Archive for the ‘observation’ Category

Another face of media concentration?

June 10, 2008

I am not sure if many of the readers know, but my Masters’ thesis was on media industries dynamics. One of my original motivations to start looking at media industries was vast literature on media economics, particularly media concentration/conglomeration, i was exposed to during my undergraduate and graduate studies. In a super-simplistic way and in a nutshell, the common concern regarding the dynamics of media industries is that as time goes on there are fewer hands controlling the growing number of media outlets. Of course the actual picture is more complex and i should probably blog about it (and my thesis?) at some point.

However, the point of this post is different. Yesterday I read a Washington Post article about the shrinking membership of the Entertainment Software Association – an association of video/computer games producers. The fact of intra-industrial battles was not as interesting as the mention of merger discussions between Activision (Guitar Hero) and Vivendy (WoW). This news comes in a span of just a few months from EA’s (The Sims) attempts to take over Take-Two Interactive (Grand Theft Auto). Are we moving towards

I find it really interesting and tied to the debate over mass media ownership at large. Ironically, being a huge and rather fast growing industry, video games industries are gaining less attention compared to the mainstream media. At the same time, i think the cultural function of video games can be legitimately compared to that of the popular culture. As video games become a more prominent outlet for leisure time we can start asking similar questions about this industry as we were asking about other culture-related industries.

I think the link above will become even more obvious as the two industries continue moving towards each other. For example, not too long ago I read about an attempt to create an interactive movie based on the popular WoW. The idea is that it would combine elements of the game and users’ input with cinematography and it is a clear step towards merging the two domains.

Probably the combination of the two developments – conglomeration of the video-games industries and amalgamation of cultural outlets – prompted me to think about the WP article in terms of another expression of media concentration. What do you think?

Quickly glancing at OLPC

April 29, 2008

Quite a while ago i read this post about the rise of cheap computing solutions. In light of the growing critique of the OLPC project, it got me thinking that perhaps, by focusing on the details of this specific project we are overlooking some of its most important contributions.

OLPCJust three or four years ago OLPC was the only project explicitly targeting the developing world and the market for low cost, simple computers. Today, we have over 7 competing models targeting this very market (potentially more). As long as this competition continues we can expect better machines and lower prices in this segment. Perhaps that is good, since industry is probably better in taking care of the technical aspects (even if sometimes it needs a push, such as the OLPC project), leaving space for the educators and activists focusing on developing a decent educational infrastructure to utilize this technology.

The main critique of OLPC from the very beginning was that it should be an educational and not a technological project. And I agree that the technological solution alone is meaningless and the true potential for change lies in appropriate adoption framework, particularly when we talk about education. At the same time, I think that its contribution to the technological push should not be underestimated. Does it make any sense?

On an unrelated note, now you can also use Skype on XO computers. I think this is really cool, even though Skype has been recently loosing its quality.

(Images taken from laptop.org, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5.)

Sex and the City (and the new media)

February 27, 2008

I will probably have to explain in person later to all those who wonder why I know that, but the official trailer for Sex and the City (the movie) is out and it is available on YouTube. Now this is where it is getting interesting…

If you look at the related videos on that YouTube page you will something that I don’t think was possible even just 10 years ago. Together with the official trailer you can see links to many amateur videos featuring the actual shooting of the film in NYC. For example this:

and this:

I find it fascinating. The entire idea of movie marketing and creating a buzz around new and anticipated creations is getting here to whole new level. People are talking about it, trying to guess what is going on, and are gaining a peak into the unknown and yet so expected. Whether the creators want that or not, the ubiquity of digital video recording allows the fans and even random people who were passing in the area to become part of the buzz around the movie.

And there is apparently an entire blog dedicated to the process of movie creation (probably not only one). It has pictures, video clips, and commentary about the upcoming movie – most of which is generated by fans and the rest by the blog owner. The disclaimer on blog sais it is not affiliated with the movie or HBO and the domain ownership is routed back to Ontario, Canada. But thinking about this, nobody stops HBO from doing the same and encouraging similar behavior because after all it helps promoting their movie.

My brief observation of this incident made me thinking about the ongoing battle between the traditioal movie industry establishment and what is labeled as “new” media. I think it shows how in fact the two can coexist in a new type of culture. Not a type of culture where there are creators, people who are ripped off, and thieves of original content, but a type of culture where there are creators and their fans and the two coexist and feed each other (both creatively and financially). However it seems as if it will take a long time or a sudden shift in thinking (particularly by the industry) for this new types of culture to emerge. Anyhow, we live in interesting times…

Market analysis – studying the trends or setting them?

February 22, 2008

Recently I read a Ynet article (HE) on the future of digital photography in light of growing presence of mobile phones with embedded cameras. The basic argument of the article is that the growing numbers of mobile phones with embedded cameras and the constant improvement of image quality produced by these cameras, are inevitably leading to extinction of photo-cameras as we know them.

To a degree this is a typical article trying to analyze technological trends with a deterministic flavor. However, what really surprised me is the way they build support for their argument. The support comes from analysts who suggest various numbers that are supposedly illustrate the point. For example they point at Nokia as the largest producer of digital cameras who went from producing 100 million mobile phones with embedded cameras in 2005, to 140 million in 2006, to 170 million in 2007. All is good, but how do we know if the people are buying the phones because of the camera or because of the phone? In fact, today it is really difficult to buy a phone without an embedded camera. I even got one for free.

Another example the analysts provide is that in 2006 there were 750 million users of mobile phone cameras and 500 million users of regular digital cameras; in 2009 they expect 3 billion users of mobile phone cameras and 1.3 billion users of regular digital cameras. One thing that isn’t clear to me is what constitutes a user. I may be an anomaly, but since i got my phone with embedded camera a year and a half ago, i took something like 20 pictures with it, most of which stayed in the phone and will probably remain there (and i am a picture freak taking probably at least 100 pictures a month). My guts feeling is that everyone who owns a mobile phone with embedded camera was considered a user for the purposes of this analysis. I think their argument could be stronger if they would actually refer to the usage patterns of the various types of cameras. Alternatively, and i wonder if this is feasible, it could be really interesting to estimate the actual number of pictures taken by mobile phone cameras vs. regular digital cameras.

So, the question I had in my mind after reading this article was a more general one about the role of market analysts. To what degree their role is analyzing the trends vs. setting them? Of course i am not doing justice to the cited analysts, because i have never seen their actual reports and I am sure these are more detailed compared to the highlights picked be the media. At the same time they are being used to propagate certain agenda and they don’t seem to object.

The analysts are in a privileged position compared to everybody else, for they are looked up to as experts and in this sense they do act as agenda setters, particularly when it comes to technology. I would even go further by saying that they are in a position to influence the frameworks we use to think about and interpret technology and innovation. Putting it in Giddens’ terms, they enjoy comparatively stronger agency and thus ability to shape the relevant structures, and the media here serve as an amplifying mechanism.

So, the question i am stuck with at the moment is to what extend market analysis is in fact aimed at analyzing trends and to what extend it is actually setting them. What do you think?

“Technological optimism”

January 21, 2008

Just read about a new startup of Dov Moran, called “Modu” and it prompted a number of thoughts.

Moran is a remarkable person. In fact he is the one standing behind the invention of USB flash drive and M-Systems that was sold to SanDisk for $1.6 bln. “Modu” is his new startup developing a device that according to the article will revolutionize the world of mobile phones or in other words mobility of personal data. It was the claim for revolutionizing that kept me reading the article and thinking about it.

The idea of “Modu” is a miniature device with memory, energy source, and cellular abilities. It can be attached to anything from your land-line, the radio in your car, your laptop, etc. Once attached the hosting device is getting the capabilities of the “Modu”. In other words you have one mobile set of all your personal communication data, which is usually found in you mobile phone, and make it useful with all the other devices. You wouldn’t need a fixed line and a mobile – according to the limited information that Ynet journalists could gather (the project is very secret), “Modu” will take care of that.

According to the article, having all the personal communication data on a single miniature device will change the world (they actually start the article with this statement). This is where my social training is kicking in. Will it? Will people want to have everything on a single device? We don’t know enough about the product yet, but how is that information going to be protected and backed up? What about compatibility of “Modu” with all the other devices? Moreover, is there an economic model behind the device that will make the device standing out from being just another gadget? For example, the cellular communication is usually more expensive. How does that fit into shifting everything into a single mobile? Would organizations like their employers walking home with all the corporate information on their “Modu”? And the list can go on…

It is interesting how in most cases the new gadgets are described with such an optimism and, i would say, from a deterministic perspective. And then i start also thinking if such an enthusiasm about technology is necessary attribute for any visionary beginning in that industry. Most of the technological gurus i hear are always optimistic, as are the people behind technological startups. The fact that most of the startups fail and the fact that less than a decade ago we witnessed a major .com bubble, seems not being able to wipe out that belief in the next gadget changing the world (I suddenly remember Kindle and the fact that it has practically disappeared from the public agenda).

And that is interesting. I wonder how this technological optimism works. Is it an inseparable component of innovation? Is critical thinking here in fact limits creativity?

What do you think?

Am I technically challanged?

January 16, 2008

January 17, Update

Here the response i got from Amazon after letting them know about my difficulty:

Thanks for contacting us at Amazon.com.

Please accept my sincere apologies for any inconvenience you may have experienced and I do understand your concern.

To login to our wbsite :

1. Click the link near the top of the home page that says “New customer”

2. On the next page, leave the e-mail and password spaces blank and click the Amazon.com tab at the top of the page.

I’m sorry that there is no sign in button, I appreciate your thoughts and I will be sure to forward your suggestion to the concerned department.

Customer feedback like yours is very important in helping us continue to improve the selection and service we provide.

As a representative of Amazon.com, I want to assure you that we value our customers’ trust above all else–it’s the foundation on which our company was built. Please know that we’ll continue working hard to ensure that you receive accurate service, and to minimize the chances of anything like this occurring again.

While the page on which you enter your password may not be encrypted, this simply means that the HTML describing the form itself is sent in the clear.

As the password is typed into the form, it is not going over the network. Only the local browser sees data entered into the form until the user submits the form by clicking the sign-in button.

The action of the form is of particular importance–that’s the URL to which the HTTP POST will go, and the sensitive data such as your password is sent in that HTTPS POST to a secure web page. Therefore the POST, including the password, goes over an encrypted SSL channel, ensuring the security of your information.

I hope this explanation is helpful. Thank you for shopping at Amazon.com.

I am not completely sure how I should conclude that a link titled “personalized recommendations” actually means “sign in”, but Amazon people are definitely thinking differently.

________________

First i spent 3 minutes looking for the “sign in” button on Amazon homepage. Then i couldn’t find a way to view the exact deal details from the view that shows all buying options for a specific product. I did not succeed in both cases and had to use alternative paths where one could expect a single click.

Is it me being technically challenged, or Amazon has a really bad user interface?

Technology and the city

January 16, 2008

It is amazing how much you can see while simply sitting in a Starbucks in NYC.  Yesterday I had that moment and couldn’t hep myself but noticing all the communication technologies and how people are interacting with them.  So what we had there…

There were dozens of laptops of any shape and color (including pink). Electricity seems to be the scarce product.  There were people coming to the coffee shop with extension cords and there were those who stopped by just to charge their mobile.  There was a man who brought an entire 19′ computer screen and spent his time browsing dating websites.

There was a group of young people (between 3 to 7 people at different points), probaby in their early 20′s, who were dressed rather formally and who made this coffee shop their office.  I have no idea what exactly they were doing, but there was at least one laptop on the table in any given moment and they constantly talked on their mobiles.

There were countless amounts of iPods, MP3 players, and mobile phones.  People would listen to music or just play with them.  There was a couple who was definitely on a date since they both were extremely nervous.  Interestingly, they conversation seemed to move to discussion of their mobiles as if to save them from an embarrassing silence.

There was also a man who is running a photo stand in front of the coffee shop and who is coming there to warm up and hide from an annoying drizzling rain.  Observing this man made me wondering why there is no gadget protection society, because the way he treated his gear should disqualify him from being a gadget owner.  He would drop, drag, and press his laptops so hard that i wondered how they can function at all especially since they were also operating in rain.  That was a sad picture.

I was fascinated by the amount and variety of communication technologies found in such a small space and even more so by the variety of uses.  Interesting…

A classic media event

January 9, 2008

George Bush is coming to visit Israel and it is a great example of media event. I was watching a morning program today (on channel 10) and the anchors proudly announced that the entire day today will be dedicated to the visit (mind you, he hasn’t even landed yet). And this obsession is characteristic of all the Israeli media today. A classic example of media event.

We are OFF the map

December 25, 2007

Veronica is now filling the applications for PhD programs in North America, and today it was the turn of the University of Toronto. When it came to filling in the academic background info, our attention was drawn to a rather interesting list of universities. First we noticed that there was no single Israeli institution on the list. There were Egyptian, Lebanese, Jordania, and Palestinian institutions on the list, but there was not a single Israeli one. But then I noticed that institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc., are also missing. Not that I am comparing MIT and Ben-Gurion, but it did make me think what this list was about. Was it a list of institutions that generate the main pool of applicants? Or was it a list of institutions from which people have already applied this year? Anyway, there was no explanation on the website and it left both of us wondering…

unis

You can find the complete list here.

(more…)

Correcting the mistakes of Beacon

December 7, 2007

It looks like Facebook (FB) is looking for ways of resolving the Beacon issue and this time they decided to use their users. Recently a call for participation in the survey appeared under a nice title “What do you think”?

FB survey

In fact FB doesn’t really care what you think, but it is interested in knowing more about your online shopping behavior. Here is what they got there:

  1. Have you bought anything online in the past three months?
  2. In total, how much have you spent online in the last three months?
  3. In total, how much do you intend to spend online in the next three months?
  4. Thinking about retailers you are loyal to, how important are each of the following in making you a loyal shopper to those retailers? (followed by 14 items that you can rate on a 5 point scale).
  5. Have you done any of these activities while shopping at an ONLINE store in the past three months? (that’s and interesting one, because i think it is clearly aimed at looking for ways of utilizing social network website for advertising). Here are the categories for answer:
    • Sat at the computer with friend(s)
    • Talked to a friend via cell phone
    • Sent a text message to a friend via cell phone/device
    • Received a text message via cell phone/device
    • IMed a friend
    • Emailed a message to a friend
    • Emailed a link to the store to a friend
    • Took a photo and emailed it to a friend
    • Emailed a product photo to a friend
    • Emailed a cool/funny app to a friend
    • Used a general search engine
    • Shared a link with a friend on Facebook
    • None of these
    • I did not shop in an online store in the past three months
  6. In the past three months, approximately how many of your purchases for each type of product were made ONLINE? (followed by 18 items that you can rate on a 5 point scale).
  7. In the NEXT three months, approximately how much money will you spend on each of the following types of products? (followed by 18 items + an open field; for each one you can choose a range of sums you are willing to spend).

Now, it is pretty clear that they are trying to think about new ways of implementing and marketing Beacon. I find it actually a clever and innovative way to start thinking about online marketing (not the use of survey, but the ideas behind this specific one). But there is still somewhat weird about it, especially if you take into account that they are now trying to repair the damaged relations with the users. If you (FB) are asking me to share my opinions in clear attempt to improve your business model (= make more money on me), don’t i deserve some compensation? The least you could do is showing me the results. Otherwise, why would I fill it out?

I view it as yet another expression of arrogance and greediness. On the one hand, FB hold their users as careless enough not to think why they are presented with this survey and just answer it because it is as cool to answer surveys as it is to send a virtual beer. On the other hand, the intention here is to actually feel the $15 billion evaluation with content, but why put money into it if we can just (ab)use our users? (at this point it becomes a cyclical argument :)

Or is there something else? Something that i am missing? Or a cultural gap that i am not managing to bridge?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.