On aggregators “stealing” content

blog entry posted by lalo (Lalo Martins) on 2012-01-06 06:42:00

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This is in response to yet another attempt at artificially limiting distribution of information online to protect expired business models, the AP's NewsRight.

I originally wrote it as a rather large rant on Google+, but I guess it's too long for that medium, and probably worth blogging.


Aggregators provide a hugely important service both to me and to you. In this day, information is global.

It used to be the case that I'd be more likely to get my information from a local outlet; a paper published in the town or city where I live, or maybe a local TV station. These would often republish stories written somewhere else, and there was a very well thought-out system for them to pay for this.

Now I have access to information from the whole world. But that means, there's way too much of it out there. Attention and “eyeballs” have become a more scarce and precious resource than content. Why would I read your article, rather than someone else's, or even spend my time playing games or writing fiction? I have precious little time, and it's mathematically impossible to read everything written every day that could be interesting for me.

Then there's management/economy theory. The “new wave” of theory today is “consumer delight”. It used to be the case that most business defined their goals as “providing what their customer needs”. Then at some point in the 20th century the thinking changed to “making money”. Then in the 70s it changed to “creating shareholder value”. Some very smart people today are saying those goals are destructive, to the economy in general, to the customer, and to your own ability to compete. The idea is that the ultimate goal of a business is to not only provide what the consumer needs, but to do it with as much excellence as you can afford; the money you make is a means, a part of the process, necessary to sustain the business and the people, and not the ultimate goal.

From that angle, your ultimate goal is to write the best story, and your ultimate metrics of success are second that it gets read as widely as possible, and first and foremost, that the people who read it get the most value out of it.

Therefore the concern at the center of your business is how stories get produced; that is where good practises need to be preserved and new things need to be tried and optimisations made. The concern of how to get compensated is necessary but secondary, and that means it should be an option at any time to rethink the business model, turn it upside down even, if that's the best for the primary goal.

Back to aggregators then: how am I supposed to know about your publication? If once every two or three months (and that's being generous) you publish an article that's the absolute best about a topic I'm interested in, am I supposed to visit your website every day just because that chance exists? That would mean visiting dozens of websites every day to get my news. I'm more likely to go with a smaller number of sites that have inferior articles but a better average.

Aggregators are there to save both of us: if I can find a good aggregator that picks those good articles from you, that's great, because it's probably the only way that article will make its way to me; you get read, and I get better information.

Now, that is currently a problem, because your model for compensation depends on people visiting yoru site. Can you see my point of view, that in light of all this, the thing that needs to be fixed is your compensation model? That the compensation model is the one weak link here, the one thing that is clearly wrong?

It's like the debate about how much profit is lost because people download music and movies. The reality is almost none, because those people are in 4 groups: (a) being most of them, wouldn't have bought the content anyway; (b) already bought it and want it in a different format; (c) download, taste, and then go ahead and buy; and (d) the very few that would have bought it if they couldn't download. So in the majority, it's not a case of buying or downloading, but rather downloading or ignoring.

In the case of news it's not a choice of aggregators or going to the source, it's aggregators or not hearing about the article at all. So from the point of view of the aggregators, you should be paying them for getting your article to the right eyeballs out there. (Which of course is also preposterous, because before you can pay the aggregators for that service, you need to make money somehow, and it's in their best interest to help you figure out how, and help you implement whatever solution turns out to be practical.)

The future of serialised live-action sci-fi

blog entry posted by lalo (Lalo Martins) on 2011-05-19 10:22:00

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So, that happened. V wasn't renewed. No Ordinary Family wasn't renewed. Caprica was cancelled. Stargate Universe was cancelled and now there's no Stargate show or movie in development. Smallville ended. Of those, only Smallville lasted more than two seasons. Syfy, formerly (but no longer) known as The Sci-Fi Channel, has one sci-fi show on air and one in production. I look at the list of sci-fi shows I'm following and I see two titles: Doctor Who, which is alive and well but produced by the BBC, which works based on a very different set of rules, and Pioneer One, a show for which the word “independent” would be an excessively modest description. Oh yeah, and let's not forget Star Trek: Phase II.

Was “the new age of sci-fi” just a fad, and already over?

I don't think so. But still, the times immediately ahead might be grim.

As I see it, V, Caprica and SGU all suffered “Firefly cancellations”. The shows had a fanbase and a following, and (I'm not sure about Caprica, but certainly for the other two) large enough to maintain the show. The flaw was in the business model.

The thing is, network TV shows are funded by advertisement. And advertisers pay based on Nielsen viewing figures. If I understand it correctly, based on a recent post by a SyFy executive, they specifically buy based on the 18-49 segment of the “L+7” figures, which means the people aged 18 to 49 who have either watched it live or via some sort of tracked DVR in the next 7 days. (I wonder what sorts of DVR are tracked. Tivo?)

There's a number of problems with that, because the prime sci-fi target audience is in some ways ahead of the curve of time:

  1. Some of us watch live, I'm sure. Personally, I know like 2 or 3 people who do. We'll DVR, and we'll have a variety of DVR solutions, most of which I'm sure won't be tracked. We'll download, if we have to. We'll use online streaming (legal if there is one, pirate if we must). Many of us will even wait for the DVD so a whole (or half) season can be marathoned in one go.
  2. It's a global world, and geeks, especially sci-fi geeks, are a little more global than average (so say we all). It's insane that the business model depends exclusively on the U.S. audience. Traditional licensing deals have months worth of gap, by which time most serious geeks will already have downloaded it (the day it aired) and watched it. What BBC America is doing for Who might be the beginning of killing this issue, but it's baby steps, because the important thing is to include the world in the production of American shows, and not to include America in the production of non-American shows.
  3. We're generally more tech-savvy and internet-centric, so again, we'll often stream or download even when we do have access to watching it live or DVRing, because it's more convenient.
  4. Counting downloads isn't a solution either, because downloads, especially pirate ones, cut off the advertisement (and if they didn't, viewers would skip them anyway). So the whole advertisement model may not be viable to begin with; ads as discrete banners on top of the show are one way out, they help pay for the show and give us extra incentive to buy DVDs/Blu's. And placement, of course, even though it's complicated to get a can of Pepsi on, say, Caprica.
  5. Targeting the wrong audience not only makes it hard to fund the show, it also harms the quality of the show itself, if the writers are writing for the wrong audience and the actors are acting for the wrong audience.

It should also be pointed out that geeks, and again especially sci-fi geeks, have (on average) more disposable income than many other audiences; further, we're more passionate about what we like (that's a core part of the definition of geek), and we're famously willing to spend that income on those passions. If you take too long to sell your show on DVD, by the time we buy it, we'll already have action figures, pins, t-shirts, and a coffee mug to keep the box company.

Why is Doctor Who doing so well? Partially, because what decides its success are the UK figures, and the show is hugely popular over there, even with non-geeks. Partially because it's actually not doing that well, and based on sheer L+7 percentage versus production cost, it could be facing cancellation if it was an U.S. show; but it's made by the BBC (and more precisely by BBC Wales), and it doesn't hinge on advertisement to continue existing; the majority of BBC budgets come from the TV licenses, and while spending from that is still to a great extent a function of figures, popularity also counts a lot. And it does quite well with merchandise, in fact it was a profitable business even when the show was not airing (from '89 to 2005).

Serialised live-action sci-fi wasn't born on TV. The form was born, along with live-action sci-fi as a whole, in the age of film serials, more precisely with the Flash Gordon serial in 1936. Before TV became a common thing, sci-fi film serials were hugely popular, and in fact Star Wars was conceived as a homage to those (just as Indiana Jones was a tribute to the other big film serial genre, the pulp-based adventure). And Star Wars was the beginning of the modern sci-fi blockbuster, so there's definitely a pedigree there.

(And why do I emphasise “live-action”? Because sci-fi proper started as a serial. Jules Verne wrote in the age of serial novels, that would be published in a bi-weekly magazine. H.G. Wells wrote serials too. Then along came comic books, which are serial by nature. And of course let's not forget animation, especially anime. Serialisation and sci-fi have a long history.)

But my point was, the transition from film serial to TV wasn't smooth. Again, Flash Gordon (54) was a big part of it, but most agree the turning point where TV sci-fi found its footing was the “holy triad” of adult shows — Science Fiction Theatre (55-57), The Twilight Zone (59-64) and The Outer Limits (63-65). Then came the popular, all-audience shows, like Lost in Space and, of course, Trek. We tend to forget how rough that transition was because it happened long ago, and not that far after the beginning of the film serial era (compare 36 to 59, against 59 to, optimistically, 2010). But it was rough. And one of the reasons it was rough is that the business model was different; film serials were funded by ticket sales, TV shows by advertisement. The advertisement model wasn't new, radio serials had been doing that for a while, but adapting it at the same time to a new medium and to the very specific characteristics of the sci-fi audience, wasn't trivial.

And this is what I think we're looking at. It's time for a change of business model. And I don't think the big studios are likely to lead that, because they're tied to their ways and their existing contracts (just like the film serial studios didn't rush to make TV shows in the 50s).

Maybe it's time for us to start producing our own series. Maybe in 20 years we'll look back and point to Pioneer One and Star Trek: Phase II as the beginning of this third era of serial live-action sci-fi.

Disclaimer: I am in fact producing one. Read that as you like: shameless self-promotion, putting my money where my mouth is, knowing what I'm talking about, having an agenda, maybe even this post being the reasoning behind the project, or a combination of all these.

Por que eu não vou comprar um iPad (e acho que você também não devia)

blog entry posted by lalo (Lalo Martins) on 2010-04-02 16:14:00

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Por Cory Doctorow, tradução Lalo Martins. Artigo original

Já estou há dez anos com o Boing Boing, achando coisas legais que as pessoas fizeram e escrevendo sobre elas. A maioria das coisas realmente empolgantes não vieram de grandes corporações com orçamentos enormes, mas sim de amadores experimentalistas. Essas pessoas conseguiram criar coisas e colocá-las nos olhos do público e até vendê-las sem ter que se submeter aos caprichos de uma empresa solitária que se declarou guardiã de seu telefone e outra tecnologia pessoal.

Danny O'Brien explicou de uma maneira excelente por que estou completamente desinteressado em comprar um iPad — parece o retorno da grande “revolução” do CD-ROM, em que o pessoal do “conteúdo” proclamou que ia recriar a mídia com produtos caros (pra produzir e pra comprar). Eu fui um programador de CD-ROM no começo de minha carreira, e passei por essa mesma empolgação, também, e acompanhei a época até o fim pra ver o quão errado estava, como plataformas abertas e amadores com espírito experimental eventualmente derrotariam os profissionais gastadores e habilidosos.

Me lembro dos primeiros dias da web — e os últimos do CD-ROM — quando havia esse consenso que a web e os PCs eram muito geek e difíceis e imprevisíveis para “minha mãe” (é impressionante como tanta gente da área de tecnologia tem uma opinião incrivelmente desfavorável de suas mães). Se eu tivesse uma ação da AOL pra cada vez que alguém me disse que a web iria morrer porque a AOL era tão simples e a web estava cheia de lixo, eu teria um monte de ações da AOL.

E elas não valeriam muito.

Os que já estão no poder dão péssimos revolucionários

Contar com quem já está no poder para produzir suas revoluções não é uma boa estratégia. Eles tendem a pegar todas as características que tornam seus produtos legais, e tentar usar a tecnologia para cobrar extra por elas, ou proibí-las completamente.

Quer dizer, olha a aplicação da Marvel (só dá uma olhada). Eu fui um gibizeiro enquanto criança, e sou um gibizeiro adulto, e o lance dos gibis pra mim era compartilhá-los. Se já houve um meio de comunicação que contava com a molecada trocando suas compras uns com os outros pra criar uma audiência, era os quadrinhos. E o mercado de usados para gibis! Era — e é — enorme, e vital. Eu não consigo contar quantas vezes fui mergulhar nas prateleiras e pilhas de gibis usados em um sebo enorme e com vago cheiro de mofo, pra achar edições antigas que perdi, ou experimentar novos títulos gastando menos. (É parte de uma tradição de várias gerações em minha família — o pai de minha mãe costumava levá-la, com os irmãos, à Dragon Lady Comics, na Queen Street em Toronto, todo final de semana, para trocar os gibis velhos por créditos e comprar outros novos.)

E o que a Marvel faz para “melhorar” os quadrinhos? Tiram o direito de dar, vender, ou emprestar seus gibis. Que melhoria. É assim que se pega a experiência prazerosa, maravilhosa, compartilhadora e criadora de laços que era a leitura de quadrinhos, e a transforma em uma atividade passiva, solitária, que isola, em vez de unir. Boa, Misney.

Infantilizando o hardware

Aí tem o dispositivo em si: dá pra ver que um monte de reflexão e esperteza foram colocadas no design. Mas também há um desprezo palpável pelo proprietário. Eu acredito — realmente acredito — nas instigantes palavras do Maker Manifesto: se você não pode abrir, não é seu. Parafusos, não cola. O Apple ][+ original vinha com diagramas das placas de circuito, e deu origem a toda uma geração de fuçadores de hardware e software que viraram o mundo de cabeça pra baixo, pra melhor. Se você queria que seus filhos crescessem confiantes, empreendedores, e firmemente do lado que acredita que você deve estar sempre mexendo no mundo para melhorá-lo, você comprava um Apple ][+.

Mas com o iPad, parece que o consumidor modelo da Apple é aquele mesmo estereótipo de mãe tecnófoba, tímida, cabeça-de-vento que aparece em um bilhão de versões do tema “isso é complicado demais pra minha mãe” (ouça os comentaristas exortarem as virtudes do iPad e meça quanto demora pra explicarem que aqui, finalmente, está algo que não é complicado demais para suas pobres mães).

O modelo de interação com o iPad é ser um “consumidor”, o que William Gibson memoravelmente descreveu como “algo do tamanho de um bebê hipopótamo, da cor de uma batata cozida de uma semana, que vive sozinho, no escuro, em um trailer tamanho duplo nos arredores de Topeka. É coberto de olhos e sua constantemente. O suor escorre nos olhos e os faz arder. Não tem boca... nem genitais, e só pode expressar seus extremos mudos de raiva assassina e desejo infantil mudando o canal em um controle remoto universal.”

A maneira como você melhora seu iPad não é descobrindo como ele funciona e fazendo funcionar melhor. A maneira como você melhora seu iPad é comprando iApps. Comprar um iPad para seus filhos não é uma maneira de dar partida na idéia que o mundo é seu para desmontar e montar de novo; é uma maneira de dizer a seus descendentes que até trocar as baterias é algo que você tem que deixar para os profissionais.

O artigo de Dale Doherty sobre o Hypercard e sua influência sobre uma geração de jovens fuçadores é uma leitura obrigatória sobre isso. Eu comecei como um programador para Hypercard, e foi a introdução gentil e intuitiva à idéia de refazer o mundo que me fez considerar uma carreira com computadores.

Wal-Martizatização do canal de software

E vamos dar uma olhada na iStore. Para uma empresa cujo CEO diz odiar o DRM, a Apple fez do DRM seu alfa e ômega. Tendo entrado em parceria com as duas indústrias que mais acreditam que você não deve poder modificar seu hardware, carregar seu próprio software nele, escrever software pra ele, mudar instruções mandadas pela nave-mãe (a indústria de entretenimento e as operadoras telefônicas), a Apple definiu seu negócio sobre esses princípios. Usa DRM para controlar o que roda em seus dispositivos, o que significa que os clientes da Apple não podem levar seu “iConteúdo” com eles pra dispositivos competidores, e desenvolvedores não podem vender em seus próprios termos.

A exclusividade da iStore não torna a vida melhor para os clientes ou desenvolvedores. Como adulto, eu quero poder escolher de quem compro coisas, e em quem confio para avaliá-las. Não quero meu universo de aplicações restrito a coisas que o Comitê de Cupertino decide permitir em sua plataforma. E como dono de direitos autorais e criador, não quero um único canal estilo Wal-Mart, que controla o acesso à minha audiência e dita que material eu posso ou não posso criar. A última vez que postei sobre isso, recebi uma carreira de desculpas para os termos contratuais abusivos da Apple, mas o melhor foi, “Você achava que o acesso a uma plataforma onde você pode fazer uma fortuna viria sem compromissos?” Eu li isso na voz do Don Corleone, e soou certinho. É claro que eu acredito em um mercado onde a competição pode acontecer sem me ajoelhar diante de uma empresa que ergueu uma ponte levadiça entre eu e meu público!

O jornalismo está procurando um papai

Eu acho que a imprensa está maravilhada com o iPad porque a Apple faz um bom espetáculo, e porque todo mundo na terra do jornalismo está esperando uma figura paterna que vai prometer que a audiência vai voltar a pagar pelo que eles fazem. A razão que as pessoas pararam de pagar por muito do “conteúdo” não é que podem obtê-lo de graça; é que podem obter montes de outras coisas de graça, também. A plataforma aberta permitiu uma explosão de material novo, parte tosco, parte tão bem-feito quanto o dos profissionais, a maioria direcionado a um público mais estreito que os meios tradicionais eram capazes. O Rupert Murdoch pode armar o barraco que quiser sobre tirar seu conteúdo do Google, mas eu digo, vá em frente, Rupert. Nós vamos sentir falta de sua fração de uma fração de uma fração de um por cento da Web tão pouco que mal vamos perceber, e não vamos ter a menor dificuldade em achar material pra preencher esse espaço.

Assim como a imprensa de gadgets está cheia de dispositivos que os bloggers de gadgets precisam (e em que ninguém mais está interessado), a imprensa mainstream está cheia de estórias que confirmam o consenso da mídia. Os impérios de ontem fazem algo sagrado e vital e principalmente adulto, e outros adultos eventualmente vão aparecer pra nos tirar do playground infantil que é a web selvagem, com seu conteúdo amador e falta de canais proprietários onde acordos exclusivos podem ser feitos. Vamos voltar aos espaços cercados que melhor retornam o investimento a investidores que não atualizam seus portfolios desde antes do surgimento do eTrade.

Mas a verdadeira economia da publicação no iPad conta uma estória diferente: mesmo vendas fabulosas no iPad não vai fazer muito pra estancar o sangramento da mídia impressa tradicional. Otimismo fantasioso e nostalgia pelos bons e velhos tempos não vai trazer os clientes de volta.

Aparelhos vêm e vão embora

Aparelhos vêm e vão embora. O iPad que você compra hoje vai ser e-lixo em um ano ou dois (menos, se você decidir não pagar pra trocarem a bateria pra você). A questão real não é as capacidades da peça de plástico que você desembrulha hoje, mas a infraestrutura técnica e social que a acompanha.

Se você quer viver em um universo criativo onde qualquer um com uma idéia legal pode torná-la real e te dar uma cópia para usar em seu hardware, o iPad não é pra você.

Se você quer viver em um mundo justo onde você fica com as coisas que compra (e pode dar pra outros), o iPad não é para você.

Se você quer escrever código para uma plataforma onde a única coisa que determina se você vai ter sucesso é sua audiência gostar ou não, o iPad não é para você.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution. Originally published on Boing Boing. Written by Cory Doctorow.

Esta obra é licenciada sob uma licença Creative Commons que permite compartilhamento não-comercial com atribuição. Publicada originalmente em Boing Boing. Escrita por Cory Doctorow.

Why Alan Moore is right, and why he's wrong

blog entry posted by lalo (Lalo Martins) on 2009-02-28 05:23:00

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Excerpt from Alan Moore's interview at Wired:

One thing is that with the comics medium, it has been proven—I believe by Pentagon tests in the late '80s—that comics are actually the best medium for imparting information to somebody in a form that they will retain and remember. That's not just me saying that, that's the Pentagon. I personally feel—and this is just pseudo-scientific hippie bullshit—I feel this might be because the unit of currency of what used to be called our left brain is the word. Our left brain is what goes about speech and rationality. The unit of currency for our right brain, conversely, would be the image, because the right brain is preverbal.

So perhaps it is because of the combination of words and images in a readable form that comics does have this unique power. Now, of course, movies are a combination of words and images, but they have a completely different structure and completely different way of working. With a movie you are being dragged through the scenario at a relentless 24 frames a second. With a comic book you can dart your eyes back to a previous panel, or you can flip back a couple of pages to check whether there is some reference in the dialog to a scene that happened earlier.

You can also spend as much time as you want absorbing every image. This is especially true of something like Watchmen, where I was trying to take advantage of Dave Gibbons' brilliant capacity as a former surveyor for including incredible amounts of detail in every tiny panel, so we could choreograph every little thing. The little symbols and signs appearing in the background, every little touch could be choreographed to the last detail, and we knew that the audience—because they'd be reading at their own pace—would be able to study each panel and to take in these almost subliminal details. Even the best director in the world, even a person as talented as Terry Gilliam, could not possibly get that amount of information into a few frames of a movie. Even if they did, it would have zipped past far too quickly. Because the audience at the movie theater is not in control of the experience in the same way somebody reading is.

One of my big objections to film as a medium is that it's much too immersive, and I think that it turns us into a population of lazy and unimaginative drones. The absurd lengths that modern cinema and its CGI capabilities will go in order to save the audience the bother of imagining anything themselves is probably having a crippling effect on the mass imagination. You don't have to do anything. With a comic, you're having to do quite a lot. Even though you've got pictures there for you, you're having to fill in all the gaps between the panels, you're having to imagine characters voices. You're having to do quite a lot of work. Not quite as much work as with a straight unillustrated book, but you're still going to do quite a lot of work.

And I have to agree. Comics are comics; you read it at your own pace, you analyse the details like it held the secrets of the universe, you enjoy the little hidden things both in the art and story, and you fill in the gaps. That's what makes it great, and that's why, no matter how well the movie is done, the comic will always be better.

(Well. In normal circumstances at least. I've seen mediocre books or short stories become great movies, but that's a separate story altogether, and to date I haven't seen it done with comics yet.)

On the other hand, I think dismissing the flick like he does is a waste of good entertainment as well. Time to quote from Dave Gibbons' interview in the same issue:

The most bizarre thing was to actually be inside the Owlship, you know? As I kind of implied in an earlier answer I've always loved drawings and measured plans of things. I went to a lot of trouble to make the Owlship convincing and make room for everything that we saw inside it. So, to actually be inside this thing—the thing that had been inside my head, I was now inside that. It felt exactly like the space that I'd felt when I'd done the drawings. I think that was really the strangest thing, to sit in the command chair and play with the joystick and press the buttons and watch all the lights flash on.

And that's where the magic really is. That's why those geeky movies are so great. It's like, well, going to a theme park, except usually with higher quality results. These things have lived in our imaginations for years, and now we get to see them there, big and real-looking. It's, well, fun.

Another important thing missed there is that movies can be a social experience. Comics, by the very merit of being read at your own pace, are solitary; you can get together with people to read comics, but you don't actually read together — well, you can, but it kind of ruins the experience. That's what is (well, used to be) so great about Heroes; it's kind of like reading a comic book, only I do it with my girlfriend, and we react together.

Short version? Absolutely do go watch the Watchmen, but not if you haven't read the comic yet. :-)

The Muse: Bipolar disorder type 2?

blog entry posted by lalo (Lalo Martins) on 2009-02-13 01:15:00

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Here's my latest archeo-neurological or archeo-psychiatric theory: “muse” is really an old term for bipolar disorder type 2.

It is my impression that old artists would sit around (or walk around) for days, weeks, doing nothing remarkable, or sometimes doing the hard, mechanical work of polishing up their creations. They would wonder where their “muses” are, why their genius is dormant.

And then one day, without warning, they feel that creativity, that exhilaration, that burst of awesome ideas, and a touch of insanity, that we've come to call genius; and they would attribute its less-than-constant presence to an invisible entity, the “muse”.

I believe, in our age, we call it hypomania, instead. A symptom of bipolar disorder type 2, a very common affliction that is frequently found in creative people. Paraphrasing Wikipedia, it's unknown whether creative types are more prone to be bipolar, or bipolars are more prone to be creative, or both are caused by a third, unidentified factor. What we do know is that the overlap is too great to be a coincidence.

Why is this interesting? Well, bipolar 2/creative people also tend to be romantics. So if you don't mind, I think I'll start referring to my hypomania as a muse, thankyouverymuch. It just sounds so much more desirable that way.

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