, the rapid proliferation of cheap professional-quality media-making tools, paired with the drastic decrease in the cost of content distribution is leading to a quiet, but very real revolution in the quantity and quality of "amateur" content. It's the democratization of media, the "Big Flip" as Clay Shirky calls it, and we think it's going to play an increasingly important role in how we make, share and consume media.

About this editor

Strategist, product developer, software manager, respected blogger, insightful thinker, and general tech evangelist, Jonathan Peterson bridges the gaps between technology, creativity, and business savvy. He's worked for BellSouth, IBM and CNN, among others, and his expertise covers all aspects of the development of intelligent business solutions, from legacy system integration and e-business process re-engineering to the creation and market positioning of award-winning multimedia products. In his future: a possible book on this subject... To contact Jonathan's email him directly.

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AMATEUR HOUR: the "me" in media

By Jonathan Peterson

Monday, February 17

A Conversation with Marc Canter - Part II

"I took the 90's off...."
by Jonathan Peterson


Part I
Macromedia and the Rise of Flash
The Death of Interactive Television
Appropriate User Interfaces
Empowering the Digital Amateur

Part II
The Power of Open Standards
The Microsoft Response
Why Blogging Matters

The Power of Open Standards

Jonathan - Where are blogs going and what is your company, Broadband Mechanics, doing in the space?

Marc - OK - here we go....... 

We think of blogging as a form of personal publishing. 

Media and Communications are merging with personal publishing.

Broadband Mechanics is building new kinds of tool and tool environments which will enable average everyday people to create and maintain new kinds of on-line communities which integrate, aggregate and provide appropriate levels of customization to media, communication and personal publishing.  To help make this all happen - we'll also be promoting the concept of open standards which will help all tool vendors, existing media vendors and end-users get this all to happen.

Jonathan - Many tools targeted at the home user throw in lots of animated gifs and clip art.  The challenge is to incorporate photos from the users digital camera as easily as clip-art.  Phil Greenspun's Travels with Samantha is nothing but text and pictures; ten years later Kevin Kelly's AsiaGrace, while more attractive, and a bit more sophisticated, isn't substantially different in content or UI.  This is especially compelling if you can come up with some built-in content that is difficult to do by other machanisms.

Marc - I'm sitting here with my VP of Engineering discussing that very feature - built-in content! with the incorporation of the Creative Commons baby!  Could you imagine if we could pull off this media management standard - we could have:

  • Creative Commons
  • Internet Archives
  • bands
  • artists
  • college students
  • anybody's stuff
  • museums

All as part of a giant public domain library of stuff.

Jonathan - You've been posting a lot of visionary stuff lately, your initial multimedia conversation and followup, the Open Standards architecture stuff, free media management and more.  Obviously some of this is Broadband Mechanics playground, but you're tossing it out there and even talking about creating a non-profit to help organize and move stuff forward.  Why now?

Marc - "Why after all these years wise man, should I go and conquer the heathens?"
"Because they are bad and need to get their asses kicked."  said the wise man.

I certainly thought more was gonna happen by now. I've been more or less forced to take up the reins of leadership - as quite frankly, I don't see any others doing it.

It'll all make sense - once we start to ship products. In the mean time - it has to make sense for all constituents - with lots of benefits for all.

Jonathan - How quickly will multimedia conversations reach mass appeal?

Marc - Mass? 5 years, pretty nerdy scene - 2.5-3 years, our products supporting it = 9 months

Jonathan - Why will this succeed where interactive TV fizzled?

Marc - Completely different things.  One is an industry with proprietary infrastructure and dedicated boxes the other is a software solution..... There is a big difference!

Software only has always been my approach and our approach - as whenever I go down the "take advantage of a specific piece of hardware" - path, I always fall back to: "well you'd STILL want it to do this, and be available on a  generic PC and run on a game machine.

So why change now?  SW only is the way to go!

Not sure if that means less cash investment requirements, more entrepreneurial, more American, or International or male-like or anything. It just is.

ALSO - broadband + Home LANs + devices are finally reaching critical mass.

Jonathan - That's it...  I've been struggling to clearly articulate how a bunch of underemployed dotcom burnouts are going to reinvent the world in their spare time when Billion dollar ITV pilot projects all failed.  So the distribution of client cost and dropping price of PC is powering a "fail quickly and cheaply" mentality that is very different from the Big Media market analysis "build it and they will come" model of ITV. Is that what it boils down to?

Marc - I actually like that explanation - though I have no intention of failing - but I realize you're talking about an entire industry.

Jonathan - I'm also evangelizing to some pretty smart people who say "blogs don't matter" for various reasons.  They don't see that it's not blogging that matters, that's just the text mode first step of the personal CMS hypermedia communicator thingy (which could use a more elegant name).

Marc - Personal server might be the right term.  But this is typical shortsighted thinking - looking at blogs today.  Just say enterprise to them and knowledge management - and everything will be fine.

Jonathan - What surprise players are out there (Apple?, Sony's new customer-centric strategy)

Marc - All non players- I think those folks have had their day and missed their chance. They'll be followers from now on.

I believe the dark horse is all of us working together to show how open standards can form an aggregated, integrated set of services.  That will KICK ASS!

Then Microsoft will copy us.

The Microsoft Response

Jonathan - So what will Microsoft do in the interactive conversation space?  They have an ISP, a content management server and Office is going XML and .NET to glue it all together.

Marc - They will try and stay neutral in the content world - wanting to extract money from everyone. But they can't do that if they own a network or major publishing entity.

I don't believe Microsoft will ever ship a server for the desktop, unless they bake it into Office.  .Net'ing everything and standardizing on XML will just 'barely' keep Microsoft in the game - but that'll be enough for them to interconnect with the rest of us.  But it's not in their DNA to cooperate - so these built-in behaviors will be in conflict with each other.

Jonathan - Might the Microsoft/XML/.NET platform be the B2B version of hypermedia conversations complete with centralized control, copyright, intellectual property protection, making the Creative Commons, open standards the C2C version for the rest of us?

Marc - Let me simplify:

Microsoft stole the idea of .Net from Dave Winer and the other early web services folks.  But Microsoft hasn't really done shit with it.  They'll continue to steal what we do - as we show it to them. Then they'll bake it in and call it their own.

None of which matters; all we have to make sure that we can:

  • do our own thing
  • that there are wires to peek and poke with
  • and standards to move shit in and out

That's all, we'll take care of the rest.

But something tells me they're gonna try and prevent that or erect barriers or toll gates. Mark my words.

As far as copyrights, CC, IP or control is concerned - I'm agnostic - except that I REALLY wanna see fair use defined - give me a model that's fair - and we'll work with that.

Jonathan - Who will make money on interactive conversations?

Marc - This concept will be applied in many ways, for both consumers and enterprise.  It's up to smart entrepreneurs to figure that out and it's up to Microsoft to copy them or buy them.

Jonathan - If the desktop turns into a website as some have suggested, does content management become a standard OS feature?  (If so it seems that the authoring environment becomes the most important piece of desktop software).

Marc - Yes - but don't underestimate the complexity of these tools and the simplicity of what end-users need.  A completely new way of controlling things is needed for everyone to do this stuff.

Jonathan - By nature, a lot of digital content is very ephemeral.  You have a background in music, where the best things have tremendous lifespans; are we transitioning backwards to a multimedia middle-ages where art once again becomes performance-oriented instead of designed around archival versions of perfected performances.

Marc - I can't tell you how disappointed I was to learn that AOL throws away all their content after a week. Major databases of messages and content are not searchable. But I think that will change.

I KNOW that the expectation of end-users is that everything should be archived and searchable.  Those vendors who support that concept will prosper.

As I sat there with a fully functioning Interactive TV prototype that kicked ass, implemented all our theories (no walled garden) and was ready to go into production (needless to say AOL did nothing) - some cable person said to me:  "Did you get permission to use that CNN Headline news footage?"

Everyone in the room turned to her in disgust and embarrassment- yelling: "we're from the same company - this is an internal prototype - shut up!"

That's how bad they are off.  But at least (for the first time) an AOL Broadband commercial ran!

Jonathan - I wonder how serious Microsoft is about their MyLifeBits project, which will store and index all email, web pages viewed, documents, media content, etc?  It seems unlikely that gif/jpg, MP3, avi/mov are digital content endgames, but the automated up-revisioning of existing content types will likely be a big hurdle for anything new.

Marc - Oh God dude - these people are so FAR from that - it's ridiculous!  They might have researchers like Nathan Myrvold worrying about that - but it's almost like they HAVE to apply for patents, do futuristic stuff, etc. - because they need to spend the R&D dollars.

All they're ever gonna do is let others launch new ideas in the market and wait till that technology matures - and then do their thing to claim it as their own.

Can you imagine Ballmer in a meeting with some ivory tower kid talking shit? He'd smack him down; "talk about REAL customers and technology and fuck you. Next!"

Why Blogging Matters

Jonathan - Is this conversational story-telling gestalting "thing" that is evolving amore fundamentally human way of creating/consuming art?

Marc - 5% of the populace (probably even less) can create. The others watch, listen, read, consume.
I think one of the destinies of digital technology is to enable the other 95% to express their creativity somehow.  That's the gestalt view.

Digital cameras, story telling, assembling stuff from existing content, annotating, reviews, conversations, linking topics together - are all forms of creativity.  That's what our tools are all about.

There's plenty of image, audio and video editing software out there. Now is the time to integrate and aggregate media, communications and personal publishing.

Jonathan - I think one thing I find very exciting is distributed groups of people working on projects together.  Most digital art these days is purely individual, requiring a single person to wear all the hats.  An easy-to-use distributed content managment toolset will enable ad-hoc groups to work on things together.  Something like my church's website will no longer be a time suck for a single person, but a shared space where each contributor can do what he does best.

Marc - That's why we're considering on calling our product: "Community Maker"

Jonathan - Is that why blogging resonates for some people and just plain feels good?

Marc - Sure - it's at the core of creativity - expressing your feelings, opinions and showing everyone else what you think is important.

Jonathan - What other computer-created art forms are interesting these days?  The mashup/bootleg music scene for instance...

Marc - I'm over 30 years old.  Ever heard of the Grateful Dead?  The Phish Live site is cool!

Jonathan - It seems a lot of musicians end up aging gracefully by turning into hypermedia authors, Kraftwerk and Underworld, (who also have an interactive company) are a couple of my favorites.  Perhaps because live music is one of the most multi of mainstream media?

Marc - Yes and there's an inordinate % of musicians - who are programmers. Whatever is in the club culture one day, goes into the mainstream - the next.


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