Twitter
Powered by Squarespace
Thursday
Aug022012

The Future is iOS 6 - working effectively in the Apple Ecosystem

Thursday
Jul122012

The Hitchhiker's Problem With "Content"

(note: I've slightly renamed this post as I've realized I have a bit more to say on the topic, so stay tuned.) 

On several recent episodes of Build and Analyze, Marco Arment spent some time chatting about "not fooling yourself" about copyright infringement. He admonished people who take the position of “I’m pirating it to try it, and if I like it, I’ll pay.” Basically, his point is that we all know that copyright is "the right thing to do" and that if you pirate something, at least admit to being a dirty pirate; don't pretend that you are doing something noble.

But this pushes me to ask the question - what exactly drives people to pirate and what is the true cost of (and payment for) intellectual property?

There is an inherent problem with "content" and more specifically, with the selling of content: It is not something you can ever return. When you buy a car, or a shirt, or a dresser, and you don't particularly like it, you can return it or resell it. For “content” like movies and video games, the same holds true if the item is defective (ie, there’s a problem with the media on which the content is stored) but heaven help you if you try to return an open video game (GameStop pre-owned trade-ins are a whole different thing and, in many ways, a direct response to the issue I’m outlining). 

I once faced this specific issue with a DVD I bought. The copy I grabbed was grouped with the “letterboxed” version in the store but was actually a rogue “full-frame” copy. I didn’t realize this till I got it home and popped it in. My attempt to return it for the letterbox version was quite an experience! As there was nothing physically wrong with the disc, my problem was with the content on the disc and that is not considered a valid reason to “return” a movie in almost any store that sells DVDs. I managed to convince the clerk to do the swap, mainly because it was a swap and not a straight return, but this example is only a stone’s throw away from the following scenario:

“Can I return this movie?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Well it’s just not very good and I’d rather just have my money back.”
“Uhhhhh.”

And here we come to the crux of the issue. Most people are confused about what we actually pay for with content. Do you think you are buying the movie? A copy of the movie?  The right to play the movie? The disc on which the movie is encoded? You are not actually buying, leasing or renting any of those things. What you are actually buying is the “experience” of watching the movie. Short of a head injury, there is no way to return that and this is why, in general, there is so much resistance to returning these items - you're not actually returning what you paid for: the experience.

And so we’ve now arrived at the answer to two things simultaneously:

  1. Why people are driven to pirate
  2. Why free content, driven by advertising, is so pervasive

If the “experience” of the content is the property that is changing hands, it’s only natural that the currency used to purchase it is also experiential. Advertising fills this need pretty handily. What you want is to focus your attention on the content, and advertisers want that attention focused on them. There is actual money changing hands “on the back end” between the content producer and the advertiser but from the viewer/listener’s perspective, you are earning the experience of the content by trading your attention on the advertising.

Once you open up the idea of the viewer/listener trading actual money for the experience of the content, you get into the situation I described above which, despite Marco’s admonitions, is actually quite stacked against the customer. At its most basic level, the customer is being asked to pay up front, for something they may or may not like, with no recourse if they don’t like it. We should not be surprised that this causes some cognitive dissonance among people and that some of them are driven to “pirate” the content before paying up. When someone describes the “try before I buy” scenario, what they are really saying is that they don’t like the idea of paying up front, sight unseen. How many of us would buy a car, or refrigerator, or pants without seeing them first? And why do we consider someone who feels the same about a movie to be such a “dirty pirate”? 

In this case, all that person is doing is attempting to swing the balance back in favor of the customer and, given the “experience” problem I’ve outlined above, possibly over-correcting.

The content-seller-friendly version of the transaction gets them their money up front and the customer may get screwed. The flip gets the customer their content first and the seller might get screwed. And in general, ALL of this stems from the fact that we continue to treat “intellectual property” like its actual property despite the fact that it is not. But until such time as we find a better way to equitably encourage content creation, the "content as property" model seems to be the best we've been able to find. However, evidence has been mounting for years now that a more customer centric model (which risks the creator "giving it away for free" more than they may like) can, and often does, lead to higher overall sales and revenue than the old school "gimme my money up front" model.

When it’s all said and done, this can also be taken as a pretty convincing argument for why the free-to-play model is making such waves of late, but that’s probably a whole separate post. (e.g. “Why the free-to-play model is the grand unified theory of Product = Advertising”, but that's for another day.)

Sidebar-

All that having been said, the vast majority of piracy is probably not committed by true “try before I buy” denizens. But some of it surely is. Speaking from personal experience, before I made the full switch over to AppleTV purchases, I would download episodes of pretty much every show I watch via bittorrent. I didn’t consider myself a pirate as:

  1. I also pay for DirecTV and so that content was “mine” as far as I was concerned.
  2. I would later buy Blu-Rays or DVDs of shows I planned to watch over and over (for instance, I own the first 8 seasons of scrubs, several seasons of Modern Family and full series sets of Buffy, Angel, Farscape and others.)

Am I misguided in my belief that I am an “honorable content consumer”? Maybe. But they still make lots of money off me, foibles aside.

Tuesday
May152012

Tales of an Also-Ran Part 1

“What I was really hoping for was to be one of those developers that started up, created a few completely forgettable apps, burned through some seed funding and then went belly up.” - no one, ever.

There are developers out there who are willing to do whatever it takes to “succeed”. We met one at GDC who told me proudly “I have bunch of guys in the Ukraine that knock out a new game for me every week”. To someone like this, success means ending the fiscal year with more money than you started with and, as far as I can see, nothing else. But for me, there is a guiding principle that I remind myself of daily-

Success is in the eye of the beholder.

It’s often said that Thomas Edison stated “I have not failed 1000 times, I have successfully discovered 1000 ways to NOT make a lightbulb”. I try to hold onto this idea as one after another of the apps that we’ve conceived of, built, and released completely fails to gain any traction. It is my firm belief that each and every one has something core to its being that is worthwhile. And every time we launch one, I’m one hundred percent convinced that it will be our Angry Birds, or Instagram. None of them has done it yet. But I believe in our ideas and I believe in the team.

Couplett is a great example. The app took way longer than you’d expect to go from concept to release - almost a full year. The reasons are many but one is that we weren’t content to simply do it - we wanted to do it right. We agonized over interface challenges, icon layout, user experience, etc. And even now, when faced with an app that isn’t making money, I’m hesitant to slap ads all over it since I think it would be ugly and detract from the experience.

So how long do you just sit back and trust that the next one will be “the one”? Or worse, when do you decide that none of them will ever be the one because you’re not willing to shovel crapware just to “get ahead” in any way you can?

Or worse still, when do you look at your work and realize that none of them is “the one” because none of them are good enough to be the one?

But there’s a problem with option 3 - when I compare any one of our apps with the top 100, I realize that most of them are as good or better, but there’s just something missing. What is that something? What takes an app from “also-ran” to success? 

Monday
Feb272012

Ultraviolet makes me want to get Ultra Violent

What on earth led us to this?

So I may be a little late to this party but there's a new game in town for digital "copies" of movies. You know how over the last few years DVDs (and more commonly, Blu-Rays) have been coming with digital copies?


Here's one

Well the way this has worked up until now is that you got a code in the box. You type this code into a box in iTunes (or, I guess, something else on windows?) and you get a digital copy of the movie that you can stream to various household devices as well as take with you on iPads and the like. Despite the overall truth that DRM is evil, if it is taken as read that DRM is a neccessary evil for the time being, this implementation has proved the least onerous currently available.

So of course, someone looked at it and said "no way, that's way too consumer friendly".

Enter Ultraviolet. Someone at Warner Brothers decided they could "improve" on this system and came up with the worst of all possible implementations.


Boo

With iTunes, you need an account with a credit card. For some people, this may be an annoyance but these days aren't Apple IDs issued at birth? So what is Ultraviolet's answer? "iTunes only requires one account so clearly, we should require two".

Yes. Two separate accounts that you then must link. Batting 1000 so far Ultraviolet. What you got for me next?

I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 digital copies of various movies I've purchased. I may not watch them often, but when it came time for a car trip with the kids, being able to drop a few movies on an iPod touch to play in the car was unbelieveably helpful. So what I'm saying here is, I have a growing video library, and that library exists in iTunes. So Ultraviolet looks at that and says, naturally, "oh no, this just won't do".

To watch a movie on your device, you have to use Flixster. Now before now, I had nothing against Flixster. It's a handy little app that I use to find movie times. I may not even be against streaming movies in Flixter except for the fact that I already have Netflix to handle that thank you very much. So downloaded movies - check and streaming movies - check. So why would I want to buy into an entirely different ecosystem at this point in the game?

Oh I know, it must be because the only way to watch these movies on the desktop is via an Adobe Air application.

Checkmate Ultraviolet.

Now I didn't discover a lot of this until after I had already entered the code in iTunes and gotten an error. I then contacted Ultraviolet support to explain the problem and request a replacement code. The response was a much longer email detailing the process above. So I responded:

I use iTunes to organize my movies, I don't want another application to watch a single movie.

While I understand how annoying it is to be one of those people that holds the support folks responsible for their corporate masters, I did get a response:

Hi Jeremy,

Unfortunately, iTunes is not available from us for this title. 

For additional information on how to stream and download your UltraViolet digital copy to your computer or compatible iOS or Android device, please see below.

Ugh. Some googling showed me that for some movies (like Harry Potter) they have been honoring the redeem codes to actually allow the advertised digital copy (as opposed to the mislabeled "untraviolet streaming") but they were digging their heels in. Plus I hadn't had my coffee yet.

Why on earth would you guys choose to break a perfectly acceptable system that works? (I understand you didn't do this personally)

This item was a gift. You are telling me that without buying into your completely separate system, I don't get the full use of this gift and now, since it is open, I cannot even return it.

And you wonder why people still choose to pirate. When you stop punishing the people who pay your bills, maybe things will change. ah well.

Thank you for making sure I stay away from any movie labeled "Ulraviolet" in the future.

Jeremy

I'll be awaiting an iTunes redeem code if your company comes to it's senses.

Was I too much of a dick? Maybe. But it's getting hard these days to be a movie fan. I still buy discs because I tend to value quality over convenience and Blurry (whoops, I mean Blu Ray) looks much better in my home theater. When I buy a movie, I want it to look it's best and I usually buy combo packs because it allows me to then watch the movie anywhere. This new iTunes competitor is user hostile, confusing, piontless and most damningly, just bad.

Come to your senses Ultraviolet people. Stop letting your business get in the way of taking my money.

Sunday
Feb122012

Fuck Tolerance

You read that right. Not IN-tolerance, (although that can fuck right off too). I'm sick of people preaching tolerance like it's a good thing or worse, something to aspire to.

Tolerance is not a good thing.

Tolerance is the absolute minimum state within which ANY sort of reasoned discourse can take place, but it is not a goal in and of itself. When you tolerate something, what's more important is that you are NOT accepting it. You are saying, in essence, I wish this thing wasn't, but in the interest of not sounding like an asshole, I'll bite my tongue. Well I'm here to sound like an asshole for you.

There are things in the world that should be accepted and there are things that should not. The problem with tolerance, is that it takes things from the former, and things from the latter and lumps them together in some nebulous middle ground. 

"Don't be so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance" - Bill Maher

By way of example, let's take Prop 8, recently declared unconstitutional by the 9th circuit court and on it's way to the Supreme Court (don't drop the ball, SCOTUS).  You may think Prop 8 exists because of intolerance, but it does not. It exists because of tolerance. Intelligent, progressive voices were drowned out because we continue to tolerate the imposition of religious indoctrination into our law writing process. Without tolerance, this ridiculous intolerance would have been laughed out of the room.

A similar situation exists in the dust up over catholics not wanting to provide for the common welfare of their employees. They would like us to frame the conversation as one of religious liberty but it's not. We've tolerated that bullshit for too long. If you believe that any employer who operates within the united states should have the right to deny medical coverage of any type based on their religious beliefs you are wrong, and on the wrong side of history.

What we don't want from any of you is tolerance. We want acceptance. If you can't manage that, then shut the fuck up and get out of our way. 

Tolerance gives us "civil unions" and implies that gay people are incapable of loving as truly and deeply as us "normal" people. (You know, like Newt Gingritch.)

Tolerance tries to convince people that denying birth control on religious grounds is somehow an acceptable state of affairs almost 50 years after Griswold v. Connecticut.

Tolerance leads to imagined "neutrality policies" that cause teen suicide.

I'm done with tolerance. It's the 21st century and It's time to come to our collective senses. Leave the ideas of the dark ages where they belong: in the history books, where we can read about them to remind us what it was like before humanity came to it's senses. These points of view do not deserve tolerance, they deserve ridicule. When you preach "tolerance" of outdated, hateful bullshit, you are just giving them the out they need to "tolerate" us right back.

And that is downright intolerable.