Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Daily Blog

Okay, this is about a week late and has been blogged just about everywhere, but just in case you're like me and didn't get around to watching this yet: The Daily Show on blogging.

Washing Machines (more on the broadcast flag)

I just started scanning through things to see what happened today-- no time for actual thought/reflection/commentary, yet, but: For good roundups of posts/articles on today's oral arguments in the broadcast flag lawsuit, see IPTA and EEJD.

There's a great quote from today's oral arguments in the broadcast flag lawsuit (via Declan McCullagh at CNET):

"You're out there in the whole world, regulating. Are washing machines next?" asked Judge Harry Edwards. Quipped Judge David Sentelle: "You can't regulate washing machines. You can't rule the world."
Also, check out the blogging of today's arguments from Luminous Void.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Broadcast Flag Courtcase nears

A key development in one of the cases I'm studying for my dissertation is almost upon us: February 22 will bring opening arguments for the court case over the broadcast flag. Susan Crawford, who has done some of the best writing on this topic (both in her blog and in more formal, legal writing) highlights some of what's at stake here:

Like the Grokster case, the flag situation raises this question: can one industry force another to constrain new general purpose technologies in the name of copyright protection? Like the CALEA dispute (prompted by the demands of another great industry -- law enforcement), the flag represents an attempt to have high-tech innovators ask permission before innovating.
UPDATE: In "No Mandate for Broadcast Flag Tech Mandate" Donna Wentworth at Copyfight points to a number of good, recent pieces in anticipation of tomorrow's oral arguments: an NYT article, "Struggle over digital-tv control" (which does a decent, though uncritical, job of highlighting the major positions in the case) and two responses to the article. One, from Mike Godwin, BitTrickling Into the Times (clarifying his quotes in the article), and a more critical post by Ed Felten, "Broadcast Flag in Court", questioning the logic of the official MPAA explanation of the need for the flag. For example:

"Even ignoring the Flag's many technical loopholes, the best it could possibly offer is the same level of protection that cable content gets today. The evidence is overwhelming that that level is insufficient to keep programs off the P2P networks. Remember Huff? The real story here, for an enterprising reporter, lies in how the MPAA convinced the FCC to mandate the Broadcast Flag despite offering only these weak arguments in the public proceeding."

Meanwhile, Dan Gillmor, in "A Biased Headline Twists a Story" demonstrates the power of titles. While the version of the NYT article that Donna pointed to (linked via the International Herald Tribune) had the relatively neutral title "Struggle over digital-tv controls heads to the courts" the headline actually found on the NYT site is, "Federal Effort to Head Off TV Piracy is Challenged," which as he points out has quite a different connotation:

The story itself isn't bad. As the reporter discusses (though not in much depth), there are many good reasons why this anti-copying system, called the "Broadcast Flag," is a travesty -- including its attack on fair use, for scholarship and creating new art, not to mention the peculiar notion that technology companies now need permission to innovate.

But the headline is poison. By defining the debate in terms of preventing piracy -- when the story could have as easily, and accurately, been headlined as "Hollywood Move to Block Technological Innovation is Challenged" -- it sets a tone that even a fair article has trouble balancing back to an honest discussion.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Inside Higher Ed

A new-ish website, Inside Higher Ed, is up now (in beta.) It's akin to the Chronicle of Higher Education (from which IHE's founders formerly hailed). But, unlike the chronicle (which locks most of its articles behind a (rather expensive) paid subscriber wall), Inside Higher Ed's articles are all free to access. It looks to be an interesting mix of columns/opinion pieces and news from around the academy, as well as links to the same from around the net.

For instance, on the front page right now, there are links to the transcript of Harvard President Lawrence Sumner's controversial comments about innate sex differences in math/science ability; blogging from the MLA; and a column about the vagaries of affiliation for adjunct professors. They also advertise a not-yet-released job search service, with the amusing description that "together, we're transforming the tedious, time-consuming and expensive process of applying for academic jobs into something almost enjoyable."

The site is still in its infancy (hence the beta description) but it looks like it could be of interest/use. (If they'd get an RSS feed up and running it would be even more useful.)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Internet Radio- but where's the podcasting?

When I saw the article "Internet Radio Poised for a Tune Around" in this morning's LA Times, I initially assumed would feature podcasting. I was quite surprised, then, to find not only was this not the focus of the article (which centered instead on whether corporate media may be wading back into the internet radio domain) but there was no mention of podcasting at all.

(Doing a search at latimes.com to see if they'd previously written about podcasting revealed no articles, but 3 podcasting related ads/sponsored links.)

Podcasting has spread like wildfire around the blogosphere in its short history. The term itself is less than a year old, and the original ipodder software made its debut only six months ago. I've seen estimates that there are close to a thousand regular podcasts now, and some of the most prominent podcasts receive thousands of downloads a day. Now, in the grand scheme of things "thousands" may not seem like a huge number-- and, yes, this is still quite an isolated phenomenon at this point-- but think about the scale of blogs initially-- and today some estimate that there are more than 6 million blogs out there now.

While some news outlets like Wired covered the phenomenon fairly early on, it's been receiving increased attention in the general media quite recently (e.g., I heard stories about podcasting on two different NPR shows in a single day, last week. Incidentally, I listened to these stories on my computer, but I digress . . . .)

Wikipedia defines podcasting in this way:

The term "podcasting" is a portmanteau of the words iPod and broadcasting. Although an iPod is currently the playback device of choice for many early adopters of podcasting, a portable music player is not required to take advantage of this method of content distribution. Podcasting is functionally similar to the use of timeshift-capable digital video recorders (DVRs), such as TiVo, which let users record and store TV programs for later viewing.

A podcast is much like an audio magazine subscription: a subscriber receives regular audio programs delivered via the internet, and she or he can listen to them at their leisure.

Podcasts differ from traditional internet audio in two important ways. In the past, listeners have had to either tune in to web radio on a schedule, or they have had to actively download individual files from webpages. Podcasts are more flexible and much easier to get. They can be listened to at any time because a copy is on the listener's computer or portable music player, and they are automatically delivered to subscribers, so no active downloading is required.

This definition seems fairly helpful in explaining the technology, however one thing is fundamentally missing here-- the way podcasting (like text blogging before it) has been about expanding access not just to consuming but also creating media.

However, I've got to love Wikipedia, in that in going over there to write this blogpost, I find a link to this AP article, published today, which does seem fairly clued in. Indeed, it's very title--" 'Podcasting' Lets Masses Do Radio Shows "-- emphasizes what I see as the more significant aspect of podcasting-- not just how it potentially transforms the distribution of content, but how it has further opened up avenues for the creation of content, from new, previously unheard, everyday people-- not just a different way for us to listen to "radio," but new opportunities to make our own radio. Less interesting to me in the stats I mentioned above are the thousands of people downloading Daily Source Code each morning compared to the growing numbers of people making their own-- more and more new podcasts are coming out each day.

And it is this issue that makes the omission of podcasting from the discussion of internet radio found in the LA Times, today, more significant. Instead we get:

Major media companies, including broadcast giant Clear Channel Communications Inc. and Viacom Inc.'s MTV, jumped into the game. The only problems: no workable business model and no way to reach listeners away from their computers. That made Internet radio, for the most part, a commercial flop.

But now there are signs of a turnaround. Ratings services are beginning to take Internet radio seriously as an advertising medium, entertainment companies are investing in it again, and new technologies are promising to let it reach people whether they are in the car or on the jogging trail.
Now, maybe I shouldn't expect more from an article in the Business Section-- but the visions presented here seem so limited, solely imagining people still as passive audiences-- albeit audiences with new, high tech ways to listen to radio content. The content, and perhaps more significantly the one-to-many broadcasting model, remains remarkably unchanged. (Or, changed to more targeted niche markets, maybe, but still niches who solely consume rather than produce their own media.)

Now, podcasting certainly doesn't belie Sturgeon's Law. Indeed, to estimate that 90% of podcasts are crap may be slightly generous, at this point. And I do think that some of the hype may be more than a little overblown. And (while this may simply reveal my own reading vs. listening bias), I do think there are factors about the listening experience, multitasking, browsing, and attention that may keep podcasts from having quite the same scale/expansiveness that blogs have already achieved. (Okay, and while I'm at it, I guess I'll thrown in my frustrations with the term "podcasting"-- it being so tethered as a phrase to the iPod is a problem, I think-- and I'm certainly not alone, in this frustration.)

Yet, at the same time, I think there is something significant going on out there, that we shouldn't ignore.

[But I also have a confession to make: most of what I listen to on my iPod walks to work, jogs, etc. are not the amateur productions I find so intriguing in concept, but rather are shows like Democracy Now or On the Media, i.e., those public radio shows that have posted their shows not just in streaming but in MP3 or AAC formats, or the talks hosted at IT Conversations, (which fall somewhere in between those two poles, I guess)]

Speaking of IT Conversations-- where's our "Sociology Conversations"? I'd love it if there was a similar bank of signficant talks from our conferences online for me to download and listen to.)-- But now that I've completely digressed into free associate here, I think it's time for me to end this post. The above seemingly contradictory comments from me obviously indicate that I have some ambivalence here and my thoughts are rather inchoate at this point-- but I hope to come back to this issue (and update this post) soon-- when I'm feeling slightly less braindead!