Jury Duty, iPhones and Personal TV Programming

10 08 2008
My book, The Lean Forward Moment, coming in December (this is not the real cover, its only a mockup)

My book, The Lean Forward Moment, coming in December (this is not the real cover, it's only a mockup)

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on the blog, an absence caused primarily by an upcoming deadline on my December book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, editing a documentary called RIVERS, and posting on another blog, Film Industry Bloggers. But two recent events, as well as a comment on the podcast Slate’s Political Gabfest, have combined to prod me into some thoughts about where we’re moving towards as media makers and consumers.

I recently sat on a preliminary panel for jury duty selection at my local courthouse in Los Angeles (a courthouse that was so satellite, so small, that it didn’t have a place to eat, if you didn’t count the hallway by the vending machine).

I never got onto a jury — they just didn’t need anyone that day — but I noticed something interesting in the waiting room. Lined up along one wall were a series of computers which were, we were told, put there so we could “play on the web” while we passed the time waiting to not be called onto a jury.  Now, that’s interesting in and of itself, since I remember when they could not have cared less if you were bored to tears.  (“Bring a book or a newspaper and read ferchrissakes!”). So, we can chalk one up for government advancement into the 21st century.

Of importance to this story was that fact that each and every one of the computers was broken. Every one (there were three or four) had a sign on its monitor explaining that the computer wasn’t working and “We apologize for any inconvenience.” So we can erase the chalk mark that I gave government for its 21st century advancement.

But what was really interesting to me is that not a single one of the 40 or so people in the room cared one bit about not being able to get onto the computers. Not one person complained.

You can ascribe that to several reasons. First, there were two people there who had brought their own laptops and were typing away the entire day. But that’s only two people. Second, you could say that most people aren’t Internet savvy enough to care, and they were perfectly happy to read their books or papers.

However, when I looked around the room, it became obvious to me that the largest reason why people didn’t care if the computers worked or not was that they were connecting online anyway. They were just doing it on their cell phones.

Nearly every single person in the room was texting, or surfing or listening to their iPods. Ironically, I was one of the few people actually reading a book (I didn’t bring my laptop for various reasons and my Treo was just a completely painful experience for surfing online).

No one cared about the broken computers because they already had all the computer they needed in a tiny little package in their purses or their pockets.

Then, a few weeks later, when my Treo 650 stopped being able to email anyone, I finally caved in and joined the second week line at the local Apple Store and got myself an iPhone 3G. Now, I live in Los Angeles where there is a lot of 3G service available (except, ironically, in a number of rooms in my house) so my experience might differ from yours. But this phone has drastically transformed the way I connect online. It is now as easy to go onto a webpage on my phone (though somewhat slower) as it is when I’m sitting in front of my computer.

The repercussions of this are huge. In the first few weeks of owning my iPhone, I’ve used it for maps, movie times, restaurant recommendations, playing Sudoku, reading the New York Times, getting weather and sports scores, and much more — all without going into the Safari browser that comes built into the phone. With Apple’s App Store for the iPhone selling and giving away a ton of separate appplications for the “Jesus Phone”, it has not only gotten possible to surf the web easily on your phone, but to do it with separate apps, something that doesn’t exist as ubiquitously on your very own computer where most applications are built to run inside your web browser (Firefox, Opera, Safari or — gasp — Internet Explorer).

This isn’t a small paradigm shift for us here in the United States. In much of the rest of the world, in places that aren’t hamstrung by conflicting cell phone standards, consumers are already using the web on their portable devices (usually cel phones) and are using it for more things as each month goes on. It’s great for the users and a bonanza for those smart and well-connected enough to provide the content.

John Dickerson, on Slates Political Gabest this week talked about the Olympics and the web.

John Dickerson, on Slate's Political Gabest this week, talked about the Olympics and the web.

Then, there was an interesting comment on this week’s Slate’s Political Gabfest, Slate Magazine’s always interesting three-person podcast examining political issues of the week.  John Dickerson, asked for  comments about the start of the Beijing Olympics, made the statement that with the 302 events being run this year, he felt that this event was ideally suited for the web. His implication was that it was no longer necessary for him to watch endless hours of television to get to the three or four events that he was interested in.

True that.

For all of you who aren’t as interested in archery as you are in kayaking, this is a godsend. (By the way, the kayak competitions start on August 11th and run through the 17th, but NBC won’t tell you just when that sport is on — it’s jumbled together with the rest of its coverage on its website) It is now possible to hone in on just what interests you in the events, and to surf around the rest of them if you want to discover other fun things.

Dickerson, however, missed the larger implications of his statement because he is a political analyst and not a techie hack like me. The brilliance of this thought process comes when NBC starts to deliver the content that you want directly to you (not at this Olympics, sadly). If you like kayaking, you’ll click on that select box and get news, audio and video of those events sent to you in discrete packages. And get charged a small amount for it.

This is the kind of programming that companies like U-Verse (the AT&T computer Video on Demand service), and set top boxes like the Apple TV, are just poised to deliver.

I’ve often said that services like Tivo have blown away the concept of television networks. Most people who have services like these can program their boxes to find the content they like and play it back for them whenever they want without every knowing where and when it originally “aired”. Except for the station ID bug down in the bottom right of the screen and the few commercials for other network programming that we don’t skip over, most of us have no idea what network the show was originally broadcast on and even less sense of when it ran. This is breaking down the concept of network loyalty.

The concept of personal delivery of sports (and other) events takes it one step further. Not only will you not care where and when the event originally ran, but you won’t give a rat’s behind about any of the surrounding events unless you want to care. You’ll get more complete coverage of the events that matter to you, rather than smaller bites of all of the events.

The idea of smorgasboard programming, where cable users can select just what channels they want rather than buy into packages, scares the hell out of most cable operators and small channel providers. They correctly assume that, in this model, many of the smaller stations would lose most of their perceived viewers and shrivel up and die. I don’t disagree with this except to note that this is going to happen anyway. Cable networks can already determine which channels you are watching and which you aren’t. Services like U-Verse are only exacerbating that. How long will it be before those networks that don’t attract many viewers are faced with the same fate, as programmers realize that they’re carrying a network that attracts only six model airplane builders?

But, I’d gladly pay for channels that come with the programming that I want. And, to take this back to its starting point, I’d gladly pay for that to come to me on my iPhone. I already receive sports score on my phone now — Sportacular is a great application. If developer Jeff Hamilton isn’t already working on business partnerships that will enable the user to connect that to video playback of the events, then he’s dumber than a brick. It is a completely directed, niche, market.

Total Personal Programming. That’s where you should invest your venture capital money everyone, okay?

Wordle Tells All, Sees All

12 07 2008

Jonathan Feinberg, over at Wordle, has created an intriguing device (he calls it a “toy” but I’d use that word only in the sense that people once called computers “toys”) which creates a word cloud that includes most of the words from any text you input (you can paste in text, give it a URL of a web page, or put in a del.isio.us user name). [To the left is the Wordle for my blog without this new post.]

It then creates one of those frequency cloud pictures that shows what words you’ve used, with the size of word reflecting how often it was used in that text.

At first glance, you might think it was a toy — someone posted one called love iphone/hate facebook — but already a few interesting clouds have turned up. There’s one called “Things i want to say to you, but can’t” which features such words as chance, life, don’t and (of course) love.” That one feels almost as revelatory as PostSecret.

There’s another one on today (so many get posted that you’re never going to find these easily unless I give you URL, since Jonathan doesn’t give any sort of databasing search tool), called “What did YOU wear today?’ and another one which was put up by Wired on people’s thoughts on the iPhone.

The possibilities are tremendous — as a way of visually representing the way people are thinking at any given moment. Here, for instance in the Wordle for an article on today’s Huffington Post about Karl Rove (the link to the original article is here). The largest words seem to be Obama, government, money and Shiite. A recent Washington Post column by Dana Milbank on Rove creates a different Wordle with the biggest words being Rove, Karl, House and travesty (the original article can be found here). An article from conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, has this Wordle, with the biggest words read, rest and post.

Helpfully, Wordle will remove common words (like “the” and “and”) if you ask it to, so you can straight for the content and you can get deeper into the text’s actual meanings.

The holy grail of marketing on the Web is measuring its readers. The next step after that is making sense of what you measure. Wordle is an interesting way of making that “sense” more visible.

By the way, you can click here to see the Wordle for this blog with this new post.

Cell Phone Content Creation

20 04 2008

Nokia phone (Courtesy letsgodigital)Tomorrow morning, I’m off to Atlanta to take part in a very very cool project with Nokia, Verizon and the Center For Disease Control (CDC) and it makes me think of Robert Scoble.

Whoa, let me explain.

At this year’s World Economic Conference in Davos, Robert Scoble took his Nokia N95 camera and combined it with qik.com software to create a live Web stream that could be seen by anyone on the web. In a discussion with John C. Dvorak on Tech5 on January 31, 2008, Scoble talks about how streaming the interviews that he did there live, at a remarkably low cost, enabled him to field questions from his web viewers that he could turn around and ask his own interviewees. He wasn’t breaking news live (though it would have been possible) but he was certainly creating more democratized interaction between the attendees at Davos and Scoble’s own viewers/listeners

That’s actually one small use for the technology. What I’m doing in Atlanta is more akin to news gathering.

I’ll be working as a remote producer with a group of students who will be out in the streets of Atlanta, creating content for a PSA (Public Service Announcement) for AIDS Awareness Day. The three students in my team (there will be five teams altogether) will have spent Tuesday in an all-day session with representatives from the CDC, as well develop a few PSAs for them to shoot on Wednesday. Then, as they shoot them, they will send them back to me and a student editor, who will begin editing them together. By 7pm that night, the hope is to have 2-3 PSAs from each of the five teams, that will be complete and ready to put onto Verizon’s network, so everyone in all of the groups can see them.

We’re calling them Personal PSAs (PPSAs) because of the intimate nature of their capture and their cell phone distribution mechanism.

Read the rest of this entry »

New iPhone memory models. D’oh

5 02 2008

Apple introduced today some new iPhone and iPodTouch models which doubles the amount of memory inside the devices at a cost of $100 more.

The revolutionary iPhone now comes in a new 16GB model for $499, joining the 8GB model for $399. iPod touch now comes in a 32GB model for $499, joining the 16GB model for $399 and the 8GB model for $299.

Let’s put it this way — you can get 8Gb of memory for $100, or you can get 16Gb for $100. Hmmm, let me think.

But, perhaps, the genius comment of all times comes from their iPod marketing guy:

“For some users, there’s never enough memory,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide iPod and iPhone Product Marketing. “Now people can enjoy even more of their music, photos and videos on the most revolutionary mobile phone and best Wi-Fi mobile device in the world.”

“Never enough memory.”

Can I quote Homer Simpson? D’OH!!

Well, here’s how I look at it. There has been a lot of talk, some of it fueled by Apple, the iPhone is the next wave of computing — super portable computing. Apple is releasing their own SDK (software development kit) and managing an application approval process, starting this month.

OS X is now on a phone!!!

The only problem is that there isn’t enough memory on the thing to load up all of the applications that I need. If I’m going to want to move much of my computing over to the iPhone, then I’m going to want to able to do word processing, spreadsheets, presentations (pretty much the entire iWork suite) along with the obvious music and video stuff.  I don’t always need to have them all open at once (though we’ve been trained to expect that on our laptops and desktops), but I need them on my hard drive.

So, I need all of those apps and a reliable phone.

How can I possibly do that, and remain sane, if there’s only 16Gb — max — of drive space in the damned thing. I can’t figure out how to trim the fat off of my big ol’ hard drive by that much. I need too much.

In fact, aside from the mismatch in memory prices between the iPhone and the Touch, thinking that 16Gb is going to be enough for the iPhone user to do work and play with is just plain “stick-your-head-in-the-sand” crazy (though it may be the “death-by-a-thousand-cuts-capitalism”). Obviously, this is an attempt to freshen up the line without doing very much, since iPhone users from last June would hit the roof if too much was improved in the phone and not made available to them because of hardware issues. But, surely, they know that they’re going to have improve many things in the iPhone in order to have the device be a computer to sit alongside your desktop, even if that is an interim phase before the desktop goes away.

Using An iPhone as a TImecode Slate

25 12 2007

iPhone as timecode slateScott Simmons, over at The Editblog, has a cool post about how to use the iPhone as a timecode slate, for the really really really cheap among you producers out there (but who hire editors who can afford the iPhone).

Along the way, he dispenses a few nuggets of information about how to edit music videos which may be shot in low budget mode.

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Will It Blend?

23 07 2007

For those of you who haven’t seen the WILL IT BLEND series on YouTube, et al, here is the latest chapter in which Tom blends an iPhone!!

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