September 12, 2003

Thinking About Broadband

I'm a little behind in my BusinessWeek reading, so I only recent read their September 8th commentary on "How To Get Broadband Up To Speed." I suspect reading it requires a subscription, so I'll excerpt the bit that bugs me:

The final piece of the puzzle is content. Relatively few U.S. consumers will buy broadband simply because it's fast. They need compelling applications. One of the most promising, the ability to download and swap music, video, and other forms of entertainment, has been bogged down by legal controversy and questions about whether people will pay for digital music.

The final piece is not "content," at least not how they mean. Folks at BusinessWeek, and others interested in the business of broadband, would be wise to read Andrew Odlyzko's articles on communication networks. I first appreciated his work when I read Content Is Not King, which put the lie to the idea that "content" drives internet usage, which had been a common fallacy in the everything-Web era.

Andrew's most recent essay, The Many Paradoxes of Broadband, is an essential overview to what is happening in that space. And, again, suggests the that the focus from the likes commentators at BusinessWeek is misplaced. More bandwidth does not mean the internet will turn into a couch-potato paradise. If you look at the trends, it's much more likely that more bandwidth will mean better communications--clearer signals, maybe more group interactions, maybe video, etc.

This is not to say that content won't play a role -- clearly, content played a role on the Web, just not the lead role. But it is to say that we shouldn't look to content to drive broadband adoption.

Now, there's one place where there's a big exception to this: among the drivers of broadband adoption, file-sharing of music is huge. Music, though, is not your typical "content." I would argue that recorded music consumption is as much about identity, and, thus, about communication, as it is about listening to the music itself. And that the trends you see in music swapping you won't see in film swapping, even when films are as easy to download. Think about audiobooks -- the audiobook industry isn't freaking out over people sharing audiobooks through KaZaA. Because, basically, people don't. (Yes, you can find audiobooks through KaZaA, but that's clearly not driving broadband acquisition). So, what's driving broadband here is still less about "content" and more about identity, communication, source material for playlists, mix CDs, etc. etc.

Oh. And games. I almost forgot to mention games. Games will stimulate broadband adoption. But not for the "game" aspect (naturally), but for massively-multiplayer aspect. Which is, natch, another form of communication.

Posted by peterme at 06:22 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Web - It's Not Just For Snippets Any More

A common lament about the Web is that it favors briefer chunks of writing, that it doesn't support the rigorous development of a thesis. That web readers just "scan" over articles, and don't really engage with subject matter.

This is patently untrue. And it's nice that I only have to point to one contradictory example that demonstrates the fallacy.

Last week I wrote about Landscapes of Capital, a website that takes a semiotic approach to "reading" advertising campaigns for high technology and finance. In the previous post, I discussed my appreciation of the site's content. Here, I'll address some of the formal aspects of the site, and why I think it's a bellwether of both academic and Web discourse.

From what I've seen, academia has been regrettably slow to embrace the Web. Since I've been writing this blog, I've conducted research that regularly carries me into the ".edu" domain. And by-and-large, what you see are web versions of print essays, with little to no attempt to capitalize on the Web's multimedia or hypertextual capabilities. From what I gather, students and professors have little external incentive to publish *for* the Web, so, understandably, their efforts focus on journals and books, media recognized by The Establishment as worthwhile.

This means that academics must look within for motivation, to realize that the Web is the optimal medium for presenting their ideas, and to hell with whether or not it helps them get tenure. And the authors of Landscapes of Capital, Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, and Noah Kersey, do this admirably.

Some elements of the website, and why they're important.

The heart of the site are the commercials under analysis. I've taken enough film classes to have the experience of reading books about film, which might include stills, but are frustrating because you can't watch the scene under discussion. Landscapes of Capital allows readers to see the ads in the context of their analysis.

It's also fantastic that the entire corpus of video upon which this analysis rests is made available through "the database.". Offering source material means others can conduct their own deconstruction. (Unfortunately, the interface to the database is abysmal. Too bad it's not browseable through Flamenco.)

Amount of Material
There are something on the order of 185 distinct pages on the site, suggesting that the size of manuscript is akin to that of a published book. This flies against the convention that the Web is better for brief material. And I can tell you that reading this stuff is not taxing -- the combination of words, images, and video kept me engaged for pages on end -- I probably spent a good hour or so when I first came across it.

One thing I find refreshing is that, at least as of yet, the authors haven't sought to turn this into a book, which, I would imagine, would be more lucrative for them. Their job, I guess, is just to publish this kind of material. They're paid to do so by their universities, so how cool is it that they've done so in a way that others can benefit for free?

It also made me realize that if they had "only" 85 pages worth of material, a web site would make even *more* sense, because manuscripts that brief are insufficient to warrant the printing of a book. (And are too long to be a chapter in a collection.)

Hypertext and Navigation
The authors took advantage not only of the multimedia capabilities, but also of the hypertextual possibliities. While there is a core linear path through the material, there are a variety of ways to approach the work differently. The "Map" presents the main sections in a circle, suggesting that there's not necessarily an appropriate order, and encouraging exploration.

Other pages feature associative linking. In Decontextualized Labor, the picture of the hard hat and the briefcase link to the "signifying clusters" page about work, which presents a series of signifiers and their meanings.

The promise of hypertext notwithstanding, I found this hierarchical index the most helpful tool for getting around the site.

Still, It Could Be Better
This is an excellent attempt at hyperlinked multimedia. How could it be improved?

Some usability would help. The text buttons on the left side of the home page ("About This Project", "About the Icons", etc.), don't take you to a new page when clicked, which is expected. They change the text in the paragraph below the main picture. It took me quite a while of clicking on "About the Authors" to realize what was going on.

More intertwingling. The aforementioned linking to signifying clusters turns out to be a rare use of the associative link. This material screams out for such interconnectedness in it's authorship.

Recognizing the outside world. I don't think there are any links to any resources outside of the purview of this project. Doubtless there are other resources, be they source material, analyses, glossaries, or whathaveyou, that could help extend what is being discussed here. Similarly, this is the kind of site that's begging for annotation through some form of discussion boards.

But, In All, It's Pretty Great
One of my recurring laments is that there hasn't been a Web project that measures up to the best CD-ROMs that were produced by The Voyager Company. For me the standard-bearer is Who Built America? , which was little more than a multimedia history textbook. But it was so smartly produced, and the source material (text, audio, and video) was so rich, that it really showed the promise of the medium.

Now, it's clear that the Web hasn't really developed a solid business model to emulate what we had with CD-ROMs back in the day. (Frankly, CD-ROMs didn't have a really solid business model, but that's a separate story). Which suggests that until people are willing to pay for deep, rich, thoughtful content, it will be up to the academics and others who are "funded" to forge new ground in Web-based informative discourse. Landscapes of Capital might be the first site I've seen to suggest the promise that we began exploring 10 years ago on CD-ROM. I hope this isn't an aberrant blip, but truly a step forward.

Some Googling turned up the Who Built America? CD-ROMs. I hadn't realized a second one had been completed; it's disappointing that it's not a website.

Who Built America? was produced by the American Social History Project, whose site has resources worth clicking around.

I was also lead to the Center for History and New Media, a promising program out of George Mason University, with links to all kinds of interactive history presentations.

My primary frustration with all these sites is consistently poor usability for the sake of doing something "different". Let's innovate where appropriate, okay?

Oh, and it looks like Bob Stein has reclaimed "". And that Learn Tech, who owned the Voyager brand, is now out of business. I'm curious as to what will happen next.

Posted by peterme at 04:28 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

September 07, 2003

Better than Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND is among his more disappointing efforts. A clunky romance played with a background of cheap psychobabble, it's only entertainment being the admittedly hackneyed dream sequence crafted with Salvador Dali.

Happily, the memory of that film can now be replaced with the identically titled documentary, which follows 8 contestants as they make their way to the 1999 National Spelling Bee. It's an excellent work, demonstrating yet again that the most interesting work in film right now is happening in documentary.

I'll refrain from offering much of a review, as you can read what people about think about this film all over the net. Suffice to say you should see it -- it's exciting, engaging, and endearing. The children all have something worth seeing, and you'll find yourself biting your nails throughout the scenes of the finals.

I spent some time this morning Googling the various featured spellers, and found some interesting stuff.

A news article catching up with Emily, Nupur, Angela, and April.

The speller I rooted most for is Angela Arenivar, the awkwardly bright daughter of Mexican illegal immigrants. It's perhap cliched to say this, the story of her and her family is a deeply American one, the parents struggling to provide a better life for their children, but never themselves assmilating, the children free to make their own way through their own merits.

Angela was raised in a Perryton,TX which, considering Amarillo is the nearest big city, must resemble the sticks. Calling itself "The Wheatheart of the Nation", it appears to be primarily an industrial and agricultural town, probably economically depressed. So it was with some pleasure that through Google I found out that the school newspaper for which Angela was editor-in-chief, El Sombrero, won a National Scholastic Press Award for Online Pacemaker (essentially, best student paper web site), an honor shared with school papers in San Jose, CA and Riverside, CA, both of which are communities far better off than Perryton. (And El Sombrero beat out papers from Palo Alto and San Francisco, too).

Here's an interview with Angela from earlier this year.

April DeGideo, the stonefaced pessimist with the Bunker-like family, was celebrated in her home town when the film opened there. (Scroll down a bit).

Nupur Lala is now 18 and in Arkansas.

An interesting look into some accomplishments of Neil Kadakia and his big sister Shivani.

Posted by peterme at 01:40 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack


See Me Travel
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
Archives from June 13, 2001 to January 2003
Archives from before June 13, 2001
Recent Entries
Thinking About Broadband
The Web - It's Not Just For Snippets Any More
Better than Hitchcock
Subscribe to my feed:
Powered by
Movable Type 3.2