29 May 02005

Playlist #1: Neil Young celebrity playlist

I'd lay a large bet that Neil Young doesn't have an iPod. He's been waging a war on digital compression since the early days of CDs, and is on record as saying that MP3s are even worse than CDs: "MP3 is a dog; the quality sucks. It's all compressed and the data compression — it's terrible".

But in a fictional universe where Young did have an iPod, what would he have on it? Previously I suggested that an 'imaginary' celebrity playlist be more interesting than a real celebrity playlist. (Here are some examples of such imaginary playlists.) To play with this idea, I've created my own fictional version of what Neil Young might compile.

There are several web-based services for playlist creation, sharing and community review. I've tried out a few of these and you can view one version of this playlist on the Art of the Mix site. Another version on the Soundflavor site has clips of the tracks, but since the library of clips doesn't cover all the tracks I wanted, the listing is slightly different. [Update, 9 June 02005: for comparison, I've added a third version on Upto11.net.]

I'll write a review of my experiences of the utility and usability of different playlist services another time, but for now here is my playlist and the liner notes to explain it.

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27 May 02005

Usability of People's Network Enquire service

I covered the announcement of the People's Network Online Enquiry Service last year, and, as of last week, the 'Enquire' service is operational. Here is the press release about the launch from the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, wherein the Chief Executive says "Enquire is designed to get answers to people wherever they are, night and day.  It is a route to the librarian's expertise without ever crossing the library threshold."

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26 May 02005

Creating legal independent music podcasts

The use of music in podcasts is a legal grey area, but there are an increasing number of tools and services that make it easier to source music legally, usually from 'unsigned' artists, creating a genuinely grassroots channel for independent music and musicians.

The reason for the doubts over the legal status of music podcasting is that, in terms of format, podcasts emulate radio programming, but technically they are downloads. While rights owners may be in favour of the exposure they get from radio-style features, they don't want podcasts to give listeners 'permanent' versions of their music, which could cannibalise sales. In the US, the collecting society ASCAP updated its Internet licensing to make allowance for podcasts. Though this might have given the impression that podcasters just had to obtain this once licence to make their work legitimate, the situation remains more complex for 'standard' copyright music — see the articles podcasting, music and the law and legality of using music in podcasts remains foggy.

So, as it stands, music podcasters appear to have four options available.

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25 May 02005

Full article on the economics of consumer attention now available

Originally I published only a couple of paragraphs of my article on the The Economics of Consumer Attention on this site, as a 'teaser' for the full print article (published under the title One Recommendation Under a Groove). Since it's now six months old, the editor of Five Eight, where it was published, has agreed I can publish the full text myself, so here it is.

I'm currently working on a follow-up article on the subject of word-of-mouth recommendations and how they operate online, which will probably appear in the July issue of Five Eight monthly.

23 May 02005

Tufte, PowerPoint and oratory

As a result of today's BBC strike, my normal lunch-break listening of The World at One was replaced by a short documentary called Microsoft Powerpoint and the decline of Civilisation.

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19 May 02005

Teaching as performance

Doug Brent has written an interesting paper in last month's First Monday on how historical trends are being played out in online education. He draws a distinction between "knowledge [or, more strictly, teaching] as performance and knowledge as thing" (emphasis in the original). Loosely speaking you could map this onto my process-versus-product distinction in e-learning.

What Brent adds to this simple opposition is an explanation of the trend towards the thing/product end of the spectrum. He follows the work of Shoshana Zuboff in seeing it as an example of the increasing recording or 'textualisation' of work, which can be traced back at least to the Scientific Management school of the early twentieth century. In this trend, work is increasingly written down in manuals and procedures, or embodied in ICT systems, so that there is less reliance on the more oral traditions of apprenticeship and learning by interacting.

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16 May 02005

Bootstrap Network/interview with me

I met Graham Stewart a few months ago in connection with some online social networking developments. Graham's very active in building, and experimenting with, social software. His latest endeavour (with Neil McEvoy) is the Bootstrap Network, a "self-organising community of Internet entrepreneurs seeking to collaborate and create new business ventures". (For geeks, the Bootstrap Network, like Ecademy, is written in Drupal.)

Graham recorded an interview with me, posted in his Bootstrap Network blog, which covers some thoughts on online learning, and on music-related learning resources with particular reference to podcasting. The interview was done over the phone, so please excuse some of the awkward pauses and less-than-articulate mumblings.

13 May 02005

Old singers, old songs

Yesterday I went to see the first of Linda Thompson's three-night series of music-hall revue shows, which cited the Cole Porter quote, "strange how potent cheap music is".

Not just potent, but — at least in some cases — much more persistent than the disposable, ephemeral stuff it was thought to be. This comes at the end of a twelve day period in which I've seen concerts by Ornette Coleman (75 years old), Mose Allison (77), and Van der Graaf Generator (a group of late-50-somethings, playing together for the first time in 28 years). Had I the inclination, I could have fitted in Little Richard (72), who also played in London last week.

Even old NME journalists are coming out in The Guardian to say it's OK for older fans to stick with the old tunes and opt out of keeping up with the zeitgeist [thanks to Five Eight for this link].

Much of this chimes with my earlier essay on Musical Youth and Middle-age Spread, which looked at demographic, technological and cultural shifts in the audience for popular music and the maturing of the pop canon. With that in mind, here are some brief review comments on the recent gigs I've seen.

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12 May 02005

BBC geek archive (sort of)

One news service to which I subscribe described the backstage.bbc.co.uk beta as "the talked-about BBC content archive", which confuses it with the pilot of the Creative Archive, which it isn't. But it's easy to see how this confusion arises. The backstage site headline (at the time of writing) is "Build what you want using BBC content", which is pretty close to one of the stated purposes of the Creative Archive.

backstage.bbc.co.uk is targeted more at techies than at 'creative media' producers — a distinction that is becoming increasingly blurred. The content that it offers is not programmes but a collection of RSS feeds and APIs (RSS definition, API definition). A software development kit is also promised in the near future. This content and data isn't licensed under the Creative Archive Licence but under some terms of use that have a remarkably similar gist to the CA Licence.

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6 May 02005

Recommendations for enhancing iTunes' sharing features

Since my posting on research into iTunes music sharing, I've got a copy of the full paper and found time to read it on a recent train journey. Last time I focused on how people manage the impressions that others get from their music collections, but the research also has interesting things to say about unanticipated uses of iTunes sharing, and implications for enhancing the sharing features.

The paper — by Amy Voida and four co-writers — points out how iTunes differs from the large-scale peer-to-peer applications (like the original Napster, KaZaA etc), which tended to anonymise music sharing. With the latter, a user downloading a track will typically have no interaction with the person who made it available for sharing. With iTunes, sharing is restricted to people on the same subnet, which often means the users know each other personally off-line. In the 175-employee organisation where the research took place, there were four different subnets, three of which were restricted to single floors in a building. This significantly alters the nature and dynamics of the sharing. For example, where the big peer-to-peer applications require thousands of users before they reach critical mass or tipping point, this research suggests that iTunes sharing can be viable and valued with just two users — in circumstances where they also share experiences and understandings in other parts of their lives.

All the research findings reflect different ways in which technical, musical and organisational factors (or, as the researchers call them, "topologies") are overlaid and interact with each other.

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3 May 02005

Update on Learning Activity Management Systems

Seb Schmoller's fortnightly mailing provides the latest news on Learning Activity Management Systems (LAMS), which I touched on last year. The LAMS concept, developed in Australia, now has a web site, from where you view a four-minute Flash demonstration of LAMS in action and download the open source LAMS software. Seb has more details on the background and the UK trial of LAMS. [Update 27 May 02005: the LAMS evaluation report has now been published.]

The LAMS concept depends for its 'pay-off' on teachers developing sequences of learning activities, and then sharing them and/or re-using them themselves. This is effectively a programming task, even if the programming environment is heavily visual, to make it easy to use. And research shows that this kind of 'end-user computing' is bound up with many social, organisational and task-specific influences — because end-users are not drilled in the systems analysis and design disciplines that allow software engineers to abstract from real-world requirements to modules of code. People like Bonnie Nardi have done extensive and insightful research on the social ecology of users participating in the design and re-use of everything from spreadsheets to intelligent agents. It would be interesting to see that kind of research applied to the use of LAMS by teachers.

2 May 02005

Freesound project: Flickr for sound samples

The freesound project enables people to share sound samples under a 'sampling plus' Creative Commons licence.

The site is clearly heavily indebted to Flickr, which has set the standard for sharing and community facilities for photographs. You can see this in freesound's approach to tags (cf. Flickr tags), comments and forums. One difference is that Flickr allows a broader range of Creative Commons licences, as well as the traditional 'all rights reserved' copyright.

At the time of writing, fewer than seventy people have added sound files to freesound. I've uploaded the two recordings I did for a sonic art course eighteen months ago. One of the smart things about freesound is that, as well as browsing by tags, you can also browse other samples that sound similar to a particular sample. So, from my recording of a Thameslink train journey, you can get a list of similar sounds, which include some 'literally' similar sources (an announcement at a Malaysian airport, a train coming into a Barcelona metro station) and some more laterally connected (oriental sliding strings). A valuable resource for anyone interested in making sound art or mash-ups.