Thursday, November 06, 2014

Ain't No Sunshine When Taylor Swift Is Gone From Spotify

I remember the day in May 2003 when Marley came into the computer lab in Founders Hall. "Did you hear the news?" I asked him. "What news?" Marley asked. "You didn't hear that Apple sold it's one millionth song on the iTunes store today?"

Like many of his classmates in those days Marley loved the Napster software people used to download any song they wanted without paying. As a school technology administrator I battled students who installed the software on our network and used it to share and download files.

Marley was a musician. We had long conversations about what it would be like when he grew up and tried to make a living selling his music.

Little did we know Apple wouldn't just clean up the Napster mess, they figuratively knocked it out of the ballpark.
“Hitting one million songs in less than a week was totally unexpected,” said Roger Ames, Warner Music Group’s chairman and CEO. “Apple has shown music fans, artists and the music industry as a whole that there really is a successful and easy way of legally distributing music over the Internet.” 
“Our internal measure of success was having the iTunes Music Store sell one million songs in the first month. To do this in one week is an over-the-top success,” said Doug Morris, Universal Music Group’s CEO. “Apple definitely got it right with the iTunes Music Store.”
And the music business rode the wave all the way to the bank. In less than 10 years Apple reached 25 billion songs sold by then selling over 21 million songs a day, churning out numbers that sounded more like the marketing cry of a fading hamburger chain.

Meanwhile Metallica and Dr. Dre took the battle against pirating music to the American people and courts and plenty of people were complaining about digital rights management and how much Apple makes off of their sales.

One friend told me he bought the albums, then he bought the CDs, but he will not fork out another penny to purchase the third copy as a digital download.

All this confusion clouds the biggest change in music toward streaming services. Despite the big numbers of digital downloads streaming music is on the rise. Rolling Stone reported this week that album sales are down and single track sales are down, but paid subscriptions services rose 57% last year.

Meanwhile, Napster has morphed over the years and is now joined by the Pandora's, Spotify's, and Rhapsody's of today's online music world offering free and subscription based streaming music services. In the battle for ears and subscriptions Rhapsody acquired Napster in 2011 to compete with industry leader Spotify.

But Taylor Swift seems to think these music services are not giving the artists their fair share so she decided to pull her entire music catalog from Spotify this week. Swift is just the latest in a line of musicians to criticize Spotify saying they don't operate in the best interest of artists.

While Spotify went public literally begging Swift to come back, music lovers are left once again wondering what they should do.

Young people don't see the need to support the concept of paying for recorded music and the YouTube generation would rather spend their time listening to their own for free.

I contacted Marley and found out he's now working for Rhapsody/Napster in the San Francisco Bay Area. Could it be he was right all along? Do musicians need to find a way to make money other than through their recorded music? The Grateful Dead found a way to do that through their concert tours.

Or, is it simply that the technology has advanced in such away that the added features of streaming music have changed users tastes and patterns to the point that they no longer want to have a pile of records to play preferring instead to have access to any song at all times and in any place they want to listen?

I believe there is a change in the wind but it is still not settled. Recently I had the pleasure to see the new film Take Me To The River about the history of the Memphis blues music scene. In the film classic blues musicians came together with some of today's top rap and hip hop artists to learn from each other and record music mashups of some of the greatest songs of the modern music era.

Take a look at this clip of Bobby "Blue" Bland and Yo Gotti performing Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."

We are in a time in between then (before all this technology) and an unknown future. We will always have artists and their work will only get better. Take Me To The River is an example of bringing together the beauty and wonder of the past with the best and brightest of today's young artists who embrace the technology while respecting the past.

To me that shows there is hope for the future whether or not you can listen to Taylor Swift on Spotify.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thinking About the ALS Bucket Challenge of 2014

The ALS bucket challenge is an interesting phenomenon. On the one hand it's a great way to generate interest and money for the cause of caring for the stricken and finding a cure.

Rabbi Yisrael Rice did a little Torah
and then the bucket challenge.
On the other hand it's another good example of how technology allows us to step out of our comfort zone and easily do something we wouldn't normally do online. I think of this as an opportunity to go beyond the selfie still picture and add a video component.

Beyond the celebrity bucket challenges the phenomenon now includes YouTube videos of bucket challenges gone wrong. Recently I viewed an odd "lowlight" reel of people getting clocked on the head by a bucket dump gone bad. I suppose people are drawn to the sideshow that this story has become.

Sadly, four firefighters were badly injured in an electrocution that occurred when two of them went up in a fire truck bucket and got too close to electrical wires with a large cache of water.

It all makes me wonder why people so easily forget the idea of thinking before doing something. As educators we are often teaching our students to think before they print. We ask them to think before they post. Why aren't we listening now?

It's not that I don't agree with the concept of raising money for research and awareness about ALS. I just feel like it's an idea gone too far now.

I do have one favorite video that I think is a good example of a teachable moment. Rabbi Yisrael Rice in Marin County gives a little "drash" of Torah about why the bucket challenge is a good thing because it takes us out of that comfort zone or bubble we all live in each day. Doing this crazy act and posting it online allows us to do something we would never do and that can be liberating as well as helpful to others. I think it's nice that Rabbi Rice turned this into a teachable moment.

For me the whole thing sits very close to home and the fact that one of my best friends, Joe Babin, died of ALS in December 2012. I just don't see the point of all the fun and games.

We know what this disease is all about and what it will take to fix the problem. Why don't we just get down to doing that?

In the meantime I'm going to challenge everyone to use the technology to help us all remember those who were impacted and continue to be impacted by this disease. This will help us personalize the issue and focus on caring for the sick and their caretakers,  and someday with finding the cure.

Let's all do something if we can.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Viv - Global Brain or Gold Digger?

This week a silicon valley start up Viv Labs announced their new artificially intelligent digital assistant Viv. While the former Apple engineers (who helped develop Apple's Siri) launched a media blitz to announce Viv it's interesting to me that their website has very little information about this new product.

They link to a Wired Magazine article about Viv for visitors to "learn more about Viv's team, technology, and vision.

It's a bit striking that a digital product like this would have so little promotional material. After all, if you have a vision, why don't you share it? Why have someone else deliver that information? I've worked in advertising and PR and I know what it takes to get your message out. Most successful PR campaigns are driven by the vision of the company and not by the press.

They have a nice tag line: "The Global Brain - Viv radically simplifies the world by providing an intelligent interface to everything." However, what does that really mean?

Perhaps the reason why there is so little information is that Viv Labs doesn't want people to know what they are trying to accomplish. In my view this is where the technology industry often fails.

In an NPR interview with Wired Magazine writer Steven Levy, Viv is described as "a more complex Siri." That seems more realistic to me. Levy describes the potential of this new digital assistant by talking about how you could use Viv on the way to a dinner party to help you find the best bottle of wine to pair with the menu. Viv can access store information, locations, and available supplies of products. Viv accesses the contact information on your phone and begins to collect information about your interests, habits, lifestyle and so forth.

There it is, e-commerce is the goal of Viv. "They are going to make money . . . not so much by serving you ads, but in taking a cut in all the transactions you are going to make" using Viv. The more Viv knows about you, the better Viv can "assist you" in your daily life -- and purchases.

I believe it'a about time technology companies begin to say exactly what they are doing with the development of their products. Viv is not a global brain. It's a way for people to use technology to find the best deal on the best products they are looking to purchase.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Giving Sir Ken a Revolutionary Lesson

Alan November was in town this week for some events hosted by the Kentfield Schools and the Marin Parent Education Group. He shared with us some of his thoughts on a wide range of new technologies in learning.

One of his most interesting lessons incorporated Google Operators for effective ways to conduct pinpoint accurate Internet searches.

November used the real world example of an American high school history class researching the difference between the way we teach about the American revolution and the way British schools teach it. More about this in a minute.

As luck would have it this weekend I happened upon a 2010 TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

Being viewer number 4, 721,516, I was aware of the fact that Sir Ken is an important speaker for a variety of movements intended to impact, change, and even revolutionize education.

Most of what I get from Sir Ken's talks is a call for a more kind and gentle educational system. I believe he wants a system that differentiates learning and takes into account the variety of abilities learners bring to the process.

However, near the end of this talk, Sir Ken also explicitly states the integration of technology is critical to the success of any attempt to revolutionize education.

"In this room, there are people who represent extraordinary resources in business, in multimedia, in the Internet. These technologies combined with extraordinary talents of teachers, provide an opportunity to revolutionize education. And I urge you to get involved because it's vital not just to ourselves but to the future of our children."

Earlier in this revolutionary call for educational change Sir Ken states:

"One of the real challenges is to innovate fundamentally in education. Innovation is hard . . . it means challenging what we take for granted . . .  things that we think are obvious. The great problem for reform or transformation is the tyranny of common sense. Things that people think, well, they can't be done any other way because that's the way it's done."

To make his point Sir Ken tells the audience that he came across a great a quote from Abraham Lincoln who said change was necessary and important at the time.

He quoted Lincoln who said:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Sir Ken states "I ought to explain that I have no idea what was happening at the time. We don't teach American history in Britain. We suppress it. So no doubt something fascinating was happening in December 1862."

To me this comic interlude that got the audience laughing seemed like an odd statement. It got me thinking that maybe Sir Ken actually should know what was going on at the time of Lincoln's speech. What exactly was Lincoln talking about and why was it so important?
Project Gutenberg
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So I went to the Google Operators Alan November taught me and started searching. In no time I had downloaded the Papers and Writings of Abraham Lincoln from Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg was the first online e-Book provider. All their resources are available free. I was able to download the complete writings of Abraham Lincoln. Once I got it into my e-Book reader, I was able to search for the quote Sir Ken read to his audience back in 2010.

Nearly nine score years earlier Lincoln was addressing the United States Congress during a time of Civil War in America. In the first few pages of the speech Lincoln states:

“The treaty with Great Britain for the suppression of the slave trade has been put into operation with a good prospect of complete success. It is an occasion of special pleasure to acknowledge that the execution of it on the part of her Majesty's government has been marked with a jealous respect for the authority of the United States and the rights of their moral and loyal citizens.”

It seems to me that the suppression of this information was merely a convenience in order to use the other quote to make Sir Ken's point about change in modern times. While this point is a right and good one, I suspect that it's most probably just another example of how history tends to be used only when it's convenient to the argument one is trying to win.

Today I came across an item on my Facebook timeline talking about students at the University of Alabama who defeated an attempt to integrate white only sororities.

In my mind Lincoln is one of the greatest people that every lived. Not only was he a fantastic writer and orator, more importantly, he was able to predict the future. With his words he told US, the people of today and the people of tomorrow, what we needed to know to make this world a better place.

Unfortunately, despite the existence of the most powerful information technologies of all time, we the people, continue to fall short of what Lincoln hoped we would become.

I wished Sir Ken would have read the end of Lincoln's speech which he closes by saying:

“Fellow-citizens, we can not escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just—a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.”

We do need a better educational system. We must make sure it is a system that remembers the past and teaches about it to the people of the future. That is the kind and gentle educational system we need.