The Busy Trap

8 July 2012 / 1 Comments

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

This rings so true (or at least it would if I had time to read it…).

‘Music apps – beyond the hype’ takes an in-depth look at the business realities of producing, marketing and monetising music related apps. The event features an overview of the music apps market, practical advice on how best to market your apps, instructive lessons from a variety of artist apps case studies, and a variety of speakers from across the music apps value chain.

I’ll be talking about the Adele mobile app at this tonight – hopefully should be a pretty interesting event.

"Love Interruption" is the first taste of Jack White's debut album, Blunderbuss, out April 23 on Third Man Records/XL Recordings.

Firstly: new Jack White solo record! I am a massive White Stripes fan, so this is a Very Good Thing. Also, we made a widget for it that spins at 45rpm:

I’m not sure if I’ve really mentioned the widgets we’ve developed and have been using since last August – they’re quite nifty, if I do say so myself. They’re HTML5-based and work on iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices; they get detected by the lovely HypeMachine so they show up when bloggers post about them; they’re completely fluid (using both media queries and a dab of JS) so they should work at any size; and lastly you can use them as little iOS web apps (if you have a data connection) – try saving this page to your home screen for example.

The short version is that Google search results are going to be automatically personalized (to a greater degree than they were already) for each user, with signals drawn from your Google+ Circles being used to highlight things your friends — or you, yourself — have shared. Any of these personalized matches will appear alongside ‘normal’ search results. And Google will also pull in photos shared on Picasa or Google+ (they’ll even show up if you’ve marked them private, but they’ll still only be visible to you).

It seems like there’s an ever growing opportunity for someone to come in and do search much better then Google does it, stripping it back to basics and focusing on the quality of results (which are appalling for so many search types – anything product focused just leads to page upon page of retailer sites, for example).

I think the attempt to (badly) add social features to all of their platforms could be the undoing of Google.

Taken from the album Acousmatic Sorcery out in 2012 on Hot Charity/XL Recordings.

I love this really quite a lot. Reminds me in a strange way of early White Stripes; obviously not in terms of the music, but in terms of atmosphere.

Pitchfork is a popular-as-hell indie music blog. It's got a hipster-snobby reputation and the reviews are best summarised as "When Adjectives Attack," but their recommendations tend to be on the money and I've found a lot of good music thanks to their Best New Music category.

Pitchfork's also got a reputation of being a real tastemaker, anointing new albums & artists to the big leagues. But is this backed up by the data? I decided to find out.

In short: they don’t (although you need more data for a less flippant conclusion). Also: yay for graphs!

With the Open Graph , publishers can build a new kind of news app that makes it easy for people to discover what their friends are reading, and look back at top articles over time. As part of these features, we've also introduced new settings so people can easily control the experience after they opt-in. Each user decides if he or she wants to install a social news app, chooses the audience of who can see their activity with it, and can make edits to their settings at anytime.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism (a lot of which is pretty spot on) of some of the news publications and their integration with Facebook using the new Open Graph APIs, as typically they hijack links posted by other people to Facebook and funnel them into a custom app, and also auto-share things to the FB ticker.

These criticisms are almost universally directed at Facebook, but as this post shows it’s the publishers that should be getting the flack; yes, potentially Facebook could potentially place more restrictions on what the APIs can do, but almost all of the issues are on the publishers end.

Little Printer lives in your front room and scours the Web on your behalf, assembling the content you care about into designed deliveries a couple of times a day.

You configure Little Printer from your phone, and there’s some great content to choose from — it’s what Little Printer delivers that makes it really special.

This is just a little bit magical. There’s something incredibly compelling about a device that takes the modern internet – Foursquare checkins and all – and makes it something physical.

Also, the design and accompanying video are perfect:

We'll cover the week in Wired news as normal, including stories about the first lab-grown hamburgers, airmiles for cyclists, batteries that charge in 15 minutes, wine bottles made from paper and Mongolia's plan to cool itself with giant blocks of ice.

And we'll also look back at the last year of trends we've covered on the show. Nate, Duncan, Katie and Liv each pick their favourite topic and we bring a whole host of special expert guests onto the show to discuss how those trends will evolve over the next year.

At about 31mins in you can hear me talk a little bit about music apps (and it turns out I don’t at all sound like I think I do).

Responsive Advertising

15 November 2011 / 0 Comments

Recently at Mark Boulton Design, we’ve been working on a redesign of the global visual language for a large sports network. Like many web sites delivering news and editorial content, they rely on advertising for their revenue — either through multiple ad slots on the page, or from video pre-rolls.

Early on in the project, we discussed Responsive Web Design at length. From an editorial and product perspective, it makes perfect sense. Who wouldn’t want their content adapting to a device their reading it on? Who wants to pinch-zoom again and again? From a business and product perspective, we’ve seen this from multiple clients who want to take advantage of certain interactions on certain devices — swiping for example — for users to better engage with the content in a more native way. All good. And then advertising comes along and things get challenging.

Really great post on the pitfalls of integrating advertising in responsive sites. Seems like this could well take a lot of time to fix properly – most sites just don’t have the leverage with their advertising provider to be able to shift their advertising around.

The Manhattan Grid extended to every point on earth

So awesome.

I’m on 63,741 st and 10,869 Ave. Taxi fair to Williamsburg might be a bit much from here though.

Earlier this week, we reported on the launch of Sting 25, an iPad app celebrating Sting’s solo career. But how much did it cost to make? More than one million dollars. This is according to the Wall Street Journal.

The app itself – if you’re a Sting fan – is pretty nice, but over $1million to develop is just plain ridiculous. A quick glance at the credits – which is several pages long – tells you why: when you involve big agencies, they’re very good at spending your money.

I find it interesting that Chevrolet and AmEx feel they are getting enough value from having their logos slapped on the splash page to finance such an endevour (assuming that is that they’re together stumping the cost). By then, sponsorship is the only way to go if you’re spending that much money on an app like this as you sure as hell aren’t going to sell 100,000 copies at $9.99.

And then there’s the feature that leads to my biggest gripe: Pages have both a +1 button and an ‘Add to Circles’ button. The latter is what permits the Page to start sending you updates. And the +1 button? It does essentially nothing, at least as far as users are concerned.

It’s not exactly surprising that Google have launched brand pages for Google+ but I do find it pretty surprising that they seem so bandy thought through. They seem to be the bare minimum that they could have launched with, which would be fine if there wasn’t a very developed alternative dominating the market already.

I have my concerns as well over the inevitable land grab that will happen as soon as everyone can make these brand pages; one of the big things they’re pushing is the integration with Google search, but I really don’t want a Google+ brand page showing up as one of the top results for one of our artists (as it’s almost the last place I’d want people to go) – to the point that actually, maybe it’s worth steering clear for that reason alone.

Checking my Google+ feed now shows the last post as being from 4 days ago, and if I go 10 posts down it’s almost a month ago. I have pretty much the same set of people loaded into it as I do on Facebook, and the latest activity there is 2 minutes ago. I do wonder where Google is going to go with this…

The Grand Theft Auto series is probably my favourite set of games released by any single developer; not so much for the violence, but for the storytelling and amazing open world gameplay (without tying it down to anything tedious like levelling up or any of that rubbish).

This trailer for GTA V (which is confusing the 7th full GTA game, confusingly) looks pretty amazing to me; yes, it’s not exactly a radical departure – I know some people are disappointed it’s not in a new setting, maybe one outside US – but for me that’s not the point; the location will be actually different, with different things to find, but most importantly with a different story (and it does look like a different take this time, as it’s seems to be eschewing the “work up from the bottom” storyline the last few have employed).

I’ve written previously about how games are their own art form, and I think the GTA series is one of the perfect examples of that. Interactive storytelling, without skimping either on the “interactive” or the story.

Recording these songs live for the first time, St Vincent has performed four tracks from Strange Mercy for the tenth visual installment in the 4AD Session series.

This is super awesome (click through for the full 4 track session):

One thing we’ve heard from a very good source is that a key aspect of the service will be “scrobbling”. The term, made popular by, means that when you listen to a song, it gets sent to your profile without you have to do anything. I assume there will be a way to turn this off, or a way for you to selectively share songs, but this is a key to the service.

I’m loath to speculate on rumoured products like this – who knows what it’ll actually be – but this sounds like it could be massive. Facebook is already the biggest single driver to artist websites, and this will just make it even more powerful.

It also – sorry to say – sounds like it could be the final blow for; why have a social network just for music when the biggest social network has most of the features (that mainstream users want, at least). Inc. is talking with book publishers about launching a Netflix Inc.-like service for digital books, in which customers would pay an annual fee to access a library of content, according to people familiar with the matter.

Or: Spotify for Books.

I think I’ve blogged before how I think this is a potential killer product; people only read (most) books once, so a rental model rather then a ownership model makes way more sense.

There’s also nothing stopping them replicating the ad-supported free service as well, or how about you get a year’s free service when you buy a Kindle? Could be very interesting indeed.

Sane RSS usage

5 September 2011 / 0 Comments

RSS is a great tool that’s very easy to misuse. And if you’re subscribing to any feeds that post more than about 10 items per day, you’re probably misusing it. I don’t mean that you’re using it in a way it wasn’t intended — rather, you’re using it in a way that’s not good for you.1

You should be able to go on a disconnected vacation for three days, come back, and be able to skim most of your RSS-item titles reasonably without just giving up and marking all as read. You shouldn’t come back to hundreds or thousands of unread articles.

I disagree with a lot of the points both Marco and Jacqui are making here – mostly that it’s possible to use RSS “wrong”. It’s akin to saying that everyone should stop using SMS as that can be distracting – it’s using your phone “wrong”.

I am a heavy RSS user, but I find it immensely useful. According to Google Reader I’m currently subscribed to 990 feeds and have read over 50,000 items in the last 30 days, but I find this in no way stressful or counter productive. I follow some feeds that average over 100 posts per day, and some that don’t even post once every month. You can use RSS this way, and in fact I’d argue that it’s the best source of news you could ever come up with.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t some good pieces of advice in their two articles. Firstly, I don’t check my feeds all day – that would be impossible. RSS is not twitter, and it’s not really best I don’t think for real time news (although you could use it for that if you wanted). What it’s best for is assembling a custom built newspaper of all your interests, or at least that’s how I treat it. Roughly 3 times a day – in the morning, at lunch and in the evening – I check my feeds, and skim through them exactly as I would a newspaper. The articles allude to a fear of marking all as read which is ridiculous – does any one really read a newspaper cover to cover, every word? RSS is the same, a source of interest to flick through and dip into, not to labour over like email.

Despite evidence that appears to show streaming playback through iTunes Match, an Apple spokesperson confirmed to Peter Kafka of All Things D that content played from the service must first be "stored" on an iPhone or iPad. The service appears to be streaming because it begins playback instantly, but instead of true streaming it is downloading and storing the file while beginning simultaneous playback.

"Apple's system, as it's currently constructed, still requires users to keep stuff on their machine in order to play with it," the report said. Kafka speculated that files that are not "downloaded" through iCloud but still played will sit in a "temporary cache" on the machine.

The semantics of this are pretty ridiculous – every major streaming service works in the same way, using a local cache. iTunes Match is streaming just as much as Spotify is.

And it’s also not very surprising that iTunes Match does supports streaming – it’ll be interesting to see what other features it gains before it launches (my bet: a web based version of iTunes, alongside a whole new version on the desktop).

Geofences are special locations that deserve their own geo privacy settings. For example, you might want to create a geofence around the your “home” or “school” that only allows “Friends and Family” to see the location of the photos you geotag in that area. So the next time you upload a photo with a geotag in the radius of a geofence, it will follow the default geo privacy you’ve designated for that hotspot.

This is great for two reasons 1) it’s an obviously useful but also nifty feature 2) Flickr is innovating again; I was getting worried that they might not have it in them any more.