23 Jun

Interview with Ross Blanchard, Gracenote

Sandy and Dave’s Broadband report:

"[T]he CDDB database now includes nearly 3 million CDs and more than 36 million songs. Each day, users from ninety countries submit about ten thousand new albums to CDDB. In the US, Korea and Japan, Gracenote has editorial staff to “vet” the entries and “lock them down” to prevent modification by users. Because of the volume of entries, the editors are focused on the most popular content; of the most popular CDs, “the high 90% are locked down.”
For the smaller labels, Gracenote has a “content partner program” so that they can directly submit album and track metadata for their own CDs and lock them down.
Gracenote does not lock down the genre metadata, which is highly subjective. They allow for two different genres for each album, artist and song.
Gracenote licenses a CDDB Software Development Kit (SDK) to software developers. Most PC-based CD players and recorders use this kit, which is also available for Apple and Linux-based systems. Gracenote also provides an “Embedded CDDB” solution; for portable devices and others without an active Internet connection, this provides a copy of CDDB for storage on a hard drive."

Here’s another example where bottom-up contributions are mixed with a stricter controlled vocabulary.
07/07/04 update: Wired: The House That Music Fans Built.

17 Jun

Music to Take You Elsewhere, Elsewhen

Wow, I just treated myself to two awesome albums. Tritonus by Corvus Corax is German music from the middle ages that sounds like tribal celtic rock, while Ver Tanzt by Black Ox Orkestar is Jewish music from Canada that sounds like traditional music from Central Europe and possibly Turkey. Both are strongly evocative and deeply original, and both were found through the random yet structured discovery process I’ll have to explain at some point. Manufactured serendipity, as Jon Udell puts it, works wonders to enlarge one’s musical horizons, but it’s work.

17 Jun

Microsoft Lost the API War? Not So Fast

Joel Spolsky is getting a lot of mileage for his essay, How Microsoft Lost the API War, and it’s deserved because there are a lot of good things in there. For instance, the fact that you (mostly) don’t have an install process to run web apps (or console games for that matter) is definitely something Microsoft should think long and hard about (and I’m sure they do). I’m just fed up with installing and configuring apps, and it’s even worse when you want them available across 3 or 4 home PCs.
However, Joel’s whole argument relies on a premise that he never bothers to back up: “[the web as a platform] is Good Enough for most people and it’s certainly good enough for developers, who have voted to develop almost every significant new application as a web application.”
That’s quite a radical assertion but it isn’t reflected by facts. From digital audio, photography and video to gaming, whole software categories have grown strongly those last years, on Windows primarily but also on the Mac and consoles. Nothing more convicing than amusing demos and gizmos exist on the (HTML) web in those areas, which, by the way, happen to be the fast-expanding frontier of digital lifestyles, so that’s what matters in terms of consumer adoption and developer interest (and just look at what software people buy and use). The fact is, developers kept targeting Windows and other non-web platforms all along, and users have asked for more. Even online there’s been an explosion of desktop applications. Don’t bother telling Joel Spolsky about the many developers who create instant messaging or file sharing applications or newsreaders (many of them on Windows) and the dozens of millions of users who download and install them, he’s busy making an important point. After reading Joel’s memo, no doubt Epic Games will surely stop using DirectX (gasp, the latest version even) and commit to creating Unreal Tournament 2005 in the browser.
The platform switch challenge for Microsoft is well known and Joel may yet be proved right in the long run, but the game is far from over and his calling the score is quite premature. Remember that he said .NET was vaporware four years ago only to say now that ASP.NET is the best web dev platform. In this week’s essay, where’s the acknowledgement that at the time he got excited by a vague whitepaper but his sanguine statements were since then proved wholly incorrect? You’re right, there’s none. We’ve heard this kind of hubris about the end of the Microsoft API from the Java guys for years and look where it got them: definitely somewhere, but even more definitely, far from everywhere, and certainly in less computers than Microsoft.

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14 Jun

Finally a Camphone Usage Scenario That Makes Sense

You know how every ad promoting camphones is a variation on this theme: those two supermodels you’ve just met last night want to hook up with you again, and surely from their inviting smiles (alternatively, their stupid giggle) this will surely lead to a torrid threesome within 10 minutes flat. And aren’t you lucky to have bought this shiny new phone because, really, what’s hotter than two just-met supermodels giving you a blowjob? Sure, happens all the time. I guess with the 80’s revival and all, selling faked dream is hip again in the ad world. More gel should go in the hair for good measure. Or throw in some lame canned irony for that post-90’s veneer, that will sure let you connect your brand with the values of your target consumers. (Yes, once you’re past 30 you turn fast into an old curmudgeon.)
Anyway, Erik Benson is a lot smarter than those ad execs who couldn’t figure out a real way to use their product to save their life. He takes a picture of his car and its surroundings wherever he parks it in the street so he can find it later on. Do I wish I had had that when I had to go through the same "where is the damn car" routine in Bordeaux (now we live in a house so no more city parking hell).

08 Jun

Reuters Sold to Media Cartel

Here’s the quote where Reuters loses all credibility:

"The industry blames the extensive online trade of free music for contributing to a massive slide in recorded music sales. A year ago it launched a multi-pronged effort to promote sanctioned online music stores such as Apple Computer Corp’s iTunes while suing those who share their music collection with others on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as Kazaa and WinMX."

And what "sanctioned online music stores" available in Europe are you talking about exactly? Rhapsody is a US-only service. Napster launched only last month in the UK and is not available anywhere on the continent itself. Itunes is only going to be launched later this month, and it remains to be seen where the service will be available. A couple others like Emusic might let European consumers in (I think I tried it a couple of years ago), but they’re most likely to disregard European privacy laws, are labelled in English and use US dollars. Here we are in mid-2004 and there are no decent "sanctioned online music stores" available to European consumers in their language, currency, and compatible with their laws. Apparently this industry considers the European consumer deserves obsolete CDs, shitty ringtones, and nothing else, and they dare to complain! That’s possible only because European politicans looking into those issues literally sleep with the majors.
Reuters, your "reporting" is garbage.

08 Jun

Futures Market for Meme Emergence?

You think a meme is going to emerge, or some until-now obscure location or rock band is about to have a burst of popularity. Is there a site where you can bet on such predictions, say, if you think everyone is going to talk about deflation (a good bet to make 18 months ago), or, to be more timely, Franz Ferdinand or Ras Tanura? For more fun, try to predict when the meme is going to start spreading and when it will peak.
Think of it as Blogshares and Hollywood Stock Exchange meet Technorati and Google Zeitgeist. Then people with a good sniff for talent or a rare ability to predict political events might emerge. The idea sounds familiar so maybe I’ve actually seen this somewhere, then please refresh my memory. Or maybe I already posted this and I’m just in a rut.
OK, I should stop being lazy. Let’s invoke the power of the web… No wonder it sounded familiar, the Extropians already did it years ago (I define myself as an extropian when I want to sound mystical, if I was available I’m sure I could pick up chicks with this) and of course there was the spat about Darpa’s short-lived Policy Analysis Market last summer. I guess I’m thinking of something a little funnier that intertwines gracefully with the blogosphere.
12/30/04 update: Media Mammon "is like a stock market of news, memes and hypes."
02/06/06 update: The Rise of the Memetrackers.

03 Jun

20 Questions with Gary Flake, Head of Yahoo Research Labs

In an interview with Gary Price:

"The beautiful thing about a relational database is that its structure tells you a lot about what is important. Database designers have been brilliant at optimizing databases (both the organization of the information as well as the algorithms) to best exploit this regularity. When you flatten out a database, those paths towards optimization often aren’t available.
A middle ground — which is not perfect, but adds a lot of utility — is to convert structured into a semi-structured form. Today, we treat documents as a big bag of words and index those words. In this semi-structured approach, we take structured information (say, the value of specific fields) and synthesize fake words that represent the fact that “document X has field Y with value Z.? Now, clearly I can’t run a SQL query on this representation; but at least I can search for documents with specific field:value pairs.
I’d like to tell you that we will be able to make an unstructured database as powerful as a structured database; but that simply is not the case. Nonetheless, the fusion of structured and unstructured data and approaches will add a lot of utility to the lives of most users."

Emphasis mine. On one hand it’s still frustratingly inefficient to look for information on the open, unstructured web. On the other hand perfectly structured, metatagged content is a dream that’s not going to happen, so I fully concur with Gary Flake’s statement. Structure and tag what you can, know where to stop, and let the rest self-organize.