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Every Download Is Sacred

June 10, 2009 1 comment
People's tastes are changing.

People's tastes are changing.

An excellent blog post appeared in the Guardian newspaper entitled “Are Downloads Really Killing Music? Or Is It Something Else?“, where it was stated:

But the reality is that nowadays, one can choose between a game costing £40 that will last weeks, or a £10 CD with two great tracks and eight dud ones. I think a lot of people are choosing the game – and downloading the two tracks. That’s real discretion in spending. It’s hurting the music industry, sure. But let’s not cloud the argument with false claims about downloads.

The change in culture away from music has to do with technology and a fall in the quality in musical production.

The advantage of progams like Amarok, iTunes and other music collection software is that you can rate your songs and delete the rubbish that you would otherwise have to get out of your sofa and skip. You can set music for your mood, or the time of day, or the kinds of people who happen to be visiting. Also, you can easily share your stuff. It’s just so easy to stick a CD in the drive and soak up the tracks in lossless quality and pass them on. Music has become cheap, like the framed posters you can get at the two-dollar shop.

When the printing press was invented, the cost of obtaining a book plummeted (probably by a hundred times), since it no longer needed to be written by hand. When the Internet reached prevalence, the underlying cost of producing the electronic form of a novel plummeted (easily by a hundred times). You want someone to make an illuminated manuscript of the Harry Potter series? It’ll cost you many thousands, if you can find someone who can do it. The corollary is that since text is so easy to publish now, there’s an awful lot of cheap rubbish about (you’re reading it, for example). It’s no longer worth paying for, yet a lot of it is very good.

The same is for music. Most of it now is electronic. No one has to be able to sing in tune, voices are modulated and modified and forced so that they fit the rhythm and melody which itself was constructed in an electronic composing suite. A lot of music has no live instruments whatsoever. The creative quality of most of the music that is produced by the major record labels has a low creative quality. Mediocrity abounds. It’s not worth paying for.

Everybody can see that the nature of the music business is changing, but still the recording industry cannot come to terms with this fact. Instead, it keeps churning out the same garbage and expects people to pay top dollar for twenty cents-worth of plastic. People are better off buying a blank CD and putting something worthwhile on it.

In the future, music will arise from a community of enthusiasts and will be, largely, free. The best musicians and the best productions will be commissioned now and again to create works for a particular piece of entertainment, like a film or software. There will still be live performers, and if anything, this will be the mainstay of music. The recording companies ought to accept this and move on.

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Web 3.0: Back to the Future?

Physical map of the Internet

Physical map of the Internet

Internet usage is soaring around the world, threatening aspects of Google and YouTube’s business model, aimed at generating advertising revenue from otherwise free content. In particular, increasing demand for video downloads is driving up infrastructure costs, through server upgrades and energy usage. Similar news has appeared for Yahoo, which is looking down the barrel of having to announce profit warnings and staff cuts.

What does this mean for video over the web, or the Internet as a whole? It means, at this point, that the concept of centralized, mass distribution of information is inefficient and may break a company that tries to profit from it.

It’s great news, actually. The biggest threat to the Internet, the very thing the Internet was designed to counteract, is the centralization of information. If the only way to find something on the net is to go through a monolithic organization, the entire world’s perception of what is available can be controlled by that organization. This, after all, is the commercial model which Google and friends are ultimately geared towards, yet they are now threatened by their own weight.

In contrast, the distributed model of information storage makes all the sense in the world. If something is timely and interesting, it will have a broader audience. A peer to peer network reflects this by an increased number of seeders. As a result, the access of the more popular information becomes faster as the load on any single source is lessened. The beauty of this system is that, since the information is stored on thousands, even millions of computers worldwide, that information cannot be obliterated with any ease.

The role remains for websites to continue to offer summaries and lists of new items, but the items themselves need to be set free into the community to live or perish, depending on their merit, as judged by the viewers themselves. Alternatively, even this could become an obsolete model, as peer to peer networks could be developed to provide a meaningful search capability, especially if latency times decrease.

The future for the Internet will ultimately be determined by what is the most efficient way forward. Before the Internet, in the early days of home computing where modems, if any, were 300 baud (and too slow for anything more than text transmissions), files were shared on floppy disks. As slow as it was, this was still an efficient method of distribution, as each computer could make multiple copies of a disk, or the disk could make a trip to dozens of homes. Sharing a game or a document was quite easy, perhaps even easier then than it is now. It is fair to predict that, with the maturation of peer to peer networking, that the decentralized information sharing model will usurp the Google monolith and set information free once more.

I, for one, welcome our decentralized overlords.