Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Auditory Memory

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Now that the flood of responses on my quick quiz has slowed down…

Which is to say: Now that it’s become pretty clear that nobody gives a damn…

It’s time for the answers, and for the post that I was holding off on–but that post may have less to it than I originally thought.

The Answers

The song’s penultimate line was, as noted:

And everybody knows that the very last line

  • The last line is: “Is the doctor said, give him jug band music, it seems to make him feel just fine.” (Presumably, everybody knows that because–with changes in the first word–that’s the last line of each verse.)
  • The name of the song: “Jug Band Music.” (There’s more than one song with that title. This is one that doesn’t happen to be jug band music.)
  • The name of the writer: John Sebastian.
  • The name of the lead singer: John Sebastian.
  • The name of the group: The Lovin’ Spoonful
  • Bonus answer: The song was on Daydream, released in 1966. That was apparently the Spoonful’s best-selling album: It reached #10 on the charts.

The song is a hoot, as are the lyrics–it’s very much a wacky story-song. It’s also, in some ways, a classic earworm–as are several other Spoonful songs. I finally picked up a good copy of a decent selection of Spoonful songs from SecondSpin, a 2000 “Greatest Hits” CD that was remastered from the masters–the earlier CDs I had were made during an extended period in which the master tapes were apparently lost or unavailable.

Auditory memory

Anyway…while I was listening to this, I found that I was hearing a John Sebastian song that was not a Lovin’ Spoonful song–and a song that I probably hadn’t heard in at least 25 years, namely She’s a Lady.

The song appeared on Sebastian’s first solo album (John B. Sebastian) in 1970. (Now that I check it on Wikipedia, I see that there weren’t all that many other memorable tracks on it–and that Sebastian had to make it with a bunch of nobody session players: Some unknowns named Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Dallas Taylor, Buddy Emmons…life is tough when you don’t have connections in the music industry.)

It’s a beautiful little ballad (“little” is right–the original is under two minutes). I could hear it plain as day, including the low-key orchestration…

I suspect everybody’s a little different when it comes to auditory memory. Sometimes, I can hear pieces, fully arranged, that I haven’t heard in years (or in this case in decades). Sometimes, I can even manipulate the arrangements.

Are earworms like that? When a song gets stuck in your head, do you just hear a melody, or do you hear the whole arrangement?

There’s another question: Is my auditory memory accurate? There’s no good way of knowing, I suppose.

Nothing momentous here. I will say that having a good if flakey auditory memory is helpful when someone mentions one of the really annoying earworms: I can usually drive it out with something I like.

A pre-post post

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Some time this holiday weekend (it is a holiday weekend, isn’t it?) soon (giving the legions of readers both a chance to weigh in on this!), I’ll probably do a post about one particular kind of memory.

Before that post, here’s a quick quiz–one where I suspect old fogies have an advantage.

There’s a song in which the penultimate lyric is:

And everybody knows that the very last line

What are:

  • The last line
  • The name of the song (if you know the first, you’ll know the second)
  • The name of the writer or lead singer, your choice
  • The name of the group for the original recording
  • Bonus answer: The year in which it was released.

Using a search engine to find the answer is just plain tacky. So is using a lyrics site.

Updated February 17, 2010: The answers are in this post.

FriendFeed, trainwrecks and accelerated discussions

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Despite the ambitious title, this is purely some early thoughts (that might eventually lead to a Cites & Insights piece–or a column elsewhere–but “eventually” probably means “next year sometime”). (Read on: I have a question at the end.)

Just this week, I’ve seen three very long FriendFeed threads (participating in one of them) that struck me as particularly interesting in terms of implications for issues, reputations and connections. In two of the cases, my own feelings about specific people changed significantly over the course of the discussions; in one, my existing feelings about a category of people strengthened. In all three, the sheer acceleration of FriendFeed threads (and hashtagged Twitter posts, I guess–but I don’t currently use Twitter) strikes me as both refreshing and a little disorienting. I’d use the word “dangerous,” but I think the only real danger is to complacency and artificial reputation, and that’s OK by me.

(Yes, it’s going to be Another Rambling Crawford Post. I don’t have time to hone it down to 450 or 800 well-chosen words; I want to get back to working on But Still They Blog, now that I’ve finished the draft for one humongous Making it Work essay for the December C&I.)

On one hand: OMG! FF’s Dead!

Let’s take the silliest one first–or at least silly to me. Facebook purchased FriendFeed. That’s probably resulted in tens of thousands of messages on FF and elsewhere, including some panicky threads from people and groups who’ve come to rely on FF for their community of interest and fear that FB will shut it down and they’ll have to move elsewhere. I’m not really addressing that particular kerfuffle. (I’ll suggest that if you really depend on a sustained and sustainable community of interest, “you get what you pay for” continues to be a relevant saying, but I’ll let it go at that.)

Nope, I’m addressing the secondary kerfuffle, mostly among Hot Tech Types and Hot Social Marketing Types, after some of the FF people now employed by FB made it clear that FB has no intention of shutting down FF–but, at least implicitly, that new-feature development for FF may not be speedy.

Some people found this reassuring. OK, I found it reassuring: I’m finding FF to be worthwhile as a set of overlapping communities of interest and, with Pause always firmly in place, a social medium that I can handle via occasional visits. I really don’t much care whether any new features are added to FF (I don’t use some of the existing ones); I want it to be fast, stable, and not so popular that I spend all my time finding new categories to Hide.

Personal case: On FF, I currently have 100 subscriptions–geez, how did it get so high, when I thought it was still 77–and 131 subscribers, including 62 that I don’t subscribe to. I can keep up with that, probably spending half an hour to 45 minutes a day on two split across two or three sessions. On FaceBook, where I’m much less active, I have 199 “friends,” a necessarily reciprocal arrangement–and there’s no way I can keep up with the wall in the 10-15 minutes a day I’m willing to devote to it, so I really only look at my family list of 8-10 and a “libclose” list of a couple dozen. I don’t use FB for professional issues at all; I do use FF for that.

Then there were the others–for whom not having rapid development of new features is equivalent to being dead. One social marketing hotshot said he couldn’t be bothered to “develop his network” (which I read as “getting followers for My Brand,” perhaps inappropriately) on a system that wasn’t busy adding new glitzfeatures, and would probably go elsewhere. To which I can only say: Good. For some of us, the point of social networking is social networking and communities of interest–not personal marketing and branding.

In this case, the effect of the accelerated discussion–“accelerated” over what you’d find on a blog (unless it’s something like John Scalzi’s Whatever) or a list–was to verify impressions I already had about many A-listers. Would you turn away from a Craftsman hammer because Sears hasn’t added rhinestones to it or, in fact, changed the design in years? Probably not–but some people don’t see online tools that way.

On the other hand: The trainwreck

There’s this special organization that includes a bunch of librarians and a bunch of other people. And there’s a move afoot to change the name of the organization. It’s a change that, to some librarians, seems to devalue librarian, to other folks seems high-handed and to still others as a great move…away from that dusty old “L” word to a series of buzz words that people supposedly respect more. I won’t say more about the specific organization or change, since it’s not my battle. What I have seen, though:

  • On one of the association’s apparently-official blogs, the word “hater” was used to refer to those who opposed the name change.
  • Apparently, one of the Great Organizational Gurus and frequent speakers sent out email that basically labeled name-change opponents as unprofessional.
  • Twitter and FriendFeed had (and, I suspect, continue to have) lots of comments–mostly opposed. A number of people were really unhappy about the tone of some of the pro-change stuff (see the first two bullets).
  • Some pro-name-change folks seemed to feel that it’s OK for a pro-change bigshot to dismiss opponents as unprofessional, but not OK for opponents to say bad things about the bigshot.

Again, this isn’t my battle. I already left one association around the time a president said that one of its problems was having too many librarians (a different association, one that never did use the L-word), so I’m used to seeing librarians derided by people who should know better. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, even as a non-librarian.

In this case, the acceleration and ease of threading has exposed some issues that were probably bubbling beneath the surface; this is all to the good (I believe) but certainly makes some people uncomfortable. (Could LITA actually pass a dues increase without a member ballot in 2009? I suspect–and hope–not, but back when the Board of Directors took what I felt was high-handed action, there was no good way to get fast, broad responses. Things have indeed changed.)

I believe this particular controversy has damaged the reputations of a few folks. I know it’s clarified my feelings in one case (but not fundamentally changed them) and slightly lowered my estimation in a couple of other cases (where I admired people but without much specific knowledge). And I believe that wouldn’t have happened without the relatively transparent acceleration of the medium.

On the gripping hand: Rockstars!

[Credit to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle for this particular version of a third hand.]

Leaving out some details here because I’m too lazy to go look it up, someone posted a (Twitter?) comment to FF having to do with librarians being, or not being, rockstars in their community…and being a little snarky about the comment. A fast and varied discussion ensued, bringing in the author of the comment and many others–and included a bunch of stuff about whether “rockstar status” is either desirable, is something that every librarian should aspire to, and the like.

But this discussion was far from a trainwreck. David Lee King, who I believe made the Twitter comment, engaged in the discussion in an open manner, even recognizing that the term might not be appropriate in general. Within a day or so, and more than 150 comments, things moved from a terminological dispute to a serious discussion of whether and to what extent all librarians need to be public figures–and, in fact, the difference between doing your job (but avoiding attention) and being complacent and in a rut.

Yes, the conversation got edgy at times–and I don’t believe everybody arrived at a common understanding or agreement. Nor do I think that’s a necessary or always desirable outcome of a conversation. I do believe most of us understood more about what others were trying to say, and why.

In this case, I think a trainwreck may have been avoided–and I do remember a vaguely similar situation, on a blog, that did turn into somewhat of a trainwreck over time. I’m not sure whether the shorter messages required by FriendFeed made the difference, or whether it was simple acceleration, or whether people were simply more off-the-cuff and open in this environment. Maybe a combination; maybe something else.

In this case, I’ll be specific: While I suspect my attitudes about David Lee King and Joshua Neff will always be complicated, this particular thread makes me regard both of them considerably more positively. Doesn’t mean I won’t shoot the sheriff (metaphorically–don’t call the FBI!) if the need arises; doesn’t mean I won’t make fun of DLK. But all in all, I found it an encouraging conversation. (I just read through it again. I still do.) (And, just as a note, Steve L. didn’t gain in my estimation from this discussion mostly because he already ranks pretty high. Ditto John D., who managed to connect the two threads. Ditto Jenica. And others I won’t mention.)

Geez, Walt, 1500 words and still no point?

Well, I said it was a ramble–one that might, eventually, become a thinkpiece, but not on this blog and not this month. I think something is happening here, something interesting, and while I may not know exactly what it is, I’m getting little points of light around the edges. I’m not giving up blogs or ejournals (or lists or email…), and I’m still not sure Twitter would work for me (tried it, didn’t like it, might someday try it again, might not) but the nature of FF as a high-speed conversational tool for communities of interest is intriguing.

But let’s get to a sort-of point, one that raises a question:

  • It’s possible that FF (and Twitter and maybe even FB) yield more honest conversations because we perceive them as being more ephemeral than blog comments and email posts and…
  • If so–if you’re more open and honest there because you don’t think it’s as much a part of Your Permanent Record (down there a few pages past the time you snickered at your first-grade teacher)–then it may be inappropriate for people like me to snatch up whole chunks of FF threads (or Twitter hashtag search results) and use them within commentary articles, the way we (I) use blog posts and the comments on those posts.

The question:

Do you think it’s inappropriate or undesirable for your FriendFeed comments to be used in secondary discussions in the same way your blog posts and comments might be?

Comments–here or on FriendFeed? (I’ll post that question as a separate FF comment as well.)

Maybe I’m…

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I would add “…doing it wrong,” pace Randy Newman, but I wrote that post a few months ago.
And I was just pointed to a blog post (by someone I wouldn’t normally follow, but there’s a family relationship) about this person’s use of Twitter and someone else suggesting what tweets should and shouldn’t do. The blogger had an appropriate response, stated much more politely than I might state it–in essence, (a) there’s more than one way to use Twitter, (b) if you don’t like my tweets, feel free not to follow me.
In other words, someone proposed their version of The Rules for Twitter, and this blogger wasn’t buying them. To which I can only say, Hooray.

(There are seemingly endless sets of The Rules for blogging and other social media, and lately The Rules almost always seem to posit that we use these media to Build Our Brands–that the only legitimate motivation for a blog is gaining lots of readers and mindshare. “Pfft” is way too polite a response and my two-word response violates my own standards for this blog, so…)

But maybe I’m doing it wrong…

A few months ago–10 days after that earlier post, apparently (that is, on March 21, 2009)–I started using delicious. (I hadn’t seen the point of it, since I don’t really build an online bibliography–but after some other people were talking about it, I realized that I do have a use for it: to flag pages that could be source material either for the Library Leadership Network or for Cites & Insights.)
It’s working well in that regard. Instead of printing out a leadsheet (the first page, assuming the source plays nicely with Firefox) for later reference, I tag the page–and then, when I think I’m likely to be working on a topic, I’ll go through that tag, delete a few pages that I’m not going to use, and print leadsheets for others, then use delicious as a home for finding those items as I’m writing about them. Right now, there are 549 tagged items.
So far, so good–but if there’s a set of norms for delicious as a social medium, I suspect I’ve been violating it all along, and it’s getting worse.
To wit:

  • Some of my tags are meaningless to almost everybody else–e.g., miw, cifeedback, ir, mbp, lln, tqt. (Long-time C&I readers can probably guess what miw and mbp and tqt stand for.) Others are obscure but may make sense to a few other people, e.g. oa, oca, gbs–that is, open access, the Open Content Alliance, and Google Book Search/Google Book Settlement.
  • I delete items once I’ve written about them.
  • The newest violation of The Rules: When I do print off leadsheets, I modify the tag so that I know I’ve printed off leadsheets and won’t try to do it again. So, for example, 21 items tagged “deathprint” (which most people could probably figure out as “death of print”) became “deathprintx”–and then disappeared as I worked them into an essay.
  • I have yet to pay any attention to “popular” or “recent” tags–and I rarely pay much attention to the set of proposed tags for an item that come from everybody else.

In other words, I’m not a very “social” user of delicious. Such is life.
(If there’s one change in delicious I’d love to see but regard as unreasonable, it’s this: It would be lovely if delicious recognized that a URL was part of Bloglines or an equivalent service and pointed out that you’re not really tagging a page you can get back to. OK, so I’m an idiot sometimes…it’s just so easy to click on the square of squares up on the toolbar and tag away, not realizing that I haven’t clicked through to an actual post.)

Maybe they’re doing it wrong…

I encountered something today that, while minor, suggests that I’m not the only one with “norm” problems.
To wit: I wanted to unsubscribe from someone else’s Friendfeed account; they’re not really a friend or even acquaintance, and I found that 90% of their updates, while perfectly charming, were simply noise for me.
And I couldn’t find any way to do it. The mouseover menu doesn’t include Unsubscribe. I clicked on the person’s name, which brought up their profile–and there was no Unsubscribe option there either. Wha?
I temporarily dealt with it by removing them from all lists, including Home. Later, Iris Jastram noted (on FriendFeed, of course) that some FriendFeed styles actually hide the options from the profile–the Unsubscribe option still works, but you have to guess at where to click since there’s no text or box.
Went back, clicked on the place where I thought the Unsubscribe option should be, and got confirmation that I was unsubscribed.
This, to me, really does violate the spirit of FriendFeed–which, in this case, I’d summarize as “easy come, easy go.” It’s easy to subscribe to someone (unless they have a private feed), it’s easy to hide (most) aspects of overactive feeds without actually getting rid of the users…and it’s easy to unsubscribe from someone if situations change. Only not so much, if they’re allowed to hide that option.
This is really a FriendFeed issue, though. My subscription to Person X is part of my settings. It’s only secondarily part of Person X’s profile.
Minor stuff, to be sure. And I still don’t buy into The Rules…any more than I’m ready to add some badge to my blog. (Ah, but that’s another topic, one I might not get to for a while, maybe never.)

Channels are easy, content is hard

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

What we have here is a contemporary item that reminds me of a several-year-old backstory. I’ll give you the item first; then, I’ll quote the backstory.

The item

Consumerist, that sometimes-good, sometimes-absurd compilation of consumer complaints and snarky comments (does Consumer Reports really understand what it purchased when it purchased this?), has a followup item yesterday: “Dave Carroll launches second ‘United breaks guitars’ song and video.” It links to a YouTube video of the song.
Go watch. I’ll wait.
Oh, and if you hadn’t already done so, go to the earlier post from July 2009 and click through to the YouTube video of that song.
The Consumerist issue here–that United baggage handlers (apparently) wrecked Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor guitar during a change of planes at O’Hare, and that in a year of discussing the situation with United he could never get them to take responsibility for fixing the guitar–is interesting, but perhaps secondary.

Given that Carroll has now said he doesn’t want United’s money, but would be happy if they’d donate the amount to a charity, it’s pretty clear that the original problem is a little secondary to him as well. There may also be aspects of this story, on one side or another, that haven’t appeared on Consumerist

What I get out of it is a little different, and for once the post title is also the legitimate lead sentence for the post, when prefaced with “With the rise of social media or the read/write web…”
”’Channels are easy, content is hard.”’
Which is to say:

  • Any idiot can put a “song” or a “video” on YouTube.
  • Don’t like YouTube? There are lots of other choices–channels are easy.
  • For little or no money, your homemade media has as good a shot at worldwide success as any professional effort. It’s a revolution!

OK, so I don’t believe that third one any more than most of you do (or maybe you do?). It’s pretty unusual for homemade media to achieve “worldwide success” at the level of, say, Ron Howard or Queen Latifah or Don Brown or any of those…
Part of that is distribution and promotion–but another part of it is talent.
I rarely listen to full “user-generated” songs or watch full “user-generated” videos on YouTube or elsewhere, even ones related to my field, because most of them aren’t very good. Maybe I’m choosing the wrong ones, and it’s true that I prefer singing to yelling, but most of what I’ve seen is “amateur hour”–not just amateur (done for love, and can be extremely high quality) but lacking in talent.
To me, maybe because I’ve been writing for a long time, it’s harder to write a good song than it is to write a good article; it’s harder to sing a song well than it is to…well, write a good article; and it’s much harder to bring together all the skills required to prepare a competent video.
That made these two songs breaths of fresh air: To my ear, at least, Carroll is a talented writer, singer and musician–and the videography is generally good in the first song, much better in the sequel. I enjoyed the songs as songs, all the way through. (OK, they’re not whatever the newest wave is. Maybe I should move to Nova Scotia? )

The backstory

Turns out I’ve written about this before. The following column appeared, possibly in slightly different form (this version is what was submitted; I haven’t corrected for editorial work), as “Rich Media is Hard” in the May 2006 EContent Magazine, in my ongoing “discontent” column:

Heard about the Read/Write Web? It’s an instant cliché most econtent professionals need to be aware of: The growing importance of user-generated content–and the preference of many users for content coming from other users.
I’ve discussed this before (October 2001 and February 2003), back when it was an interesting new trend. Now it’s a phenomenon. I spend more web time reading “nonprofessional” material than I do reading pro content and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s a considerable change from traditional media, where the sheer cost of publication and distribution limit most of the field to the pros. I’m not sure it’s the kind of change people expected.
Rich media is one of this issue’s themes, and rich media may be where you as professionals still have an edge over “amateur” users. I could be wrong, but I’m inclined to believe this principle is likely to hold true for a while: The richer the medium, the more people will prefer professional content.
The reason is simple: This stuff is hard.
That’s true for traditional media. One person with an idea, literacy, and time can write a book. Fewer people have the skills to write music or produce paintings that will please listeners and viewers. But those are nothing compared to truly rich media, the net equivalent of television or the movies. That’s just plain hard. I believe the principle holds equally true in net media, if the goal is to produce something that will satisfy the reader or viewer.
Any idiot with moderate literacy can write a blog (and quite a few of them do, along with many sophisticated, knowledgeable writers). Recent web developments eliminate tool complexity as a barrier. If you can write, you can create a blog or a wiki or add to a collaborative review space. Most people can write well enough to submit posts or reviews that a few other people will want to read.
Podcasts are almost as easy to generate as blogs–but you have to be comfortable speaking to an unknown audience in a coherent, organized manner. That’s harder for many of us than informal writing. I don’t doubt that there are tens of thousands of amateur podcasts–but I’ll bet the continuing audience for amateur podcasts is at most one-tenth as large as for blogs.
Podcasts aren’t particularly rich media. Even vlogs (videoblogs) aren’t really rich media, not if they’re basically talking into a webcam and mike and recording the results for playback. But they’re enough richer to discourage many people–quite apart from the facts that many of us would find videoblogging uncomfortably close to public speaking, don’t necessarily want our speaking mugs on the web for all to watch, and may not even own webcams.
Sites such as OurMedia have made it easier to get vlogs and other amateur rich media out there for people to see. A search on “vlog” in Yahoo Video yields a few thousand entries. But are people willing to watching amateur talking faces for very long? I suspect not. I’ll guess the continuing audience for amateur vlogs (excluding amateur porn) is another order of magnitude smaller than for podcasts, partly because it’s just plain harder to do a satisfactory video.
Even for true rich media, epitomized by TV programs and movies, the financial and distribution barriers to entry have come down. You can buy a digital videocam for a few hundred dollars, a high-definition videocam for $2,000, and pretty good nonlinear video editing software for $100–and either OurMedia or the Internet Archive will host appropriately-licensed video for free.
When Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle covered the Sundance Festival four years ago, he called high-definition video the best trend of that year. His final sentence: “In the future, anyone with talent will be able to make films.”
Consider those three key words: Anyone with talent–or, realistically, anyone with talent and the resources to gather people with the other talents you need to make a movie or truly engrossing video work. Creating a believable story in moving visual media is much harder than writing a book or posting a listenable podcast or producing a readable blog.
Point a webcam out a window: Easy but usually uninteresting. Write a screenplay, find a cast, scout locations (and build the ones you can’t find), assemble the crew, film it all, edit the results (and add music), and revise it after test screenings–oh, and pay for the whole thing. That’s moviemaking, and it’s a complex way to tell a story.
For now, pros have the edge when it comes to truly rich media. I think that edge will hold for a while just because rich media is hard–and there’s too much of it out there to tolerate badly-done amateur stuff for very long. It’s an edge; can you make the most of it?

What’s changed since 2006? There are lots more free and cheap ways to distribute rich media. There’s a lot more of it. Equipment costs continue to drop–I think you can get flipcams with HD capabilities for under $200.
Unfortunately (in my opinion), some lacks of talent can be masked: With “correcting” microphones, we may not even know whether some “professional” singers are capable of singing in tune, or whether some of them know what “in tune” even means.
The need for talent? Still there. And still relatively rare. Which made these songs such a pleasure. Glad Carroll got his guitar fixed.

Followup: Still insufficiently paranoid

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

A few days ago, on this increasingly infrequently-updated blog, I posted a little musing about FaceBook’s acquisition of FriendFeed (FF).
Since then, I’ve seen one or two other FF users offer similar comments on FF itself–and a whole bunch of milling around looking for alternatives after the apparently inevitable and soon-to-come shutdown of FF. Christina even wrote a response of sorts. (Hmm. Her response never showed up as a trackback on my post–is there some special rule for inter-SB trackbacks? No problem, really: The previous incarnation of this blog didn’t allow trackbacks at all.)

Expanding on my peculiar calmness

Lots of people, most of them presumably more web-savvy and, as researchers, possibly more intelligent than I am, are dead-on convinced that FB will kill off FF at the first opportunity. I’ve tried to follow the reasoning. Here’s the logic, as far as I can figure it out:
Given that: Google buys lots of services and always shuts them down.

Well, that’s certainly true. That’s why Blogger disappeared in 2004, Picasa disappeared in 2005 and, most important, YouTube was shut down in early 2007.
What’s that you say? You thought Blogger, Picasa and YouTube were still available? And, for that matter, that Postini is still operating? Or that any number of other acquisitions have been renamed or merged into other Google services in a reasonably respectful manner?
You must be mistaken. Or, just maybe, the rule for Google isn’t universally true…

And given that: What’s true for Google is true for every acquiring company.

Use Flicker lately? Of course not; Yahoo! bought it–and must have shut it down, right?

Therefore, FaceBook will shut down FriendFeed.

Based on the absolute truth of the two premises, this conclusion must be sound.

Never mind that one of FF’s founders has said it’s not likely to happen. Never mind that FB might do better on a revenue basis by adding ads to FF and leaving it as a separate service than by attempting a clumsy merger or simply shutting FF down.

Missing the point

Indeed, maybe I am missing the point. I think of FriendFeed as a tool–a good tool, for the most part, but a tool.
But I’m a “library person”–and as others have noted, library people are all over new social media like ants over honey. I’m far less social than most of the library people on FF, I believe; otherwise, I’d be back with one bunch of them on Meebo, another bunch of them on Ning, another bunch of them in (sigh) Second Life, and more…and, to be sure, big overlaps among all those bunches.

There are a lot of library folks on FaceBook as well. My brother, who’s an active FaceBook user, remarked on my 185 “friends”–far more than his count. The difference, I told him, is that I’ll generally accept any “friend” invite from a library person, and that probably accounts for three-quarters of that count. He has a lot fewer people, mostly family and actual friends, possibly a sounder approach to actually using FaceBook rather than dabbling in it as I do.

FriendFeed is, in a number of ways, a fine tool. In some other ways, it’s aggravating, but that’s true of every social medium of which I’m aware. (Yes, I use Stylish to control some of the aggravation and broadly-applied hiding to control most of the rest.) Of course, social media aren’t ideally suited to relative asocial/shy people like me anyway.
But for a fair number of people, apparently, FriendFeed is more than a tool. And if FriendFeed (or the rooms set up within FriendFeed) has become something significantly more powerful than a tool, you get a lot more upset when you think it might go away. (Or, given the number of people with no apparent insider knowledge I’m aware of who have said this flat-out, “when it absolutely is going away.”)
I can’t tell those people Don’t Panic. I certainly can’t, and wouldn’t, suggest that they’re wasting time by looking for alternatives.
I can suggest this: If you’re looking for an alternative, look for the business model.
Having a business model doesn’t assure that you won’t be purchased or otherwise go out of business.
Not having a business model substantially increase the chances that you will go out of business, one way or another.
In other words: If you love the fact that FriendFeed doesn’t have ads and doesn’t charge fees…well, think about who or what was paying the bills. (And if you come up with one pundit’s approach to digital repositories, “just plop a server down and connect it to the internet, there’s no real expense,” you deserve the results you’ll get.)


As already noted, I’m a shy guy (the first letter of my Myers-Briggs never varies from “I”), and not terribly social.
My hierarchy of writing/communicating preferences is also a little odd, actually nearly unique within the library field. Setting aside the writing I do as a part-time job, here’s the hierarchy:

  1. Cites & Insights, my odd not-so-little ejournal, now in its ninth year (120th more-or-less monthly issue, 2.225 million words, 2,788 pages).
  2. The bimonthly columns I write for EContent and ONLINE print magazines.
  3. Blog posts–here and, once in a while, on what’s left of Walt, Even Randomer
  4. Notes and comments on FriendFeed, and occasional status updates on FaceBook.

If FF was closer to the top of that hierarchy, would I be more concerned? Possibly.
If I was part of a close-knit community that only communicates on FriendFeed, would I be more concerned? Possibly.
So, just to be clear, I’m not telling you (my readers, apparently still only 5% of what they used to be on the other platform) not to be concerned or take action. I’m just expanding on why I’m still calm. As always, YMMV.

Oh, and if you are outraged that I’m not outraged, here’s something to soothe your soul:

I’m old. I’m nearly 64–less than a month to go. I’m part of the Silent Generation–you know, the ones who brought you the Free Speech Movement and other non-protests (yes, I was at UC Berkeley throughout those times). I’m obviously too much of an old fart, luddite and general nincompoop to understand any of this shiny stuff.

There. Better now?

Monday, old, and insufficiently paranoid

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Which is to say:

  • It’s Monday as I write this, with all that implies.
  • I’m not that old, but possibly calmer–or just slower–than when I was a mere child of, say, 55.
  • And, responding to the Oh Noo! FaceBook Acquired FriendFeed! We’re Dooooomed! comments (and the news itself), I find that I’m insufficiently paranoid.

In other words, I’m not looking to flee FriendFeed just yet. (Yes, I have a FaceBook account–and yes, I have a lot more “friends” on FaceBook than I have followers on FriendFeed: that’s the way things go. Also, yes, I treat FaceBook with considerable caution, ignoring every cause/gift/thingie invitation…and probably spend more than ten times as much time on FF as on FB.)

Why so calm?

Because I don’t see the point of panic at this stage of the game, and I’m too tired to panic anyway.
After all, I haven’t spent a dime on FF. Sure, there’s “original content” there–probably hundreds of comments and posts that don’t appear anywhere else. None of which amounts to much in the grand scheme of things, or even in my odd little web universe.
The “maybe the sky’s just a little overcast, not falling” story–that is, that FB’s mostly buying FF for its talent and can readily afford to just leave FF alone–makes sense. And, you know, FF serves as a nice escape hatch for FB users who become overwhelmed with the glitz and sheer mass of FB. It probably doesn’t cost a lot to keep going, and I suspect a few modest little ads wouldn’t disturb users that much.
FB says they have no plans to shut FF down. Do I take them at their word?
Not necessarily–but if not, then what? Do I rush out to join another social medium (there are plenty to choose from)? Been there, done that, generally wasn’t pleased with the results–but times and social media change. Do I rush away from FF because I think it’s going away anyway? Why? How would my leaving somehow benefit me or avoid damage if FF does go away? It’s not like being a passenger in a car crash, after all…
Of course, that’s just me. Maybe for you, this is terrible, horrible news that requires major action right now. (Or maybe you’ve never heard of FF anyway–I think one reason it may work better is because it only has a million or so users.) In which case, if you’re one of the six dozen or so who I directly follow, well, I might miss you…but then, maybe you’ll start blogging again, and that might not be a bad thing.
And if you’re about to write a post saying “FriendFeed is dead…” ah, but that’s another post–or, rather, a magazine column, and it’s one I’m working on. (No, FriendFeed doesn’t appear in the title. The column should appear in December.)

Five years on

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Long-suffering readers will be aware that one of few things still left on my old blog, now retitled Walt, Even Randomer, is the series of brief reviews of old movies, done each time I go through a disc from one of the Mill Creek Entertainment packs (typically 50 movies on 12 discs).

Mill Creek Entertainment does a remarkable job of mining the public domain and other areas where they can license movies or TV for very small sums–including TV movies–to create large sets of VHS-quality movies, typically four or five to a DVD, sold in genre packs at extremely low prices.

I’d been using the movies to “stay on the treadmill” for the past five+ years–going through more than 300 movies in that time, including some true classics and a few total turkeys. Of late, I’ve been alternating discs from two sets and watching two movies in a typical week, so it takes about a year to go through a 50-pack.

End of background. Start of foreground.

So last week, I finished an unusual 20-pack (early Alfred Hitchcock), alternating with a comedy 50-pack (I’m on disc 9)…and, instead of starting another 50-pack, I started something a little different: the 250-movie Mystery Collection.
Two hundred and fifty movies on 60 DVDs…
And suddenly thought, “If I watch movies at the typical rate, I’ll finish this box in about five years.”
Which then suggested musing a little about five years on–particularly where media are concerned.
If you believe some pundits, physical media will all be gone in five years–we’ll rely on that great digital jukebox in the sky for everything, when and as we need it. I don’t buy that for a minute. For a variety of reasons, I firmly believe that many of us will be buying physical media five years from now, enough to make for healthy industries.
On a medium-by-medium basis? I’m deliberately not a futurist, but here’s my best guess:

  • Music: Even though CDs have already reached the 25-year mark (over the history of recorded music, a given medium has typically been dominant for about 25 years), they still represent the majority of music sales (about 2/3), despite widespread assumptions that CDs are already dead. There are two reasons for that: First, every DVD player is also a CD player; second, no replacement physical medium has succeeded (and those that have been attempted were, by and large, CD-equivalents). I’d bet that there will still be a multibillion-dollar (per year) CD industry five years from now, although it will probably be considerably smaller than today’s industry. But I’ll also bet that vinyl will still be with us five years from now, even though I’m not among the “digitization destroys music” brigade. (Not even close: The day we purchased our first CDs was a bit after the day we purchased our last LPs.)
  • Films & video: I’m nearly 100% certain that there will still be a large (that is, multibillion$) commercial market for DVDs five years from now–and almost certainly a decade from now. Unlike music, the infrastructure for a truly workable universal video jukebox isn’t in place–and, as with music, there are millions of us who actually prefer a physical object. I’m about 90% certain that Blu-ray Disc will also be a multibillion$ market five years from now. Will Blu-ray become dominant over DVD? Short of a forced conversion, I think it’s unlikely–not because there’s anything wrong with Blu-ray but because most people either don’t notice the difference or don’t care about the difference. (By all accounts, a very large percentage of people who own HDTVs never actually watch high-definition TV. Those people aren’t going to pay $1 more for a Blu-ray version, much less $5 more.) I think Blu-ray will do just fine, but for some people, anything short of market domination is a failure, in which case I think Blu-ray will fail.
  • Print magazines: Not going anywhere. Of course some are failing. Some always fail, and recessions aren’t great times to start magazines. It’s a tough time to start Yet Another Business Magazine (sorry, Portfolio); it’s a tough time to start Yet Another Any Sort of Magazine. I’ll still be subscribing to print magazines five years from now and ten years from now, and probably still paying absurdly low prices for some of them.
  • Print books: Do I even need to discuss this one? Unless you believe that an 0.2% dip in sales in the midst of the worst recession in decades means Books Are Doomed, there’s really no sensible discussion here. I hope ebooks, done right, take a few $billion of the book market where ebooks do it better–but I don’t happen to believe that ebooks are likely to “do it better” for most long-form narrative fiction and nonfiction in my lifetime, much less the next decade. (I plan to be around three more decades, with luck, and my family history suggests that’s on the short side.)
  • Print newspapers: I believe that hundreds of small and medium-sized print newspapers will still be around five and ten years from now; they’ve generally been doing better than the huge metro dailies. I hope that the better metro dailies will still be around–but I’m a little less sanguine. (Will we renew the San Francisco Chronicle next year at more than $400 a year? Hard to say…but I’d sure miss it, even though most content is available at SFGate.)

So, there it is: My personal take on what I think’s likely as regards physical media. I know some hotshot futurists say Everything’s Going Digital Real Soon Now. I also know the history of new and old media–and the wonders of DRM aren’t really helping. (Yes, Amazon probably did what it had to–but it also waved a Big Red Flag about the mutability of that big celestial jukebox. The book you “purchased” yesterday may or may not be the book you’re reading today…)
I could be wrong about any of these. I could be wrong about all of them–but I’d be very surprised. Heck, I’m hoping I’ll find interesting new Mill Creek 50-packs or 100-packs to buy in 2014. (The 250-packs appear to have been short-lived phenomena: you can still buy them from Amazon and elsewhere, but they don’t show up on Mill Creek’s website. That may be sensible…)
So, is this enough of an information science hook? The Future of Physical Media, from one reasonably informed perspective…

Uncontrolled Vocabulary: Another one down (at least for now)

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Greg Schwartz just announced that Uncontrolled Vocabulary, the “weekly live interactive roundtable discussion of all things library,” is on hiatus. The eloquent post offers reasons why (a matter of family priorities) and how difficult it is to take the step.

It’s not a decision I make lightly and it in no way reflects my enthusiasm for what we do here. I love producing this program. I love the conversations. I love the people who’ve joined me on this journey. I know some of them will be genuinely disappointed. For this, I am sorry.

…Please understand that the problem for me is not so much the hosting of the show, which is only an hour of my time per week. It’s the never-ending involvement: the slave-like attention to my feed reader, the setting up of blog posts, the reading and re-reading of proposed conversation starters. All worthwhile activites that I enjoy, but that require a certain constant level of engagement which forces me to make compromises with the rest of my priorities. I’m making a conscious decision to not make those compromises anymore.

So far, it’s only on hiatus–but a “permanent vacation” is a possibility.

Great work (from everything I’ve heard)

True confession: I’ve never participated in a UV episode (there have been 71 to date)–and I’ve only listened to one of them all the way through.

That’s my loss. I’m just not a podcast person–even less so now that my daily commute is from the dining room to my office, maybe 25 feet. (But even when I was working, it was only a 10-15 minute commute–and I think I’d find something like UV too distracting for that commute.) Since I wasn’t a listener, it never made much sense to be a participant (and I tend not to do any professional stuff after dinner).

But I’ve heard enough, from people I trust, to know that UV was great stuff–lively, interesting, informative, with a diverse range of perspectives. The one episode I did listen to made me want more, just not enough to find the time for it.

The profession definitely owes Greg thanks for what he’s done to date–and, to be sure, for the earlier Carnival of the Infosciences.

This stuff is hard (and not always very rewarding)

There have been a number of unique, passion-driven experiments in non-institutional, freely available  “periodical media” serving the library field–making a distinction between things that appear on a fairly regular basis and the hundreds of blogs and other wholly irregular sources. (If you think I’m putting down liblogs, you really don’t read my stuff much: I’m making a distinction, not a value judgment.)

A few examples (excluding peer-reviewed OA journals) and what’s become of them:

  • ExLibris, Marylaine Block’s weekly essay, which lasted more than 300 editions. It eventually became less-than-weekly. Block gave up on it in 2008, but continues to maintain the archive.
  • NewBreed Librarian, “a publication and web site intended to foster a sense of community for those new to librarianship, whether in school or just out.” The bimonthly “webzine,” heavy on graphic design, began in February 2001–and ended in August 2002.
  • Library Juice “was an irregular, weekly, then biweekly, then, for a moment, monthly electronic zine for librarians, library and information science students, and other interested people, published between January, 1998 and August, 2005.” Rory Litwin, who produced the zine throughout its eight-year life, resurrected the name as a blog, a book and a book publishing company. I’m not aware of any archive of the many zine issues.
  • Carnival of the Infosciences, while technically a series of blog posts, falls into this category, with the interesting twist that it had many direct hosts during its 90-issue life (August 2005 to May 2008). While the link here yields pointers to the first 57 editions, the wiki hasn’t been kept up to date; you’ll have to search a little to get the remaining 33 editions. Update: Schwartz notes that links to the latter half of the Carnivals are here; I just missed them.
  • Free Open Scholarship Newsletter, a monthly launched by Peter Suber in March 2001 to support “free online scholarship,” is a survivor–in part because SPARC took it over, sponsors it (Peter Suber is now a senior researcher at SPARC, among other things) and renamed it SPARC Open Access Newsletter in July 2003.
  • Current Cites, a team effort providing “8-12 annotated citations” of current library literature each month, is also a survivor and by far the longest-lived of any of these efforts, since it began in August 1990.
  • Added 2/25:, “Law and technology resources for legal professionals” (most definitely including law librarians) is a monthly collection of articles and columns (in a way, it’s an overlay journal) that Sabrina I. Pacifici has been doing since 1997. It has advertising and is a strong survivor. As noted on the “About” page, “LLRX is now in its 12th year of continuous publication, as a solo, independent enterprise.”
  • Cites & Insights, my own experiment in this field, began in December 2000 and has appeared at least monthly ever since. I no longer consider it an experiment. It does have modest sponsorship. And, frankly, if I was still fully employed and had a better sense of balance, free time and priorities…well, I’m not sure C&I would be around.

And now another one’s gone, at least temporarily. I didn’t use “unique” in the phrase “unique, passion-driven experiments” because I’m a sloppy writer–I used it because it’s true. Each of these (and probably others I’ve forgotten or somehow missed) has had its own strengths, weaknesses and approach. Each has served the library field well (in my opinion).

And most have, I suspect, been underappreciated and under-rewarded relative to the direct work and indirect effort that’s gone into them. As gray literature (and I’ll include podcasts as literature), they’re mostly ignored by indexing services and other “official” resources. Nobody got rich from advertising on any of these. In most cases, I think the creators have needed a little craziness to keep things going.

So, Greg, you’ve done good work–and made what’s undoubtedly the right decision. Hope things work out.

Have you heard good music lately?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

That’s a trick question, as the emphasis here is on heard; only you can decide what constitutes “good” in your case.

Or maybe the question is, “Depending on how and why you listen, do you know what you’re missing?”

Don’t worry–I’m not going to get into Audiophilia Extremis. I don’t have that kind of money or those kind of ears. I’m talking about differences that I really believe almost anyone who cares about music will hear–at least subconsciously and probably consciously.


I recently decided to upgrade my 2GB $40 MP3 player (Sansa Express) to a 4GB $50 player, at a total upgrade cost of $10. Which is to say, Office Depot had house-brand 2GB microSD cards on sale for $10, and the Sansa Express has a microSD expansion card.

I long ago reripped all my CDs at 320K MP3, the highest quality for MP3, because I thought I could hear the difference between 192K (which I’d originally ripped at) and 320K–and I was certain I could hear the difference between 128K and 192K, without even paying attention.

So I was going to choose something like 450 tunes to fit into 4GB (at 320K, music typically uses about 2.3 megabytes per minute; figure right around 28 hours of music for 4GB, or around 420-480 songs, given that lots of the songs I like are 4-6 minutes)

But I remembered, before I started in, that I’d planned to do some selective editing of some cuts, and two cuts could be dealt with very easily. (There are quite a few where I’d like to do a bit of editing, but that takes time…) Namely,

  • James Taylor’s version of “Walking My Baby Back Home” has an inexplicable 50 seconds of pure silence at the end of the song–probably a CD mastering error of some sort.
  • The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”…well, I find the last 2+ minutes excruciatingly repetitive, and I can actually do without John’s yelping.

So I downloaded Audigy (again–I’d had it on my old desktop, although I’d never used it) and the MP3/Export plugin. (There’s apparently now a good free competitor to Audigy, which I haven’t investigated: I don’t do a lot of sound editing, obviously.)

And opened “Walking My Baby Back Home,” confirmed that the last 50 seconds were in fact a flat line on the audio visualization, and deleted all but the first three seconds. Then saved it.

And played it in Windows Media Player…and, well, ugh. It was lifeless, a little muffled, uninteresting. Then checked the filesize. Hmm. 2.2MB for a 2.5 minute song.

Whoops. The MP3 export defaults to 128KMP3. I hadn’t checked that.

So, reripped the file (at 320K–I’d set Windows Media Player for that and it’s a sticky setting), redid the edit in Audigy, and saved it again–after changing the MP3 setting to 320K.

It sounded great; pretty much identical to the CD, and worlds better than the 128K MP3.

This should come as no surprise

128K MP3 is somewhere between AM and FM quality, at best. You’re throwing away 90% of the data in the original recording: How can you expect that the results won’t be damaged? (And, of course, “restoring” 128K MP3 to a CD-R as .WAV files does not do anything to improve the sound quality. “Lossy” means just that.)

What did come as a surprise was how obvious the loss was–and this wasn’t through some fancy stereo system or even the lovely Altec-Lansing PC speakers I used to use. It was through $10 Sony clipon semi-earbuds. (I’m not sure what to call them. They have loops that go over your ears; the speakers themselves sit sideways into your ear, but they’re not really in-ear phones. They’re a damn site better than the usual earbuds that come wih music players–and that certainly includes iPods, from everything I’ve heard, but come on: They’re $10 devices!)

Other voices heard from

I was reading an anecdote where someone’s son, home from college for the holidays, happened to listen to a CD of music he enjoyed–and had been listening to on a portable music player at a typical bitrate (probably 128K-164K). And suddenly exclaimed about how much better it sounded, how much more music was there.

True golden-ear readers (if there are any of you out there) will be appalled that I’m listening to MP3 at all, or that I even consider CD to be good sound quality. (Even worse, I believe that some of the CD-Rs I used to record, consisting of 320K MP3 expanded back to WAV, may just possibly sound better than the original CDs–which turns out to be at least theoretically possible, given jitter issues. Let’s not press that point.) Understand: I don’t claim to be golden-eared, and may not be too far away from hearing aids. $500 headphones and $50,000 speakers would just be wasted on me, I suspect.

I was using the $10 Sonys, which are great for travel (the Sansa Express is an unusually compact player–basically a fat flash drive–and it and the Sonys fit into a little zipped change purse that I can drop in my pocket), because my old home headphones (a $30 Radio Shack set with titanium elements, probably made by Koss) fell apart: the cheapo plastic hinges just snapped after a few years of use.

Since then, I’ve acquired some surprisingly decent headphones–Sennheiser PX100, oddly-foldable on-ear (but not circumaural) phones that cost $37.50 at Amazon. (They just arrived today. The first time I’ve ever purchased audio equipment based on Consumer Reports’ recommendation. They’re excellent by my standards, but headbangers and bass fanatics won’t like them. They’re designed to travel well.) I’m sure the differences would be even more obvious on these, to say nothing of anything like high-end equipment.

Try it yourself

If you have even halfway decent headphones (or speakers, for that matter), and if you’re listening to low-bitrate downloads or rips, and if you have a CD with any of the music you’re listening to…well, give it a try. Actually listen to the same songs (particularly songs with voices and acoustic instruments, e.g., guitar, piano, whatever–folk, jazz, you name it) in both forms. Pay attention.

I think you’ll find there’s just more music than you’ve been hearing–maybe not more notes, but a lot more to the notes. You’ll hear the instruments more clearly, you’ll get more out of the singers.

There’s also a subconscious aspect to this, at least for many (most?) of us. If you find that you stop listening to your digital music after half an hour or so, you may be suffering “digital fatigue”–the nature of the loss and artifacts in low-bitrate digital music tends to be tiring. I love Pandora, but I really can’t listen to it for more than 20-30 minutes; it makes my ears hurt. That’s true of almost all streaming music.

Maybe you’ll find that you don’t hear a difference or don’t care about the difference. Maybe you’ll find that you do.

If you do, there are steps you can take:

  • Rerip your CDs, either to .WAV (if you have loads of disk space and devices that can handle it) or a lossless format such as FLAC (again, if you have loads of space and compatible devices), or at least to high-bitrate MP3 (I’d suggest 256K or high VBR at a minimum; 320K is the max). After all, disk space is cheap these days–surely you can afford a gigabyte for every seven hours of music?
  • If you use a portable player, think about the tradeoffs. Do you really feel the need for 2,000 songs on your 8GB player? Personally, I’d rather have 450 songs I really care about than 4,000 songs that I may never listen to more than once a year. But that’s me. (I wound up with 463 songs, after going through the 2,200 I have on hard disk and informally rating them. I could squeeze a few more in, but this is good. If I wanted to include all the songs that I rated at least as “pretty good” (3 stars) instead of just “very good” (4 stars) and “excellent” (5 stars), I’d need an 8GB player. Maybe next year. Maybe not: The very good/excellent playlist is both varied and quite wonderful.)
  • If you’re still using the earbuds that came with the player–no matter how much the player itself cost–try something a little better. $10 will get you semi-decent devices; $20 will buy fair sound; $40 will buy pretty good sound. From what I’ve read and heard, most name-brand players (including iPods, Sansa’s devices, Muze and Creative’s players) will produce much better sound than the default earbuds provide; they just need better earphones.

I won’t tell you what kind of music you should enjoy. I will suggest that some of you may not be really hearing the music you love–and that you’ll enjoy it more when you do. (And you don’t need to go for broke to do that: Note that my “stereo system” at this point cost $87.50 total, and is very satisfying.)