MG Siegler sums it up nicely:
Why would VEVO pirate content? Because it was easier than getting it legally. This is the actual root cause of piracy online. It’s not shady, masked individuals at swanky events commandeering computers to pirate for the hell of it. It’s VEVO employees. It’s everyone.
Much of the argument around copyright legislation focuses on the aforementioned shady thiefs lurking in the underbelly of the Internet. No question those people exist and are important contributors to piracy. But without average, slightly geeky people to actually download pirated content there wouldn't be a market for it.
Creators deserve to be fairly paid for their work. Full stop. When pirating an album, movie or book is easier than buying it and suffering onerous DRM and restrictions, which path will be more worn? The problem is with business models and it can't be solved with legislation. The Internet continues to lay waste to industry after industry. Those who don't see it coming and cling to old models will be left behind.
DRM, digital locks and Internet blocking are short-term solutions to a long-term problem. History has shown that every lock will eventually be picked. Piracy will never go away completely but when there is an easy option that actually adds value to the content, people will pay for it.
Instead of arguing about censoring the Internet to stop piracy, lets talk about how we can pay creators directly for their work and stop paying middlmen who want a piece of each sale.
Following news about Curebit getting busted stealing code from 37Signals I was thinking about how this event relates to cultural shifts in the way younger generations view copyright and intellectual property.
Generational shifts don’t excuse theft, but ask any teacher about the way current students view taking ideas from others and you quickly realize that something is changing.
Curebit’s responses to David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of 37Signals, seem nonplussed about the whole affair. This fits with other evidence that students today don’t seem to think that stealing intellectual property from others is a big deal.
I’m no fan of some parts of current copyright law, but open and transparent attribution is a cornerstone of productive discourse. We need to be on guard for further slips in the way we handle giving credit where credit is due. Our economic prosperity relies more and more on knowledge, ideas and execution. Protecting those from theft is paramount to future success.
Louis CK answering questions on Reddit regarding his new live show:
Professionally, I’m learning right this minute, a HUGE amount with this web experiment. this live at the beacon thing (available at http://www.louisck.com for 5 bucks) is like that thing in the movie “Twisiter” [sic] where they send a bunch of little data collecting balls up into a tornado and just download the lovely results. The whole things has been like that. From the moment it went online and i saw the result of every decision i made. the last question the web guys asked me before we posted was if I wanted the mail list button defaulted to “opt in” or “opt out” and i said start it at opt out. It’s such a tiny thing but I keep hearing about it from people. So so interesting to watch this grow.
Remember those data collecting balls that Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton were trying to release into the funnel cloud in Twister? I love the idea of them as applied to the Internet. Every new project, website or app becomes another experiment that clarifies exactly what the hell the Internet is doing to everything it touches.
Lots of people say lots of things about this disruption, but it’s rare that we actually get one of the experiments in front of a giant f5 twister, so to speak. We don’t often get to see the data from those little sensors.
Louis' project along with others from bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are the leading edge of true disintermediation. Sorry to use a douche word, but it’s true. We are watching the future of media, culture and economics happen right in front of our eyes and we’ve got damn good seats.
I've been reading a lot of criticisms of the traditional publishing industries efforts to shift business to the web. While I completely agree with everything that Brent and Rian have said, this particular part from "Pummeling Pages" got me thinking:
I worked on TapLynx for about two years, and this meant working closely with a variety of publishers. And most had these things in common:
- No money.
- No idea where the money's going to come from.
- An unswerving faith in the supreme value of analytics.
- A willingness to try anything as long as it's cheap or free and has analytics. Unless they're paranoid and afraid for their jobs, which they almost always are, given given #1 and #2.
I thought it might be interesting to get a reaction to posts like these from the people who actually work for the media companies being referenced. The publishers are portrayed as cash hungry, analytics driven drones. In reality, they are actual people doing their jobs.
I had a brief chat with Pat Maloney about this and he's going to put me in touch with some of the online editors at the Free Press. Hopefully it will make for some interesting conversation and a blog post worth reading.
Following his excellent post on the awful techniques used by most online publications, Brent Simmons took the next step of telling us what he would do instead. Looks like a good recipe to me.
Almost of the above stuff is easy. Most of it is just avoiding stuff that’s stupid, but that lots of publications do. (And that make their jobs harder, for no gain.)
The challenge belongs in one place: the quality of the writing. And that’s it.
It's amazing how valuable a post from a guy like Brent can be. He might feel like he's just collecting a bunch of really obvious stuff into one place, but a collection like this is extremely useful to many.
If you're involved in producing content and putting it on the web, this list is priceless. Thanks Brent.
Melissa Rach, Contents Magazine (which you should be really excited about):
Today, content (particularly online content) has become such a critical part of business success that it can’t be ignored. Businesses know they need content—badly—but have no idea what it’s worth or how to justify spending money on it. While technology keeps driving the need for more content and related services, economics and business theory are struggling to catch up.
Couldn't agree more. Too bad most executives haven't seen that memo yet.
I like the historical context that Melissa brings to the content discussion. Starting with business strategy really makes it clear how we got to where we are today vis a vis the lack of value that content and the web in general receive from those making decisions.
I also love that Melissa shared a reading list of books that help inform her column. I managed to track down a copy of Richard Whittington's What is Strategy and Does it Matter? at my local university library. $60 for a 170 page book from Amazon seemed a bit steep. Also, the 1 - 3 months shipping time kind of turned me off. I will share my thoughts on the book once I've read it.
From Mailchimp’s “internal” style guide, Voice and Tone:
Our content has power. The right tone of voice can turn someone’s confusion into trust, skepticism into optimism, boredom into curiosity. The wrong tone of voice can turn someone’s interest into annoyance, anticipation into disappointment, frustration into full-on anger. That’s a big responsibility, and the best way we can handle that responsibility is to be empathetic writers. That’s why this guide exists.
Take a minute to check out Mailchimp’s internal style guide (which they’ve helpfully published for the world to see). It will blow you away. If you have any interest or passion for improving the experience for users of any kind, it will probably make you shake with excitement.
It’s awe-inspiring that they turned what is usually a nightmare of creative handcuffs into something that is actually fun to read. Rather than treating their employees as liabilities, they enable staff to be human when communicating with customers. Mailchimp understands that their voice is critical to the brand and that it needs to be curated and cultivated.
Mailchimp understands that the tone of their brand voice must change depending on the mood and emotion of their users. That’s really what this guide is for. It guides staff on the right tone to take in different contexts while keeping a consistent voice.
They’ve distilled the most important parts of traditional style guides and tossed out the rest. Let’s break it down with a screenshot:
- See the “Loyal users” in brackets? That’s key. Knowing how the audience probably feels about you before speaking is critical.
- Start with the user
- They use an example of what the user might say while interacting with a particular channel.
- They describe what the user is probably feeling. Mailchimp understands that writing to fit the user’s emotional state has way more impact.
- A few short tips to guide staff. Concise and easy to digest always wins.
- A real world example. Many of these examples are clearly pulled from actual communications.
A final point. The way they’ve presented this guide is probably the most amazing part. It’s not a 60 page PDF document, or hosted on an internal portal. It’s a beautifully designed HTML site that everyone can access. It’s easy for staff to find guidelines for a particular channel or content type and quickly grasp the key points.
I’m off to figure out how to make something like this for the place I work. Wish me luck.
Much has been written in the past few weeks about Apple entering the television market beyond the “hobby” Apple TV. The rumour fires were stoked ever higher by a quote from Steve in the recent Walter Isaacson bio Steve Jobs:
I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ he told me. ‘It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.
It seems clear that Jobs is talking mostly about technical innovation. Logical, since Apple is a hardware and consumer products company.
The Apple TV as it currently stands is successful, but not a mainstream product. Apple still calls it a “hobby”, mostly to avoid reporting sales numbers and thus swaying stock prices.
Apple has shown that it won’t enter a market until it can be disruptive. The iPod, iPhone and iPad have all either created new markets or completely terraformed existing ones. It’s obvious that Apple could create a compelling television using existing technologies and designs, but content is still the largest barrier.
Apple does not control the content. As seen through negotiations with record labels, movies studios and television networks, Apple is willing to go to extreme lengths to create content deals that are good for its users. The problem now is that most content owners are wise to Apple’s methods and the resulting loss of control. Incumbent studios and networks have a death grip on existing business models. There are also other potential disruptors like Netflix and Amazon who agressively negotiate content deals for their own streaming and subscription services.
Now, I’ll finally get to my point. Apple has a lot of money in the bank. Why not use some of this capital to create original content? As Steve Jobs himself proved, running a successful technology company isn’t that different from running a movie studio. The focus is always on the user (viewer) experience.
If Apple entered the production business, it would be disruptive. Netflix has made a deal for one original TV series, but beyond that, content is produced by incumbent studios and networks. It would also be a long game. Producing enough compelling content to be an attractive option for most would take time. Perhaps it isn’t so much a case of Apple needing to produce enough content to supplant existing distribution models, but merely enough to attract a critical mass. At a certain point, the scales would tip.
Apple has good creative street cred. There are plenty of directors and producers who would agree to work on an Apple funded project. Apple has respect for artistry built into its DNA, thanks mostly to Steve Jobs. Certainly, the spectre of the “Apple utopia” (read: censorship) looms with things like the App Store walled garden, but if Apple wanted to, it could build strong relationships with today’s top content creators. Not the studios and networks that fund productions, but the actual directors, writers and producers who make the stuff that consumers want to watch. Money talks. Money, plus freedom from restrictive distribution models talks even louder.
Every analysis of rumours around Apple and the TV market have stalled at content. Even with a Siri equipped television, Apple would have an impossibly difficult time influencing enough consumers to make it worth the effort. Attacking the problem from a content angle might be part of the strategy.
>"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" -George Bernard Shaw
The illusion is all around us.
Communicating with a group of people of any size is *really* hard. We've come a long way from smoke signals and messengers on horseback, but there are a whole lot of people out there and almost as many different ways to reach them.
It's frighteningly easy to make the assumption that your target audience 'knows' something just because you updated a page, sent an email, or tweeted.
Large institutions and companies are especially guilty of this because they have so many 'stakeholders' - [the one and only time](https://twitter.com/acoyne/status/73751191145807873) I'll use that word - and so many different departments with messages to relate. How often is "put it on the web" said with a sense of finality? The job's not done. It hasn't even started.
The web has somewhere in the neighbourhood of [15 billion pages](http://www.worldwidewebsize.com/index.php?lang=EN). Toss in the social media stream, email and whatever else you can find and it adds up to a mind-bending amount of information. Updating one paragraph on a page that is five clicks deep is not communication. It's a small update on a page that accounts for 0.04% of the total site traffic. Few people will ever stumble across it or look at it again. More effort is needed.
This problem exists because everyone (myself included) forgets that **content *is* the user experience**. Developers, designers and CSS nerds: hold your fire for a moment. Forget about the site design, jquery, CSS or the font. For a moment, ignore the architecture, menus or search. All these things come after content. Actually, all those things exist to *get* the visitor to the content. So yes, they need to be great but...
How often has a website been re-designed and the content just "migrated" from the old site? So much effort is put into all the pieces around the outside of the page. The navigation, header, footer;areas of a site that your brain processes and then ignores while reading. Little or nothing gets changed or improved where the users eyes are going to spend most of their time. On the content.
Without clear, direct and strategic content, the user's experience is crap. Of course you need a clear architecture, great design, easy usability and killer typography, but content should be number one.
Content is hard because it needs more than a small team of people, it requires *everybody*. A single person can make a website look amazing because they're in direct control. Good content requires an entire organization to line up and talk to each other before they can talk to customers. Communication requires a coordinated effort. An effective advertising campaign doesn't rely on a single channel, neither should communication.
Too often, web workflows consist of a department contacting the person responsible for performing updates and requesting a change. There is no one empowered to look objectively at the update and judge its value to the customer or user. Is it relevant, timely and useful? Does it serve an internal business need or does it serve the customer?
These decisions sound an awful lot like what an editor does. Isn't that weird?
What a novel concept, having an editor for a corporate website[^1]. Every source of information worth paying attention to is edited or curated in some fashion. There needs to be someone responsible for saying "yes" or "no" to every substantial update, tweet, email or post.
Blogging is a great example of putting content first. The best blogs, the ones that flourish, have a laser focus on quality content. Look at [Daring Fireball](http://daringfireball.net/), [The Brooks Review](http://brooksreview.net/), [Shawn Blanc](http://shawnblanc.net/) and thousands of others[^2]. They have an ultra-simple design. They aren't flashy. Their authors [agonize](http://shawnblanc.net/2011/05/writing-a-weblog-full-time/) over every single word that appears. Regular readers don't even consciously see the site design when they visit, only the words. Only the information.
Not everyone in an organization should be creating content. Few are actually any good at it. Writing is *hard*. Remember how hard communication is? Newsflash, writing is communication. Freelance writers know how low content usually ranks. They are often the last people to be brought into a project and are expected to be the first to finish. Content plays second fiddle to sexier things like design, information systems or new platforms. Additionally, web content is often written to satisfy a faceless mob of readers. In *[On Writing](http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Stephen-King/dp/0743455967)*, Stephen King talks about how he writes for his "ideal reader" (who happens to be his wife). The same principle should apply to web content. Write for your "ideal user" and everyone else will fall in line. Trying to write for a mob results in watered down, uninteresting content that doesn't help anyone.
Things are changing. A [community has developed](http://groups.google.com/group/contentstrategy) and is [growing](http://5by5.tv/contenttalks) around content strategy. I'm just about finished reading *[Content Strategy for the Web](http://www.amazon.com/Content-Strategy-Web-Kristina-Halvorson/dp/0321620062/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1306374063&sr=8-3)* by [Kristina Halvorson](http://twitter.com/halvorson) and there is a list of [other books](http://www.abookapart.com/products/the-elements-of-content-strategy) that I can't wait to get to.
Content applies to everything we do when communicating, whether it's on a website, through Twitter or through email campaigns. Effective content is king. Stay tuned as I dig deeper and explore the importance of content. I will have a lot more to "put on the web".
[^1]: It's certainly not novel. There are sites out there with editors, just not enough of them.
[^2]: Sorry for the tech focus with the examples. These are sites that I visit multiple times per day for one reason: content.