MIT Emerging Technology Conference – Amazon Web Services

MIT Emerging Technology Conference – Amazon Web ServicesAs they say in Hollywood, “that’s a wrap”. The MIT Technology Review Emerging Technology Conference is over and let me one the the nth to say that it was terrific. (Let me also say that I am glad they abbreviate Massachusetts Institute of Technology as MIT otherwise that sentence would have the word “technology” in it three times.) Here are few of the highlights of the event.

Wednesday morning – Kresge is pretty full and I am pretty tired following Tuesday’s trip to Chicago. I am in jeans and a sports coat and wonder if I am under dressed. Tomorrow I’ll wear something fancy. Of course I’ll bet that all of the people wearing suits today will have seen me and decided that they are over dressed and will come tomorrow in jeans.

The last time I was at the Kresge was in 1986 or 87 for the Hai Ba Trung festival. Still looks pretty much the same.

Jeff Bezos got things started by explaining Amazon’s Web infrastructure services. This is a cool thing. Basically, behind the scenes at Amazon there’s all kinds of technology at work (go figure) – data centers, data warehouses, load balancing, security, you name it. Somewhere along the line, someone came up with the idea of making some of that back end technology visible to external developers.

There were three services that were described in detail:

Simple Storage Service (S3) – this is pay-as-you-use storage in the sky. It allows you to do three things: put, get and delete. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. It’s secure enough, and reliable enough, that people are building businesses on it. SmugMug, a photo sharing service is one example.

Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) – basically this is a virtual server that’s available when you need it, at the scale you need and at a cost that makes available to anyone with a good idea (10 cents per CPU per hour). It’s also clever enough to scale up and down depending on the load. It reminded me of Virtual Iron; but without having to lay down the big iron for real hardware.

The last of the three (well, actually it was the first he presented) is . . .

Mechanical Turk – artificial artificial intelligence is how Jeff described this; imagine this – you sell velvet paintings online. Your catalog of paintings now numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Managing all the content can get pretty tricky – just how different are the dogs playing pool vs. the dogs playing billiards anyway. Now you might have some really smart software to manage this whole thing but it’s possible that it won’t be able to relize that the pictures are in fact the same. So what do you do? Enter Mechanical Turk. Once an application is pretty sure it has two of the same thing on its hands, it asks an expert to make sure. And who is the expert? A human. Mechanical Turk allows you to code a human into a software application.

These services – and others like them – take the cost (or at least much of the cost) out of the business creation process. But it isn’t just cost, it is also a lot of the headaches and obstacles of creating a business that don’t have anything to do with the initial idea. The Amazon Web Services that were presented are intended to reduce and remove those headaches and obstacles.

It was pretty cool stuff. More info is at aws.amazon.com.

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MIT Communications Forum – News, Information and the Wealth of Networks – 9.21

The second of three panels addressing the topic, “Will Newspapers Survive?” was much larger and more theoretical than the first. It featured two panelists: Yoachi Benkler of Yale and Henry Jenkins or MIT.Benkler teaches communication and information law and is the author of The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Jenkins is co-director of comparative media studies and the Peter de Florez Professor of humanities. He is also the author of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Intersect.

Following introductions by David Thornburn and William Uricchio (both of MIT), the two speakers addressed the issue of media, societal change and the dangers of the status quo. The notes below are only my attempt to capture the spirit of the discussion, and aren’t direct quotes from and of the participants. A podcast and vidcast of the event will eventually be made available at http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/forums/news_and_networks.html.

Benkler began the conversation by looking back at the growth of the newspaper business in the mid-nineteenth century and how the establishment of a capital-intensive media industry created a split between professional (commercial) producers and passive consumers. He then fast-forwarded to today to point out that the availability of computing power – and its distribution – have changed the status quo.

He illustrated this point by showing the relative computational power of various super computers and then comparing it with the pooled computational power being provided by the SETI@home project. For him, this illustrates the radical decentralization of capitalization and the power of pooled peer resources. These same factors are also allowing more people to engage in the process of creating communication through computation.

This has led to the to commons-based production that has no limits on the inputs, outputs or the individual – and without interference from commercial media; individuals now have both the ability and the authority to act.

Another outgrowth of this is peer production – large scale, largely unmanaged cooperation. A few examples that he offered included open source software (and in particular Sourceforge.com), Mars clickworkers and the Wikipedia.

The traditional media recognize the threat and reality presented by peer production and are actively seeking new content based on social production. They know that social production is a fact and not a fad, that it can be more efficient at producing information that existing models and that it is a threat. That is the economic reality of the wealth of networks.

Benkler next turned his attention to the political issues surrounding the topic.

How we produce information and decide what to produce are critical choices. He used the 2000 elections and its aftermath as an example.

To try to make sure the ballot questions raised by 2000 didn’t occur again, there was a move in 2002 – especially in California – to move to electronic voting. These were proprietary systems and everyone was essentially told by the manufacturer (Diebold), “trust us.” Not everyone did and one person managed to get their hands on the source code for these machines. This person posted the code and links to tools for accessing and analyzing it. People around the world helped out and they found issues.The story made its way to Wired; but, according to Benkler, Wired missed the point (that there were problems with the code) and focused on the fact that Diebold’s software had been leaked. Diebold cracked down and tried to stop the story. But it was too late. Students at Swathmore began looking at the software and posting what they found. Diebold cracked down again and the information was removed. But now it was really too late. The information had spread throughout the entire Web. Eventually, the issues with the Diebold voting machines made their way into the California courts and many were decertified by the state based on the issues identified by pooled peers from around the world.

The choice to question the closed and proprietary software, the decision to use pooled production for the analysis and the ultimate decertification of the machines illustrated the political capabilities of the power of the network.

It also highlights the importance of creating a more critical culture, one that wants to link, to point and to see for themselves.

This recapitulation doesn’t capture the full scope of Benkler’s comments but it does provide, I hope, a sense of his view of things and of the critical importance of the social production. His book is available at http://www.benkler.org/wealth_of_networks/index.php/Main_Page.

Henry Jenkins then spoke on the convergence of fan culture and the mass media and how the two were leading to a social media.

His first example was a photograph of someone dressed as a Star Wars stormtrooper shopping for Star Wars toys. It was taken by friends of the fellow in costume with a camera phone and posted to Flickr. The media got a hold of it and it appeared in dozens of papers across the country. This kind of think is scary for traditional media producers because the don’t have control of the content or context. Jenkins expected that Lucas Arts probably had little trouble with it but that wasn’t his point.

His next example was from burtisevil.com and featured an image of Burt with Osama bin Ladin. He then showed an image of a poster featuring images of bin Laden being used in a demonstration in Afghanistan. One of the images included Burt. PBS was not happy and would have liked to sue someone.

These are both examples of the interplay between top-down and bottom-up media. Content comes from the top, is reinterpreted and redistributed from the bottom. Results like the proceeding examples shake up both world. One for its sudden lack of power and the other for its apparent power. It is also creating real challenges for intellectual property attorneys and it defines the idea of converged culture.

It is not based on technology but rather on a cultural process enabled by technology. Cultural convergence is here. Stories and content will now appear through the maximum number of platforms and media, legally or illegally, from the top down and from the bottom up. It is trans-media, participatory and experimental.

It requires and taps into the collective intelligence (the ad-hocracy according to Jenkins) as more and more people can share and pool information. This collective intelligence also allows for the faster processing of information. And more and more people are pooling and participating in the growing ad-hocracy:

57% of teens are media producers
33% share what they make with others
22% have own homepages
19% blogs
19% remix content

(from Pew)

Mass media provides the content – collective intelligence creates the new content.

How does this touch news?

People are learning how to do civic media. The fan culture learned to create and manipulate content for recreation. Those skills though are being applied in other areas, creating new sources of information, commentary and activism.

As examples, Jenkins showed images of the London subway bombing taken by people on the trains and Photoshopped images of President Bush in New Orleans. He also pointed to examples of content aggregation and analysis using photographs and captions from hurricane Katrina.

The mix of information and entertainment is becoming a force in shaping serious conversations and they are now appearing across the converged culture.

His comments led into several videos that illustrated his points, but also the larger issues of the evolutions of the network-based converged culture based on pooled production. Following the videos, there were a period for Q&A.

What needs to happen for people to effectively contribute to civic media? Is it just transferring the current media rules or is something else needed? What do we need to teach them?

Benkler: who are “we” and who are we teaching – that is part of the challenge here – it is easier when you have a fixed production class that can define what the training and skills need to be to participate; we are seeing the beginning of critical reading – in a universe with multiple inputs the traditional bearers of authority have been shown to be wrong often – now we are beginning to see more about building the skills of observation and intelligence gathering vs responding to signals sent by authority. Now we must look at multiple inputs and apply critical thinking in order to reach a provisional judgment.

Jenkins: we aren’t learning from someone, we are learning from each other through the process of collective intelligence. There is still a participation gap that is different from the digital divide. Most people have access, but not all have access to the skills and experience to use this technology to participate in civic media. DOPA (the defeat of online predators act) would further limit access.

While the population can learn the skills needed for civic media, can the incumbent media learn them too; can’t the be co-opted by the power elite? The skills can come from the bottom up, but it can also be pushed from the top down.

Benkler: It’s important not to be Utopian, this isn’t a bad thing. Are systems like this susceptible to attack? Yes. What are the defenses? In mass media, there are small number of targets that can be targeted, spun or controlled; this is harder to do with civic media.

Jenkins: It says something that large organizations feel and recognize the need to create false grass-roots movements. That they feel the need to adopt the methods of the powerless to communicate their messages.

What about the argument civic media creates cohorts but doesn’t join them?

Benkler: What we can observe through patterns of use isthat we’re not too fragmented and not too unified; we’re not quite “just right” but getting there. Some may say that what is happening in civic media isn’t democratization but just concentration – millions link to a few sites while millions of sites get few visitors. The reality is that sites begin to cluster around topics and issues that matter to specific communities; and then you see hundreds of sites linking across one another that synthesize what matters to the group.

Jenkins: In the past, social critics worried about the hegemony created by the mass media; now critics are worried about the fragmentation of civic media . . . we need to be careful of listening to closely to critics . . . Participation is very complex – it ranges from the pop culture to produced culture but can ignore all of the civic media in the middle.

How do peer produced models work when it comes to scientific issues? How can civic communications help on this front?

Jenkins: this is a tricky area; there is always room for experts in any model; experts play vital roles in interpreting and directing communication.

Benkler: it is important not to look at utopia but at the baseline of the mass media; if you look at the scientific community and its publications, there is no question regarding the reality and cause of global warming; if you look in the mass media – it looks like the experts are split 50/50. Something like Wikipedia can make a broad range of views accessible on this topic.

What are the deal breakers for creating the civic media? This has all been a positive discussion but what could put a stop to this kind of participation?

Benkler: increasingly, there don’t seem to be any major deal breakers – but here are some – the creation of “trusted machines” that limit the use of systems to prevent them to be used for non-specified purposes or to access non-authorized content. This is being driven by Hollywood based on the failure of DRM, etc. It could lead to unequal access and usage of content. Another could be control imposed by companies; but mesh networks may prevent this from happening. Software patents could also be a problem; but too many companies are seeing too much revenue to stop open source at this point. Lack of access to the technology and peer communities could also be distorting.

What can be done? Create, share, adopt creative commons licensing – encourage open and open the closed; make IP a political issue – we are starting to see this happening

More and more people and groups are taking steps to prevent the incumbents from succeeding in attacking civic media.

Jenkins: participatory culture is here to stay; the scale and scope are still in questions and how it relates to the mainstream media remains to be seen. The biggest threat comes from Hollywood and its enemies – liberal democrats – which are both working to limit participation: Hollywood by controlling access and rights to content and liberals by trying to control access to peer communities through legislation like DOPA.

One deal breaker is that if the laws don’t change the people will be impotent – will the law ever become a bottom-up process?

Benkler: this is a deep question in terms of legal theory; is the legal system a progressive one or a regressive one? It gets to the source of law – where does it come from and how does it change? He did not feel that there would be a bottom-up process for creating law.

What are the implications of this empowerment culture for the traditional world of news gathering and news consumption? What is the future of the newspaper?

Jenkins: as someone trained as a journalist, he is concerned for papers; participatory media vs. the newspapers is an interesting issue. One interesting thing to look at and consider is that the blogosphere can viewed as a response to what is not being reported by the traditional media. Traditional media ought to look at the issues being raised by participatory media and than amplifying them through their channels.

Citizen journalists will not replace professional journalists; the categories of news that exist do not reflect the diversities of our culture; the new media is, and will continue to be, a corrective measure.

Benkler: traditional media play an important role, but they are vehiles for the elite (including us) and they are top-down; we value expertise and elites – they serve a role as a platform for elites to share ideas – that function doesn’t go away.

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MIT Communication Forum – The Emergence of Citizens’ Media – 9.19.06

This was the first in a three-part forum taking place at MIT. It featured Alex Beam of the Boston Globe, Ellen Foley of the Wisconsin State Journal and Dan Gilmore of the Center for Citizen Media. The forum was presented by the MIT Communications Forum and moderated by David Thornberg, professor of literature and the director of the Communications Forum.The attitudes of the panelists were interesting: Dan wholly believes in the move to citizens’ media, Ellen seemed pretty negative on the whole concept and Alex didn’t really seem to care one way or the other.

After Dave set the stage, each of the panelists shared their thoughts on the issue.

Dan Gilmore

He views the rise of citizens’ media as creating a richer world of journalism – but still one that would include newspapers. In his mind, new tools for production, distribution and access have opened up and democratized the process of creating media. Consumers are becoming the producers and vise versa creating a read/write web; it isn’t just blogs – rich media: podcasts, vidcasts, etc. are equally accessible outlets – even the Pentagon is doing podcasts.

This advent of citizens’ media is converting journalism from a lecture into a conversation; but in Gilmore’s mind, the traditional media don’t always do a very good job of listening. This is an issue because often times the readers know more about a subject than the reporters do; and understanding and using this can create opportunities.

One of the other challenges faced by the traditional media, according to Gilman, is that in the world of open access, the audience has plenty of content choices. People can now aggregate news to create “The Daily Me”, and can go a step further by being able to interact with their customized content.

Another strength of this new journalism for Gilmore is the fact that it has become more difficult to keep secrets. At the same time though, the issues of accuracy and trust remain central to the news and the media regardless of the format or source.

Gilmore believes that traditional media will adapt – creating new kinds of communication and communities, creating opportunities for media consumers to contribute content, offering hyper-local news; but if the traditional media doesn’t pick it up, someone else will.

An important role for the traditional media, according to Gilmore, is to help people be better citizen journalists. The Ohmy News in Korea is an example of this – with more than 40,000 contributors and plans to expand to other countries. Other news organizations are asking people to provide comment and content; but even if the media doesn’t ask, the citizens will do it themselves.

This isn’t a new trend, the Zapruder film is an excellent example; but that was one man and one camera. Now, and in the future, events will be captured by dozens or hundreds or richly connected contributors. This mass of people capable of reporting will change the way people experience events. As will new technology.

Gilmore sees Web 2.0 as creating new kinds of content and commentary that blend information from many sources. One example that he offered was chicagocrime.org, which uses real-time crime data and google maps to provide a geo-spacial view of criminal activity. Likewise, commentary is also changing. People are able to blend and edit content to create something new (Bush/Blair “Endless Love” for example).

Gilmore does see some challenges in the world of new journalism. There is too much information and people have to find a way to surface the signal over the noise. There needs to be a move from “daily me” to the “daily us” and it needs to be based on more than just popularity – reputation and authenticity play an important role too. Media consumers – even if they are also creators – need help with media literacy and in recognizing that not everything they see is true.

The real threat in Gilmore’s eyes isn’t a journalistic one; it’s the migration of ad dollars to sites like ebay and the impact this will have on the survival of the traditional news business.

Ellen Foley

Foley was happy to be sharing the stage with Dan and Alex, neither of whom she know but both of whom she had read.

Foley hails from the middle of the country – where they are very involved in new media – very nimble and very interested in what their readers have to say. She disagreed with Gilmore on the role of citizen journalism. In the mid-west, she explained, there is a “good neighbor” culture of looking out for each other that has translated into their journalism; this may have propelled them ahead of some other newspapers in terms of the way they listen to and respond to their readers.

She believes that they have “TLC” for their readers. When she started, there was a theory that the reporters were the smart people – now they know that this isn’t the case. Journalists job is to share information with readers – not only what they need, but also what they want.

Foley is wary of listening to people that don’t work in newsrooms and that don’t understand the reader or the economic realities of the news business when it comes to managing the transition from the dominance of traditional media to the emerging mix of traditional and new media. She thinks that the change between the slow, thoughtful world of the press to the fast world of Internet journalism is interesting; and that it is creating a tension – not only between the two types of media but also between the consumers of information. This second tension is largely along generational lines. Resolving this tension is key.

She isn’t worried about the future of newspapers, I am worried about the future of journalism

Foley, in her role as the editor, recognizes that the news in is a business and one with limited resources. One of her challenges is to figure out new business models that might work. She mentioned jellyfish.com (a new commerce site – but it isn’t clear to me how this relates to new business models for the news industry). Despite having to work within a limited budget, her paper is still doing new media for which it is being recognized. For example, every day, they allow readers to vote on what should appear on the front page; the readers constantly select heavy duty news – the BP pipeline vs. Paris Hilton – the readers are smart – that’s why she sends reporters out tot talk to them every day.

For Foley, the mission of Journalists is to tell the truth; she wants to use the new technology to tell the truth Another mission is to make a difference – creating a community conversation; they still talk about issues in her community and the newspapers are where that conversation starts. If papers go away, it would be a sad day for her community and for future generations. One of her goals is to make sure that traditional journalistic values survive into the future.

Alex Beam

Of the three, Beam was the most off-the-cuff in his comments, the most detached from the issue of citizens’ journalism and the most neutral on the topic. He began by discussing the current ungainly commingling of the Globes two web sites and how content is selected for Boston.com. He took exception to the idea that it was good to let readers select which articles would appear on the front page because he doubts the wisdom of crowds.

He discussed Times Select as an attempt to address some of the economic issues that Foley raised while acknowledging that the Times has been mocked for the decision in the blogosphere. In his eyes, this is just something that the news, an industry, needs to cope with it because circulations are at their lowest but readership is at its highest. Beam envies that the Times is selling content and mentioned that the Globe had once considered putting Red Sox coverage behind a pay wall on the site.

He is generally skeptical on citizens’ media. He is interested in what his readers think – maybe for new ideas or to correct his thinking – and has seen Internet “schemes” that are interesting (he cited a Yahoo video producer); but to him, Craig Newmark’s (of Craig’s List) idea of journalism just isn’t that interesting. His concern is that unmediated journalism isn’t OK if it is just going to spout a pack of lies.

Envy the NY Times for for selling content – we considered selling red sox content

Q&A

Following the panelists comments, there was a Q&A session:

The problem of old and new business models

According to Foley 20% of revenue comes from subscribers, the other 80% is advertising, the Web contributes about 5% of revenue while the Sunday paper does about 95% – it is her cash cow; the people who run the news industry are only looking at the Web as a place to make money – they think about news as “inventory” to sell ads around. She views the credibility of her paper’s content as being their competitive advantage in the face of citizens’ journalism; but fears that this isn’t given as much attention is it needs.

Gilmore sees the day of the cash cow as over; this is because the papers were monopolies and their investors don’t just want to maintain the status quo but want to see growth. The problem is that there are now non-news competitors (eBay, google, etc.) that going after discreet parts of the ad pie in ways that are often deliver better results for the advertisers that the newspapers; and they don’t have to do journalism.

Foley responded that her concern is that it will become difficult for people to manage without the information that newspapers provide, and that while she is trying to provide that information and keep the cash cow alive, these competitors were stealing her IP and her ad revenue.

Gilmore didn’t think there was much that can be done about it. These other sites were taking the advertisers because they could do a better job of serving them.

Beam mentioned that he was working on a story on NPR, which is, for the first time, seeing a decline in listenership. Their audience is aging but few people within NPR want to tamper with the model that has been so successful, In Chicago though the NPR station is taking some risks and will offer a view of how traditional media might court younger consumers.

Gilmore thinks that part of the issue is that people assume that news should be free and wondered why newspapers just don’t move to a giveaway model.

On Balancing listening to readers with educating them and providing a broader spectrum of news content

Beam says that the Web as been amazing at delivering this breadth; and at the same time, economic realities have meant that the Globe has become less able to do this (due to staff cutbacks).

Gilmore believes that one thing that papers could do is to point readers outside of their domain to provide content and perspectives so that they can become more of a guide than an oracle; if you send people away to someplace good, they will come back.

Foley thinks that she needs to give readers not just what they want but what they need; she is trying to be a broad based media and fears that if her paper tries to be a content guide it will loose the ability to create community conversation.

On the value-add of traditional journalism

Beam sees the issue as being that the news industry hasn’t found the price point for mediation and judgment. He finds it interesting that the NY Times is asking people to pay for opinion rather than news.

Foley believes that mediated journalism is that of confirmation rather than aspiration and that the commentary people pay for at the NY Times is based on established fact rather than unmediated information. how long are we going to be interested in the old technology of the newspaper? I like it – you can read it, throw it away,

Gilmore took exception with the implicit statement made (by Foley) that bloggers are just trying to get their opinions out there and pointed out the some traditional news outlets are doing the same thing. He also pointed out that there are many many blogs that are great and valid news sources. He acknowledged that most blogs were not journalism; but that of the tens of millions of them out there thousands were doing a great job of reporting on specific topics. He doesn’t think that one has to pick a side in considering traditional vs. citizens’ journalism.

By the end of the session (which included additional questions and side topics not reflected here) no one had answered the question of whether newspapers would survive. It was clear that within the news industry thinking around the topic of citizens’ journalism is evolving; and that it involves more that reporting style but also impacts the definition of the news and the economics of the entire industry.

Additional detials on the forum (including, at some point, a podcast and vidcast) are available at http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/forums/citizens_media.html.

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Shared Media

There’s so much being said and written about the demise of shared media these days (by shared media I mean media that is a shared experience – not shared content). People listen to music via iPod rather than radio, TV is time-shifted thanks to Tivo so we watch programs on our schedule and new approaches to movies will soon make it possible to see that latest releases in the privacy of one’s own home.

Personalizing media has a lot going for it – a tailored experience, lower cost, convenience, greater choice, etc. It also have several limitations that are often overlooked. Let me run down a few of the ones that occur to me:

Radio – radio falls into three buckets – news, sports and music. There really isn’t any conveniently portable tool for hearing local news. Radio is where it’s at. In 1989, I lived in San Francisco and was working at the Guinness Museum of World Records when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened. Power was out, people were shaken up and wanted to know what had happened. People gathered around parked cars to listen to the radio. Try that with an iPod. The medium had brought people together in a way only it could.

Sports. Again, the portability of radio makes it a terrific medium for listening to sports. It’s also unobtrusive and can be enjoyed by many people without demanding attention as television does. With the introduction of satellite radio, the possibilities for sports broadcasting got much more interesting. I live in Boston now and am a huge Red Sox fan. It’s great to be able to hear the team on XM when I’m out of range of their AM station. I’ve also been able to listen to other out-of-market games which has the bonus appeal of hearing content and advertising from other markets.

Music. Here is the place where MP3s give radio the greatest run for its money. I mostly listen to MP3s now and love it. I do still listen to radio though. It’s led me to find new styles and artists I wouldn’t have come across in any other way.

TV – people talk about America not having a true national character or culture. That’s just silly. We have a very strong one based mostly on the mass consumption of popular media and primarily through TV. That bond is being tested though. The increasing amount of choice is a part of that; but so is time shifting. There are still programs that people watch on the day that they air that form the basis of conversation for days. With DVRs, people don’t have that shared experience of having seen the same broadcast at the same time. People may still share the media experience but not in the same time.

Movies – it’s still hard to replicate the experience of seeing a movie in a theater in the home. We expect more when we go to the movies. We’re willing to put everything else on hold for a couple of hours while we sit in the dark. I can still remember watching Star Wars in the theater when I was a kid. I was 11 years old. The title scrolling by has become an iconic image. As has the star destroyer looming over the audience and filling the screen in the opening scene. Seeing that on a TV (even a large one) just isn’t the same. Being able to pause to get a snack, go to the bathroom, make a call, etc. breaks the spell.

I like the idea of iTV. I’ve downloaded movies from iTunes and have enjoyed it; but it isn’t going to fill me with the sense of awe and wonder that happens on the big screen. People also don’t buzz the same way about movies they’ve seen at home. Maybe some day they will – maybe the private media moments will match or surpass the ones that we share. I don’t think they will.

Technology has created new ways for all of us to connect; but it can’t yet create the immediacy of community created around the experience of shared media.

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iTunes 7, iTV, etc.

Like many people, I read the real-time coverage coming from Apple‘s media event yesterday. All-in-all, I liked what I heard (and later saw). I installed iTunes 7 within minutes and think that it’s a solid upgrade from the previous version. Last night I sat with my kids and downloaded and watched “One Man Band” and “Tin Toy.” It was good.

I also read many of the comments on digg, engadget, etc. Many of these weren’t so positive (many where of course). I think that the negative comments are coming from people who have missed the point. Sure, one could build a media center PC themselves that could do more than the iTV. But for every one person able to do it there are hundreds of thousands that can’t, don’t want to or have never even thought about it. It’s those millions of people for whom this news matters.

For me, technology is a lifestyle. There are six computers in our house, a fiber connection, a NAS device, a wired and wireless network, three satellite TV tuners, an Xbox, three digital cameras, four GameBoys, an iPod, two GPS receivers, two XM radios, etc. Four or five years ago I put together a media center PC and wired it to our TV, I found a card that allowed me to make an old PC into a VOIP gateway and tried that out for a while (it totally sucked and I switched back). I love technology, but it can be a total pain in the ass.

For most people though, technology is the often inconvenient means to an end. For people who love technology, they will continue to buy and upgrade and tune and tinker. For people who want to watch TV or a movie with their kids, they’ll select the path of least resistance. Technology companies understand this; that’s why Apple wants to be in your den, living room, car and pocket.

Yes, people can piece together solutions for media and entertainment themselves, but Apple is offering people a unified and common user experience across media types, devices and settings. That has value.

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The Cheap Revolution

In this week’s Forbes Magazine Dan Lyons has a cover story on the “Cheap Revolution“. It’s all about how the landscape of the tech industry is going to change with the advent of low-cost (or free) software, cheaper chips and an always accessible Internet. He believes that the old guard enterprise technology companies are in trouble; and based on the facts presented in this story he makes a pretty compelling case.

E-Trade Financial dumped Sun for Linux-on-Intel in 2002 and found that the new machines were faster and more reliable. Before the switch the online brokerage ran a data center that cost $25 million to operate, and this one costs only $3 million. E-Trade’s tech budget this year is $180 million, down from $450 million in 2000, yet the firm serves 40% more customers, manages nearly three times the assets and generates 70% more revenue.

The New Barbarians – Forbes.com

TIt’s hard to argue with the logic – when a company like eTrade canspend less on IT, grow its business and improve reliability, why would they chooseto do otherwise? There either needs to be a great untold story about why this approach doesn’t make sense out there or there must be a lot of software executives in a pretty bad mood. I’m betting on the latter.