Category Archives: Disruption

The future of nations

This morning, in my car on the way to an appointment, I was listening to NPR’s The Takeaway. I felt like I caught a glimpse of the future of the nation-state in a common thread connecting their story about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent US visit, and another about ISIS.

In the piece on Modi, they talked with Arvind Rajagopal, a sociologist and media theorist at New York University. Rajagopal talked about how Modi made a strong nationalistic appeal to the Indian diaspora. What was notable, was that the appeal wasn’t for them to come back to India to support its development, but rather to support India’s interest wherever they were.

In the piece on ISIS, they interviewed Louise Shelly, the executive director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University. Shelly talked about how ISIS daws on age old smuggling routes in order to finance and supply its efforts.

What struck me is that both these stories hint at an interesting disconnect between geography, identity, power, influence and the economy, things that, in my naive view, are key ingredients in the classical nation state. And yet, here they are, present in forms that don’t quite fit that mold:

  • India, a nation with borders, redefined as a global nation with a geographic center, and a other aspects superimposed on other nation-states.
  • ISIS, a broad-based enterprise with aspirations of geographic borders whose assets are also superimposed on other nation-states.

And somewhere, in the same primordial goo, mixed with cryptocurrency, and social networks, and ragefaces, what else might emerge?

EMI & iTunes go DRM free, for a price

Everyone in the world is already talking about it, but EMI and Apple have just announced that higher quality (256kbps AAC) DRM-free tracks of EMI’s catalog will be available for sale on the iTunes music store for a 30% premium.

This is huge news. As a consumer, I’m pretty happy about it. The existing iTMS offering has been sub-par (marginal bitrate, DRM encumbered) at a price that wasn’t quite attractive enough. As a result most of my music money has still been going for CDs. The improved product is much more attractive to me, at least when I’m only interested in one or two tracks.

I’ll be interested to see if the other labels follow suit on this. I imagine they’ll be happy at the chance to boost their average sales price for dowloadable music.

Update: The premium price only applies to single track purchases.  Full album prices remain the same even without DRM and with a higher bit-rate.  Sweet!

Joost kicks the cable tv industry in the nuts, and you are invited to watch

I picked up an invitation code for Joost over on Jyte last week, and I just took the time to download and install it.

For those who don’t know, Joost is the latest venture from the creators of Skype and Kazaa. Kazaa kicked the music industry in the nuts by providing a decentralized version of Napster. Skype kicked the long distance industry in the nuts by providing easy to use high-quality peer-to-peer internet telephony.

So, that would make Joost a swift kick in the nuts of the cable TV industry. It uses peer-to-peer technology to provide video on demand over the internet. This could make it possible for content producers like HBO to connect with viewers without having to cut in the cable companies (or the cable “networks” for that matter). I’m thrilled at the prospect. I like a lot of HBO programming, but I don’t want to have to deal with the shifty sales tactics of the cable companies in order to get to it, so I end up waiting for things to come out on DVD.

It differs from other P2P distribution of video in a few ways. From the end users point of view, it has the advantage of a slick, learnable user interface that can start playing new video almost instantly.

From the content creators point of view, it has the advantage of allowing them to maintain a degree of control over their content — they decide what gets made available, and how long it remains available. Plus, it looks like there is advertising, which suggests they have a way to get paid.

Of course, as a consumer, I see the ads as a disadvantage. I don’t know how many minutes of ads Joost will ultimately lace their programming with. I do know that network TV devotes almost 20 minutes of every hour to ads. Cable TV is sometimes better, and often worse. I really have better things to do than watching ads. If the price was right, and the programming was decent, I’d pay not to have to see them.

The Joost experience is a mixed bag so far. The installation process is very straightforward and there is basically no configuration, other than signing in to the service once. The UI is a little puzzling, but it doesn’t take long to find all the features, and once you do, it’s pretty easy to remember how to use and find them again. Joost is promising a social experience around TV watching, but so far, I haven’t experienced it. I’ve joined chatrooms for a few of their “channels” and ended up talking to myself because there haven’t been any other users. The video quality is pretty good. Definitely better than YouTube, but generally not as good as a ~360MB/hr XVID, plus, I’ve experienced issues with the stream stuttering or pausing due to network congestion.

Joost could be an interesting test of net neutrality since it depends on infrastructure often provided by competitors (Cable internet) or potential competitors like DSL providers, which are generally phone companies who have their own video ambitions.

The programming on Joost seems decidedly like extended basic cable. Old National Geographic specials, reality shows, niche sporting events, some MTV programming and various independent films. Production qualities are also basic cable-grade, which these days, can be pretty slick. I hope they open it up a little bit and start taking stuff of compelling interest even if the production values are a little more like what two dedicated and talented amateurs can pull off in their spare time.

But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. I’ve got an invite code or two, so you can check it out for yourself. Just leave me an e-mail address and I’ll send them out, first come, first served.

UPDATE: I’m all out of invites!

Computers, let us never fight again

I have a little secret. I have grown to hate computers. I hate that most of the activities in my life now take place confined to a screen, keyboard and mouse interacting with 25 year old visual metaphors. I miss working in a darkroom, or dipping a pen in ink.

All day is spent clutching a mouse and pecking at keys. The tactile experience is completely impoverished and everything is so cramped and confined. It’s impossible to stretch out even with a couple of big monitors.

I used to edit papers by printing them out on a continuous strip of old fanfold computer paper and then laying the whole thing out on a big table. It made it so easy to reorganize things. I could draw arrows between paragraphs multiple pages from another as I figured out how to turn a rough draft into a well organized paper. Of course then I had to enter my changes into the computer, but it wasn’t that bad, and it actually helped having all the changes sketched out before I started committing them.

I actually broke out my old sketchbook and bought a set of brush pens to try and get away from the computer. It felt good, but as much as I hate the experience, I was drawn back to my resting place in front of the computer.

Which is all background for why I find this demo by Jeff Han at TED so cool. It’s a big touch sensitive display that responds to multiple touches, which lets you interact with things in a pretty complicated way. Check it out.

I want one, a really big one and I want it last week.

thanks to Chasjr3 & sarahliz for the link.