Friday, September 3, 2010

The Season Of The Witch

Sitting in an English garden,
Waiting for the rain to come…

So, following the much trumpeted Apple announcement out of San Francisco earlier this week, we’ve learned that the world according to Steve Jobs has decided that we now ‘need’ a ‘new’ social networking gadget; one designed to help us all in our (apparently ongoing) quest to ‘share’ music one with another.

Snappy name the good people at Apple have given to this new social networking device (app) too… Ping.

So snappy that an explanation was required – Ping, apparently, is a term used by computer geeks when they connect, one computer with another. How splendid… yet how equally unforgettable. Ping simply reminds me of Pingu, a cartoon television character my youngest daughter was enthralled with in her earliest years – and equally now, long forgotten.

There is a certain logic behind Apple’s decision to launch Ping – one can (easily) see the sense – and money-making sensibility – in that it should (with luck and a following wind) call the final death knell to what is a truly horrid on-line experience: MySpace; ie, all part of Steve Jobs’ quest to rule the known world.

Time was when MySpace was a relatively useful tool… time was when it seemed just about everyone had a MySpace page; bands you liked; bands you’d never heard of; people you knew – it was almost as if you didn’t exist unless you had a MySpace presence.

But, what did it become?

I should explain here that the only reason I maintain a MySpace account is that it enables me – very occasionally – to link to person X or Y should the need arise when I’m in deep research mode for one of my various archival projects. And – even as recently as the last couple of weeks – it’s been a handy device to employ in that regard.

But, do I search for new music off of it..? Do I ‘interact’ with other people – by sending instant messages to any of my MySpace ‘friends’ that I see online at the same time…?

Errr… no, I don’t!

For a start, MySpace is (nowadays) festooned with ads from some organization or other asking me (whenever I log on) if I want to meet Russian women. Actually, I don’t thanks all the same.

And, how many bands or artists of real worth – by that I mean long term worth – have actually come out of the MySpace axis? Arctic Monkeys immediately springs to mind – not, I admit, that I’m particularly partial to them… in that I don’t exactly rush home after a long day thinking… heck, I’d better hurry along ‘cos I’m absolutely busting to hear a new Arctic Monkeys’ tune. Lily Allen – sorry but the same applies.

Besides, MySpace has, for so long, been a haven for a veritable myriad of people recording not-terribly-good tunes in their back-bedrooms that it has never really appealed to me in my (always ongoing) search for new music. It’s not just the (potentially endless) trawl through rubbish that puts one off; it’s the simple fact that there aren’t enough hours in the day… even if one wanted to spend one’s every waking minute staring at a screen wearing headphones… and listening; sifting the wheat from the chaff.

So, factor in the (unwanted and unwarranted) plentiful requests to befriend seventeen-year old’s from out west of the Pecos, another hiccup in their miscalculations has been MySpace launching their own ‘recommendations’ – suggesting music, videos and games that I might like to tinker with – all, apparently, based on my previous search habits. Hmmm… clearly they (believe) they know some things about me that I don’t.

Bottom line: its intrusive and far from what I require as an online experience.

I’d rather the ‘proper’ recommendation of a ‘proper’ friend who one actually speaks to… I know, a bit old fashioned that but, talking (in my experience) does have quite a bit going for it – as opposed to living your life as dictated by a BlackBerry; ‘cos that’s pretty much like chattering to someone who camps out behind their sunglasses.

And so, back to Pingu…

From all that I’ve read, its basically going to be much of the same… an integration of what I (again, apparently) search for popping up as ‘recommendations’ fuelled by what one’s ‘friends’ on either FaceBook or Twitter are, themselves, listening to.

One teensy weensy little problem; it won’t work.

Why..? Well, for example, yesterday… there I was, deep in research mode… and, working my way through another music (and other things) related site – Amazon. My purpose… pure research. And, this is serious archival research into the obscure and long forgotten.

But, within five minutes, Amazon – bless ‘em… they do try hard – were starting to make these ghastly recommendations based on what I was attempting to find – these possible needles within their giant haystack.

End result… click off and head elsewhere.

One only has to take a swift glance at the new I-Tunes top page and more of these ghastly – region specific – ‘recommendations’ are there… straight-in-yer-face ‘recommendations’.

They’re based on a couple of things… firstly, what the ‘majors’ are plugging – ie, we’ll pay you (I-Tunes) X and in return you’ll give us a prominent position. Secondly, behind the I-Tunes wall there’s a gadget that tracks everything you do, look for etc etc… and, based on what it finds / whats logged in to it’s own criteria… then it’ll spew back its ‘recommendations’ at you.

Thanks but no thanks.

I don’t want big brother dictating my musical (or otherwise) tastes.

The other aspect that hasn’t been thought through – at all and by either side of the coin – is the base fact that I-Tunes (and Amazon and others of that ilk) are all not just region specific but are at the mercy of the licensors.

How does this affect the end-user…?

In brief, it means that no matter how much you may want to purchase tune X or album Y by artist Z, IF the artist’s work isn’t licensed by the copyright holder in territory A… in which you’re logged on… then you can’t affect said purchase.

I could list dozens upon dozens of examples here but just one should suffice: one’d have thought that a band of the stature of (say) The Average White Band would have their entire catalogue on sale globally through the likes of I-Tunes… Fact is, that’s not the case – only in certain territories is one able to download certain albums / songs with some things available only (for example) if one is logged on via a UK ISP… meaning that, if you’re travelling (for example) or live in another ISP ‘area’ and logged on in that manner… then parts of their catalogue are unavailable.


Its down to one thing and one thing only – the rights have only been granted (licensed) by the licensor (ie the record company) for certain territories.

Ok… so I accept that not every user of (say) FaceBook or Twitter partnering their I-Tunes up with the former might not be much interested in acquiring said records… but, the point is that while FaceBook and Twitter are global… the likes of I-Tunes and Amazon most definitely aren’t.

Ergo… IF one really was hell-bent on downloading those particular albums ‘cos you couldn’t acquire them through legal means… then, how do you do that..?

It is, frankly, far far too simple.

And, this is where the record companies and the ISPs both need to seriously wise up.

All you do is set your browser to search for images of the record covers… start hovering your mouse over the images – that way, the sites hosting said images will be displayed.

Don’t bother with any of the ‘proper’ sites but gravitate toward the blogging sites… the ones that basically list fan’s favourite albums by whatever genre you can think of.

You have to kiss a few frogs along the way but, it shouldn’t take more than six or seven clicks before you discover a nice picture of the album you have in mind and, below that, not just a track-listing but more often than not, a pretty good précis on album X or Y together with… a download link, generally powered by either RapidShare or MegaUpload.

Simply click on the link, hit free user and your download starts after a few moments.

It really is as simple as that.

Have I ever..? Yes – and I don’t mind admitting / owning up to the fact that I have.

Was I justified in doing it – well, on the basis that I’d bought the album as a vinyl copy when it first came out and had re-bought it at least twice subsequently… then, my legal payment(s) had been made; royalties had been properly collected and earned by the respective performers / writers and, of course, the record company concerned had earned its proper whack too. So, on that basis… while what I did was illegal, it was also done with a clear conscience.

Further to which, it was part of an experiment… I simply wanted to discover how quick the process could be. In that instance, all was done and dusted from first tapping in the album title into a search engine to landing in my I-Tunes within fifteen minutes.

Until such time as the copyright holders act… and act together… then this unholy situation will remain where, ultimately, it is the creatives who go broke.

And Pingu… it’ll gradually fade away. Besides being not a very good idea in the first place, public acceptance will count toward its demise – the key thing that Steve Jobs and his lot miscalculated… people, in general, are becoming increasingly fed up being ‘recommended’ things.

And… literally the moment I finished writing this… Twitter informed me of this: Follow Coldplay on iTunes' new Ping service to check out some exclusive studio photo/video content

Bollox... beastly things, these ‘recommendations’.

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