Jeff Cole has over a quarter century of experience in studying and analyzing communication technology, policy issues and media’s influence on society and individuals’ lives.
He has held several significant positions during his years in academia. At UCLA he served as Director of the Center for Communication Policy within the Anderson Graduate School of Management. During the 1990s he has also held the role of Principal Investigator of the Network Television Violence Monitoring Project, the results of which were reported to Congress and the nation. He has testified to Congress, spoken at over 200 conferences; and advises governments and reputable corporations. In 2004 he joined USC to serve as the Director of the Center for the Digital Future.
His research endeavor began in 2000 at UCLA and has continued, at USC, to track how the internet is transforming the lives of individuals and societies. The World Internet Project is a long-term longitudinal look at the effects computers and Internet technology on all aspects of society involving more than 30 countries.
Most recently he has been reported for saying newspapers are dead, or will be dead, within 5 years. And at Ad:Tech San Francisco last week, he expressed his educated guess that Facebook will have reached its peak and be deteriorating in 5 years. Additional insights from Dr. Cole are that the iPad will continue to grow its user base even after 2015 when the Android tablet is rumored to finally begin inhibiting the iPad’s 50% market share.
I may be in a program about social media, but in many ways, I’m an old-fashioned guy. I wear a wind-up watch from the 1940s. My favorite movie stars and musicians are dead. I ride a horse to do daily chores. I send telegraphs instead of emails. And screw modern medicine.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I have long been a purist when it comes to music. I mean, I have a vintage tube amplifier in my living room and I listen to vinyl.
So I surprised even myself when I decided to try Mog, a music-streaming service which allows me to listen to a vast library of music wherever and whenever I want: through my computer, iPhone or internet connected TV. I will never stop buying physical records, but I am now convinced by all the hype about music moving to the cloud.
The times they are a-becoming different.
Let me start by explaining that I’ve never understood the appeal of iTunes. I mean, if I am going to shell out twelve bucks or more for an album, I want to physically own that album: to be able to look through the book, hold the disc, file the album neatly on my shelf or even use it as a frisbee if I so please. Sorry, paying to own a collection of digital files just holds no appeal to me.
But music subscription services make sense: you rent, not buy. With the best of these services, you can listen to almost any song imaginable wherever and whenever you want, all for one monthly fee, like Netflix.
You can be on a bus and hear someone rave about the newest Beach House album, and next thing you know you’re listening to it. And if you think it’s pretentious, hipster crap (FYI: it’s not), you’re in luck because you haven’t bought it.
Here are some of the best options:
If you read tech blogs, you’ve heard about Spotify. This is the service that got me interested in the whole idea of streaming music. It features highest quality streaming and a vast catalog.
Unfortunately, it’s only available in the UK and parts of western Europe. I thought they’d let me sign up since my name is Gareth McGahey Wilson. But, alas, they check your IP address, not just how Anglo your name sounds.
What makes the service unique is that users can stream songs in the catalog on demand for free, with periodic advertisements interspersed in your play list.
However, in what must be a major disappointment to our European brethren, starting May 1 of this year, there are some pretty hefty restrictions on how much content a non-paying user can stream without ponying up some pounds or euros.
Even before these changes, users had to pay a subscription fee to listen on mobile devices. But I still wish we had this available stateside.
Grooveshark is the closest service to Spotify available in the US. Users can listen to a very impressive selection of music for free through a web browser.
The catch is that the legality of the site is in dispute. EMI sued them in 2009. The label ended up settling and granted Grooveshark the rights to stream their catalog legally. But Grooveshark has no such deal with other labels.
Grooveshark has been sued by Universal and even by Pink Floyd. And if they’re pissing off the Floyd, they’re probably doing something wrong. (UPDATE: Ok, ok, actually PF sued EMI and EMI subsequently deleted all PF songs from Grooveshark. Still, no Atom Heart Mother?).
A $10 subscription fee allows users to listen on mobile devices. But there is no iPhone app and even Google recently removed the app from it’s Android store recently. So, unless you’re rocking Symbian, this is not really a viable option.
As I have already gushed, I love this service and am seriously considering forking over 9.99 a month to continue using it. The catalog is vast. New music is uploaded as it comes out. The iPhone app has a beautiful interface and the steaming is high quality.
Also, you can download music for offline listening through the app. The only downside is that all these files are lost if you cancel your subscription.
There are many other options out there, too. Rhapsody pioneered the music subscription service, but their library is light on indie bands and their app seems a lot clunkier than Mog. Sony just released a service called Qriocity, but there are no mobile apps available. There is also Rdio which seem pretty good. But as far as I’m concerned, for us Yankees, Mog is the clear winner.
All in all, I am not ready to throw away my record collection. But I am definitely ready to ditch iTunes. At least until they get their act together and take a stairway to heaven…uh, the cloud, that is.
Reading this book reminded me a lot of reading Paul Graham’s article “The Other Road Ahead.” Both pieces are a bit on the older side, but posit theories and observe and report on trends that have become essential to today’s internet landscape. In Graham’s piece it was the rise of cloud computing and SAAS, for Chris Anderson it’s the demise of the hit.
Anderson is best known as the Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine. In his role as tech reporter and trendspotter he noticed a certain fracturing in the modern market and the rise of specialty items and niche entertainment choices. As the cost of creating, storing, and distributing content has reached nearly zero there has been an explosion of available products. But what’s more interesting is that the demand for these products is also exploding.
In the October 2004 issue he published an article called “The Long Tail” which was developed into this book (of the same name). It was first published in 2006 and updated in 2008.
The crux of the book is best demonstrated in these three graphs:
They are a bit hard to read at this scale (click through for a slightly better size), but essentially they demonstrate three things:
- While the greatest demand (here measured in play-count on the music subscription streaming service Rhapsody) is for a relatively small number of products, there is still some demand for even the least popular product–the tail never reaches zero.
- Online retailers can offer infinitely more products than physical stores (as there is nearly no additional cost to take on niche products in addition to the bestsellers.)
- Online services are making real money by offering products that are impossible to carry in brick-and-mortar stores. (In Amazon’s case in this graphic, 57% of their sales are from products that are are beyond the scope of the average Barnes and Noble.)
The demand for niche products and the disparity between online and physical stores is only growing, there is huge potential to grow a business on the idea of “selling less of more”. The majority of Anderson’s examples are entertainment products, but he also notes identical patterns in services such as Google (“the Long Tail of advertising”), eBay (“the Long Tail of products and merchants”) and Wikipedia (“the Long Tail of knowledge”).
One of the most valuable chapters outlines “the secret to creating a thriving Long Tail business:
- Make everything available.
- Help me find it.”
Later in the book, Anderson puts particular emphasis on the power of a service’s recommendation engine, it’s not enough to just offer every conceivable thing, you have to guide your users “down the tail” and help them discover the niche content that is precisely relevant to their interests.
In the epilogue, he gives the perfect nutshell of the theory: “(A) if you can dramatically lower the cost of production and distribution, you can offer far more variety; (B) given more variety, and the tools to easily organize it for individual taste, people will increasingly revel in their differences rather than settling for their commonalities as in traditional blockbuster culture.”
Anderson is a gifted writer first and foremost–the book is well-written, inspiring, and is flush with real-life data and incredibly helpful graphs. While some of his examples can be repetitive, and the core ideas may be less revolutionary than they were five years ago, I found myself constantly relating them to more recent innovations and trends, as well as thinking about how they applied to my own work.
If you have a particular interest in the future of entertainment online (as I do) this is a must-read book. But, I would highly recommend that absolutely everyone take the time to read the original article from 2004, which is still available on Wired’s website.
You can also get tons more information about the Long Tail, and the audiobook of Anderson’s more recent book Free for free on his website: http://www.longtail.com/
Of course, Columbia has long been widely recognized as the preeminent training ground for journalists in the U.S.
Wilson, for his part, can take pride in knowing he is making progress with his journalism, communications and public relations agenda. He supervises one of the nation’s most complex and ambitious media-education programs.
Annenberg works in conjunction with such USC divisions as business, engineering and public diplomacy. Labeling USC Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism as a simply “journalism” school, in the traditional sense, diminishes what Wilson and his colleagues are trying to accomplish.
USC Annenberg’s Ernest Wilson
Wilson believes that journalism plus innovation equals entrepreneurship, and that word sums up what Annenberg is trying hard to preach to its roughly 2,200 students.
U.S. journalism schools have occasionally been accused — and occasionally with some justification — of being factories of irrelevance. They hired professors who rhapsodized about their good old days in journalism, failed to keep up with the ever-changing technology — which is always going to be the driver in the communications industry — and minimally prepared their graduates for the real world.
Wilson is wise to put the accent on entrepreneurship. Considering how many magazines and newspapers have gone belly-up lately, it’s worth the effort to retrain Annenberg students for the 21st century. “We’re not just training our students for jobs that won’t exist in five years,” Wilson said. “We need people who can connect the dots.
“Five years from now, if we do this right,” Wilson said, “we can establish a new set of competencies for the digital age. Our graduates can go to work for Cisco /quotes/comstock/15*!csco/quotes/nls/csco (CSCO 17.03, -0.14, -0.82%) or the government of China or the World Bank or a school in South Central LA. All of them would understand that communications is at the center. The biggest export in the U.S. economy is content.”
Investing in innovation
Wilson, who welcomes participation from the private sector, instituted the Innovator in Residence program at Annenberg’s Innovation Lab, which encourages student collaboration with public and corporate entities. Levi Strauss, IBM /quotes/comstock/13*!ibm/quotes/nls/ibm (IBM 166.21, -0.13, -0.08%) Verizon /quotes/comstock/13*!vz/quotes/nls/vz (VZ 37.85, -0.02, -0.05%) , Mattel /quotes/comstock/15*!mat/quotes/nls/mat (MAT 26.80, +1.06, +4.12%) , DirecTV /quotes/comstock/15*!dtv/quotes/nls/dtv (DTV 46.89, +0.29, +0.62%) and Intel /quotes/comstock/15*!intc/quotes/nls/intc (INTC 19.75, +0.17, +0.87%) are among the corporate sponsors of the Innovation Lab.
One application was to use the raw data about Levi Strauss’s 4 million Facebook friends and advise the company on how it could improve its marketing and social media. Some might fret that the school has too cozy a relationship with its sponsors and corporate America. But Annenberg officials would counter that their methods give students greater access jobs after they graduate.
Apps for picking paint colors
Smartphone apps have hit the home improvement world. WSJ’s Gwendolyn Bounds shows digits a variety of apps that help users pick out paint colors.
At the same time, it’s possible that Wilson wants to use this kind of a platform to gain stature for the school. Historically, USC Angeles has not been mentioned in the same breath as J-school kingpins like Columbia and Northwestern.
Since arriving at Annenberg in 2007, Wilson’s dedication to entrepreneurial training has rubbed off.
“Ernie has been a real wonderful gift to Annenberg, in the sense that he is a great manager,” said Innovation Lab director Jonathan Taplin. “He takes chances and gives you the ability to go and try and make things happen.” Read more about the Innovation Lab.
“Universities are normally very bureaucratic,” Taplin observed. “But he gave me the go-ahead to make the Innovation Lab happen last May and we had it up and running in August. That’s unheard of, in university-time.”
Whether or not the Annenberg Innovation Lab becomes a breeding ground for another Silicon Valley any time soon, I noticed one bit of progress. Annenberg students sport a can-do spirit that’s sorely missing in media nowadays.
I observed a distinct lack of jaded people at the first annual Annenberg Innovation Lab Conference two weeks ago on the USC campus. USC students participated in the Lab’s Crunch Design Challenge. The winning projects — each of which was awarded $3,000 — were declared in four categories: the Future of eBooks, Transmedia Storytelling, Community Platforms and Tools & Applications.
It was reassuring to see enthusiastic students not talking about the end of the media — which is often the case with members of the journalism establishment. At Annenberg, they see a future in the media biz.
But Wilson doesn’t expect any bouquets. “A leader’s job is to inspire people. My colleagues stand up every morning and say, ‘Innovate or die.’ But no one has the right answer by himself. If someone says that, I’d run screaming from the room.”
The same can be said for journalism programs: innovate or die. With the proliferation of blogs today, young journalists can gain experience and a following without paying high tuitions of such schools as USC.
Wilson recognizes, “what we’re trying to do [at Annenberg] is not unique. We’re all trying to figure out this crazy thing,” he said of the digital revolution in American life.
“Back there,” he said of the New York-Washington journalism establishment, “people are always sounding the death knell of democracy and values. But my kids are inventing the future and we’re helping them. They’re excited. For them this is the best of times — and how cool is that?”
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Where do you think the next Silicon Valley-style innovation will come from?
Jon Friedman is a senior columnist for MarketWatch in New York.
Texture — Human Expression in the Age of Communications Overload
By Richard H.R. Harper
As everyone in this class knows, we’re living in an age of a whole lotta communications. We’ve got emails, IMs, tweets, calls, posts, and more to handle. Now whether you believe you’re under the strain of a “communications overload” or just handling 21st century life, it’s a topic we can relate to and so it piqued my curiosity enough to give this book a read.
I was expecting a book that takes a real hands-on, direct approach to modern communications and how to best handle them efficiently and effectively…from the perspective of a consumer as well as a content-producer. I didn’t really get that. The book take a much more conceptual, abstract point of view and focuses not so much on the particular modes of communications and strategy in using them, buy more the human element of communications. The author looks at what drives us to communicate — be it through a hand-written letter or a quick Facebook post — and the impact of those communications. A central theme of the book is why we seek out so many (new) ways to communicate despite complaining of the burdens of communications. Harper stresses the goal of communicatoins should not be efficiency, but rather enriching the human experience and social bonds.
While I certainly can’t call this my favorite book, it was an interesting read. The author is well-read and versed in his field, but hampers readability and flow in this book by citing or referencing other authors/works seemingly in every other sentence. “See this” and “See that” is great, but I’d rather have the author give me the relevant reference paraphrased and then make a point. I also caught a couple typos…maybe that’s only in my Kindle edition of the book, but that’s still something that should have been weeded out.
Now, back to your regular barrage of digital bits and messages.
Community Round Up
This weekend I was chatting with a friend. She and I have known each other for over 35 years and shared tears of joy at each other’s weddings as well as celebrated with laughter and drinks when our divorces were final!
My friend is single and wants to find a male companion that she can talk to, attend a play or go out to dinner with. She is not alone in her request, as I have heard the same words from both my male and female friends consistently for the past three years. It has been difficult for everyone to navigate through the dating arena especially if you have been married.
As I was listening to her I started thinking about my blogging homework assignment. I decided to take a look at the online dating industry. It helped that she mentioned that a mutual friend of ours had just joined eharmony.com. Also our friend Lisa was still excited about reconnecting with a high school sweetheart on Facebook the day before.
Most social networking sites initially have difficulty generating revenue; take Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. In fact they were started with venture capital funds with the hopes of selling the site for millions later. This business strategy worked for MySpace and both Facebook and Twitter are exploring different revenue models with ads and technology sharing.
The social networking of online dating is a billion dollar business. Some common online dating sites are; Match.com, eharmony.com, Blacksingles.com, Spark.com and Christianmingle.com.
Why is online dating a billion dollar industry? Simple, people want and need other people. People are willing to pay to meet someone. Whether the user is looking for companionship, marriage, dating or just sex, online makes it easier to connect. Setting up profile and loading a photo is easy and it can be done from the comfort of a person’s home. To search and browse profiles on these sites are often free, but users then have to pay to make a connection. Many sites offer coupons and discounted annual memberships, but on the average membership fees range from $25 to $60 per month.
One of my favorite songs is “People” by Barbara Streisand. The meaning of the song is basically that people who do not cut themselves off from society or the love of others are “the luckiest people in the world.” It is pretty clear that the millions of users of these online dating services want to get lucky!