Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: October 2007 (page 2 of 5)

How studying economics makes you happier

I loved this post from Marginal Revolution, arguing that studying economics makes you happier. Item #2 on the list is probably the best in terms of framing how happy most people should be. In an alternate universe, I could have a job I hate, earning little more than minimum wage. Instead I do satisfying work for significantly more than minimum wage. What’s to complain about?

The state of politics today

According to one poll, more 19-29 year olds would vote for Stephen Colbert for President than would vote for Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson.

Ed Felten on Comcast and Net Neutrality

Yesterday I pointed to Ed Felten’s post on Comcast’s blocking of some BitTorrent traffic, wondering what it meant for net neutrality. Today he weighs in with his answer to that question.

More on bridge blogs

Tim Bray had this to say about bridge blogs:

The part of my function where I relay issues and concerns and discoveries from the developer community into Sun is much more important than the part where I talk to the world.

I prefer to deal with companies that respect me enough as a customer to listen to me, and I think that bridge blogs can be a huge part of that effort. Microsoft started looking a lot less like an evil empire when Microsoft employees started blogging. Not only did they put a human face on the company, but they made it clear that you could communicate with this huge company at a personal level. Ideas, complaints, and comments from customers seemed to be making it inside the corporate firewall.

Apple is a counter-example for the benefits of building bridges to customers. All summer people have been complaining about some visual issues with the dock in Leopard. The details of the issue aren’t particularly interesting unless you’re an interface designer, so suffice it to say that the issue was somewhat esoteric but Apple was clearly wrong. (Here’s a post by Craig Hockenberry from July that explains the issue, and here’s Paul Kafasis explaining why the problem is even worse if you keep the dock on the side.) For the past few months people have been wringing their hands about the issue, and John Gruber even offered a good solution to the dock on the side issue earlier this month.

Even though people were putting a lot of work into documenting the issue and offering solutions, Apple remained silent. As it turns out, Apple has fixed the dock on the side problem in the most recent build of Leopard, but there was never any interaction with the community in the meantime. Apple makes great products that are fun to use, but it has this persistent rift with its most passionate users because it is almost completely closed to external communication. Clearly building those bridges is not really Apple’s style, but I think that must change over time. The fact that Steve Jobs has issued several “letters to customers” this year shows that they’re starting to not only listen to customers, but respond to them.

Open source is probably the original impetus for all of the bridge building that’s going on these days. Open source software is a community effort and full transparency is the default operating mode for most projects. Once people became accustomed to having the opportunity to communicate with the people who were writing their software, they started demanding it from commercial software companies as well.

I guess that’s a long way of saying that I agree with Tim. Not only does listening to customers show them that you care, but it also makes a company better. There are a lot of smart people out there, and companies are foolish to ignore them.

20 million virtual gifts

One sentence on virtual gifts on Facebook:

To date, users have exchanged more than 20 million virtual gifts, paying up to $1 for each, making them one of the site’s most successful revenue streams.

Some of the gifts are designed by Susan Kare, creator of the icons for the original Macintosh and many of the icons in Windows 3.1.

Did net neutrality die in its sleep?

Comcast is silently blocking a certain type of BitTorrent traffic in a malicious way. The link is to Ed Felten’s explanation of how Comcast’s blocking scheme works.

Quality is the killer feature

I think there’s a great misapprehension in the copyright industry that cost is the killer feature for online file swapping. That is to say that people use these services because they enable to get things they want without paying for them. I’m not arguing that isn’t the case for some people, but there’s also more to it.

Here’s my usual process when I want to buy an album. First I check eMusic. If it’s available there and I have downloads left for the month, I download it. If I don’t, I put the album in the Save for Later list, in which case I may or may not remember to download it later. If it’s not available from eMusic, I hit Amazon.com’s MP3 store. If the album isn’t available there, 80% of the time I choose to just do without. (I have thousands of songs already, one album isn’t going to make or break my music collection.) If I were really desperate, I’d buy a CD, although over the past year or so I’ve lost my appetite for CDs completely. (I honestly think there’s a decent chance I’ll never buy another CD.) I know for sure I’ll never buy another DRM-protected track from the iTunes Music Store, and I have an iPod, so the other subscription services are of no interest me.

As you can gather, I go without a lot of albums I might actually be interested in, and obtaining new music is not a simple process for me.

Now compare that with the experience offered by OiNK, a members-only BitTorrent tracker that was shut down today. (For more on the site and the raid, check out this article.) Here’s how member DJ Rupture described it:

Think about that… a free website, which gives fast downloads of music at equivalent or higher quality than the paid music sites. And this free site has an incredibly deep collection of both new and old releases, usually in a variety of file formats and bit-rates. It’s overwhelming! First thought: wow, Oink is an amazing library. Second thought: wow, I really need to start selling DJ Rupture t-shirts, CD sales will only continue to drop & I gotta make money somehow!

On the comprehensiveness of the site:

Oink had everything by certain artists. Literally, everything. I searched for ‘DJ Rupture’ and found every release I’d ever done, from an obscure 7″ on a Swedish label to 320kpbs rips of my first 12″, self-released back in 1999. It was shocking. And reassuring. The big labels want music to equal money, but as much as anything else, music is memory, as priceless and worthless as memory…

About a week after I shipped out orders of the first live CD-r Andy Moor & I did, it appeared on Oink. Someone who had purchased it directly from me turned around and posted it online, for free. I wasn’t mad, I was just more stunned by the reach… and usefulness of the site.

If sharing copywritten music without paying for it were legal, than Oink was the best music website in the world.

That summarizes the problem the CD industry has. Not only are they fighting something cheaper, they’re also fighting something better than they are willing to offer. Is it any surprise that they’re losing?

The URL says it all

This is the first entry in what hopefully will be an entertaining ongoing series, The URL says it all:


Bridge blogs

I learned a new term today — bridge blog. A bridge blog delivers the message of one community (country, organization, company, etc.) to an external audience, making that community more accessible to outsiders. James Governor points out that this was one of the most powerful functions of Robert Scoble’s blog when he was at Microsoft. Tim Bray does the same for Sun. I think the concept is interesting, particularly because I don’t think that “bridge blogging” can be completely effective if you set out to do it intentionally. An artificial bridge blog is basically just a P.R. blog, I’d think.

Nice quarter, Apple

Apple just announced its results for the quarter that ended on September 29, and, um, wow did they put up some huge numbers. The one that stuns me is 2,164,000 Macs sold in the quarter, 400,000 more than they’ve sold in any other quarter, ever. (As John Gruber points out, a lot of people would have been holding up on Mac purchases because of the imminent release of OS X 10.5.) I can’t wait to see how many Macs sell this quarter.

A lot of people talk about the halo effect of the iPod for Apple, but I think the more fundamental reason is that Apple is just putting out a really nice product these days. Everyone talks about Apple’s higher margins, but when I start pricing Macs against comparable PCs from Dell, I don’t find the price difference to be all that substantial. The price of entry for a PC versus a Mac is completely different, of course, but comparing PCs with similar specs is telling, and I’m not including software in the calculation, either.

As a loyal Apple customer, I hope Apple faces more competition for the iPod and that Amazon.com’s MP3 store does well, I hope that the other mobile phone companies come out with innovative products to compete with the iPhone, and I hope they keep selling lots and lots of computers.

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