Why Trent Reznor’s Business Model Works So Well

Got to share this talk by Mike Masnick, who analyzes in depth the methods used by Trent Reznor to “connect with fans” and give them “reason to buy” and create a very well functioning business model :

Among other creative initiatives to connect with fans, earlier this year Reznor released 400 GB worth of HD video footage recorded at his concert tour, which supposedly could be put to use by “some enterprising fans”.

What I really like about Trent Reznor’s style is that he hasn’t “worked it out”. He hasn’t discovered some magic formula for how to make money selling his music using the internet, and then simply lean back, enjoy the money and not care about developing his business model anymore. There’s no autopilot. He seems to genuinely want to connect and seems to enjoy the work involved in connecting, sharing music and creating new intriguing ideas for how to get his music out – and make a decent income in the process. That’s also why it works so well. He really do connect with fans, he really do give them value for their money. And he enjoys it too.

What Trent Reznor does so remarkably well may also serve as an example for all those engaged in promoting or selling a product online, to quit the thinking that they simply need to “work out” a method, which will instantly make them “connect” with thousands of people and let them become rich and successful overnight. That well will run dry for them sooner or later.

Make real connections. Engage others. Give them something of real value. And have fun!

(via Digital Waveriding)

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You can have your ice cream and eat it too!

This previous friday, March 20th, there was supposedly a demonstration taking place in 4 major Danish cities, against the court orders which demand ISP’s to block access for their customers to the Swedish website The Pirate Bay. For the technically savvy, a block which is easy to circumvent, and for the less savvy, easy to find a guide to circumvent using Google or with friends’ help. Still, it is clearly bad if private companies begin to police what websites we can visit and what sites we can’t. It’s not their job. Most ISP’s don’t seem to be too happy about it either, but most also lack the balls to stand up to the ridiculousness of this situation.

What happens next? Once established, that it is okay for ISP’s to block sites at the IFPI’s request, will they ask for stronger blocks? Will they ask for more sites to be blocked? Will they go country by country, using this strategy, until we are blocked out from half the internet, which allows us to find unauthorized copies of copyrighted material?

So, when invited to this demonstration via Facebook I said sure, I’ll come too. I will stand up to what I say and show up, to support an event which was no doubt difficult to get people involved in. On friday, I arrived at the city hall square here in Odense just before the appointed time. And I looked for the young activists, who would soon listen to passionate speeches, storm the barricades and revolt in justified anger. But there were no riots, no armoured policemen behind plastic shields – and no angry young men throwing stones at them. There were no heated speeches or masses of the politically discontent.

Instead, the city square looked like this and this. For a long while there was also a lone guy with a bicycle waiting for someone, and I later learnt this was the keynote speaker, (also) waiting for the demonstration which never came. Of course there were also tourists, old people occasionally crossing the square, people enjoying the sun on the benches with a beer or an ice cream. Like myself :

As it turns out, the political battles of the 21st century are not fought on barricades or with strong political slogans, yelt from city squares where the masses demonstrate their power against villains in office. Instead they are fought on ice cream.

Clay Shirky, writing about Belarus protesters, who used flash mobs in 2006 to show their discontent with the regime :

In May someone posting under the name by_mob used LiveJournal, a piece of blogging software, to propose a flash mob for the fifteenth of that month. (…) the idea was simply that people would show up in Oktyabrskaya Square and eat ice cream. The results were one part ridiculous and three parts depressing; police were waiting in the square and hauled away several of the ice cream eaters, all while being documented in the now-standard pattern as other participants took digital pictures and uploaded them to Flickr, LiveJorunal, and other online outlets. These pictures in turn recirculated by bloggers like Andy Carvin and Ethan Zuckerman, political bloggers who cover the use of technology as a tool for social change. Images of a repressive Belarus thus spread far beyond the borders of Minsk. Nothing says “police state” like detaining kids for eating ice cream. (Here Comes Everybody, p. 166-167)

There were other flash mobs held, one where participants were encouraged to read aloud pieces of banned writers, and another where people were incited to nothing more than “walk around Oktyabrskaya smiling at one another”.

This action produced the same reaction from the state; attendees reported that the police were using the presence of a pocketknife to try one of the smilers with weapons possession.

The police weren’t reacting to the ice cream eating, reading or smiling itself. The chosen behaviour was intentionally innocuous, because the real message lay not in the behaviour but in the collective action.

What is dangerous to the Belarus regime, is the way protesters make it possible for others to know about what is going on. Protesting is an information sharing business. It is about getting your message out, so that more people will know. And if more people know, more will take action to change things. When photos and videos of what’s going on circulate globally, it makes it much more difficult for the people in power to control the message. It creates a shared awareness. Clay Shirky again :

The military often talks about “shared awareness”, which is the ability of many different people and groups to understand a situation, and to understand who else has the same understanding. If I see a fire break out, and I see that you see it as well, we may more easily coordinate our actions – you call 911, I grab a fire extinguisher – than if I have to call your attention to the fire, or if I am in some confusion about how you will react to the a fire. Shared awareness allows otherwise uncoordinated groups to begin to work together more quickly and effectively.

This kind of social awareness has three levels: when everybody knows something, when everybody knows that everybody knows, and when everybody knows that everybody knows that everybody knows. (p. 163)

The battles of the digital frontiers have always been about controlling what message gets out, controlling what story is told. From the “Piracy is theft!” slogans of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) in the 1980′es to the law suits of the 1990′es against teenagers for sharing files using the internet. The story told now is one about child pornography, and since we should all condemn and be afraid of that, it’s suddenly okay to call the quits on everything called free speech and make ISP’s block particular web sites. All we need to do is shout “piracy”. No?

A bunch of clever scandinavians claimed back the concept of “piracy” and began to describe themselves as “pirates”. Their torrent index site began to attract the attention of a global pool of users, and with them the attention of global media. And the story began to sound a little different. What had been demonized and called foul names and made people bow their heads in fear for decades now took another meaning. What was previously unthinkable to be uttered aloud in good company, could suddenly mean something else. In fact the meaning attributed by the copyright industries to the concept of piracy is undermined, when ordinary (primarily young) people start using it as something that describe themselves and of which they are proud. It makes it much harder to control the message.

But that doesn’t mean this stops here. I think protest organizers and participants of this struggle need to educate themselves and think deeply about how to organize in new ways, reach each other and create that “shared awareness”, which is necessary for us to act in any coordinated way. It means embracing new services, free software tools, share information effectively with wikis, use social messaging in the Twitter sense, plan and execute flash mobs of the Belarus sort, which create awareness not because there are a lot of people there, but because the images from the happenings reach a lot of people, or reach the right people. It means connecting with others in insightful ways.

So what do I mean by that curious title? It means that digital goods can be copied. Events can be captured and communicated. Among other things, it means we can use digital information more than once, on more different platforms, to reach more different people. It means there are no real limits as to what we can do to create a deeper shared awareness, which makes it easier for say, protesters to recognize each other as protesters on a city square in a town like Odense.

Someone may claim that a video of someone eating ice cream is not real ice cream, it is simply, like Magritte would say, an image of an ice cream. Or in the terms of our times, a copy of an ice cream. Which is true enough. But it can have a great effect, nonetheless.

[UPDATE: 2012-07-02 - fixed and added photolinks]

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Everybody fucks

I was called up on the phone today by a guy from Jyllands-Posten, which is, as some will know, a major Danish newspaper. The guy in the other end told me they’ve just converted to a tabloid format and wanted to sell me and Kaplak a subscription for one year, and he would give me a free laptop too, if I’d take his offer. I thought the offer sounded a bit suspicious but didn’t decline, as I thought a free laptop always might come in handy. So I said I couldn’t decide right now, and went online to search for more information on this offer using Google.

I didn’t find much on the laptop offer. Instead, this turned out to be an interesting case of using search and of what one finds when looking for something else. I stumbled over this article in Jyllands-Posten (now also quoted in this space), which I found sufficiently interesting to spend a few minutes hunting down the object of the article, this video, which was first posted to YouTube, but then taken down by the service :

The story goes like this : Bilka, a large Danish chain of supermarket stores sells computers. One of their customers had an unusual agenda. Unnoticed he used a demo model of a laptop which was showcased in one of their stores (located in Holstebro) to play a porn movie for customers which happened to be passing by. Meanwhile their reactions were captured with the laptop’s built-in webcam. Apparently the plan was put into action using a USB stick to get the movie onto the showcased laptop. Some way the perpetrator managed to get the footage of customers’ reactions edited and uploaded to YouTube, from where it was later removed (by YouTube). It is now an entry in the collection of YouTomb, a MIT study dedicated to takedown patterns on YouTube (and other online services).

Fortunately, someone also uploaded this obvious case of the consumer-producer convergence to other online spaces, from where it may be seen and be redistributed. The days have passed when YouTube could take down a video and then it would cease to exist on the internet.

This story is a good case of PageRank which generates activity for all the wrong reasons. The video didn’t appear in Google’s own video results, for obvious reasons. YouTube took down the video so they wouldn’t include it, and Google’s video search is not (yet) very good at locating video from third party sources. Clearly Bilka doesn’t like to get all this attention from a story like this and have likely been trying to shut it down. And I wasn’t even looking for something about Bilka or for cases like this. So why did I find it?

Thanks to PageRank, it is easy to find these kinds of cases, as they are typically linked to from a number of places. PageRank also makes it difficult to find stuff, because these kind of stories prioritized by PageRank are deeply irrelevant to the information I was seeking : my original search for something on the laptop offer. I didn’t find what I was really looking for. But in this case, this wasn’t important enough for me to not be easily swayed from my way.

To find the story, the only keywords I had to use was “Jyllands-Posten” and “laptop”, originally searching for something on the laptop offer I received. Subsequently, after I found the article from the paper’s website, I tracked down the video in question, mostly out of pure stubbornness and refusal to let YouTube decide what’s good for me. It also seems strange to me to have a news story on the internet about a video, but not display the video. I wanted to see it for myself. In order to find it, I looked for “video” with the other keywords “Bilka”, “porno” (Danish for “porn”) and “Holstebro”, and dug up the title it had on YouTube before the takedown. After the takedown, someone posted the title of the video, “Electronic Harassment #1 – Porno on Laptop” along with the YouTube user name of the user who uploaded it. After that it was easy to locate it somewhere else. I was lucky it still carried the same title.

I can’t help but find this story incredibly funny. In all it’s comical simplicity, pulling this stunt showcases the shift in power, voice and authority, which distributed computing and online media enables – from large respectable companies, channels and filters to every one of us, independent of filters, disrespectfully engaging, limits imposed only by the audacity of our creativity. Let’s continue our work to find and build filters, which are independent of YouTube, Facebook and other such services, which so ridiculously lie flat on their stomachs for yesterday’s norms and masters. Which have so little concern for the individual voice of experimental producers, that it’s just sickening. And let’s spread stuff like this wide and far, to let executives everywhere know, that we know, that their unquestioned power is about to end – if it hasn’t already. “Everybody fucks”.

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President Obama

What a great smile – and what a great day for the world. I’m proud to have been a witness and a very modest and distant yet participant in this momentous moment of change in our history. Because what has been changed is the order of one-way politics, the order of read-only culture, of one-way, top down communications. What’s in is read-write culture, two-ways politics and bottom-up, peer-produced communications. I’m excited to be living in these times, and I share Obama’s vision and desire to leave our children with a mark on our times and world, of which we can be proud.

Saw President Obama’s speech from Chicago earlier this morning. If one is only going to listen to one speech in one’s life, it’s a pretty good candidate. If you haven’t already seen or heard it, I post the video here for your convenience.

Here’s the full text of Obama’s speech. The brilliant photo at the top is used courtesy of Bella Rua Photography from Flickr, taken at the Rollins Park rally in Concord, NH, September 29th, 2007. The photo is shared under a Creative Commons license.

EDIT: Took me a while to actually find an embeddable video of the full speech and of better quality than the one posted to YouTube. It’s worth listening to the complete speech – not just get the soundbites. I finally found the above courtesy of Yahoo Video.

Btw, the numbers are here.

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Communicating Problems, Visions and Solutions

After posting my article on the anatomy of Kaplak Stream I found this brilliant video featuring Dan “back of the napkin” Roam. Incredibly insightful stuff, about something we all can learn from and be a lot better at : visualizing and communicating our problems, visions and solutions. Please enjoy :

You can support Kaplak and buy Dan’s book here if you are going to buy it anyway. I know I am.

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Tim O’Reilly : Work On Stuff That Matters

This is a really important talk by Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, Inc. from the Web 2.0 Expo in New York. O’Reilly is known for being widely credited with inventing the term web 2.0. His talk is reminiscent of Guy Kawasaki’s appeal to ‘make meaning’ when starting a business or a nonprofit. O’Reilly’s urge is really simple : work on stuff that matters. Set high goals for yourself and your startup. No matter how things work out, you’ve done something which mattered.

Don’t waste your time trying to build the next cool time-waste application for Facebook or try to figure out how to tap into the money stream. You probably won’t get funded anyway, and if you’re funded, you probably won’t get the second round.

Build something which meets the problems, we face. You will profit and grow from your experience, even if you fail. We all fail, and that’s why we grow and become really good at something.

The video is about 30 mins. but it’s a really worthwhile watch. No bs. For some reason, the sound is not optimal, so the talk is best heard and digested with your earphones on. Thanks for the tip on this video to Start snakken!

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The Anthropology of YouTube

I can’t say how much I enjoyed this video of a talk by cultural anthropologist and media ecologist professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, famous for his extraordinary video on web 2.0, which gained enormous popularity in the YouTube community.

Now, in this video Wesch shares his thoughts on YouTube as a historical, social and cultural phenomenon, which is as entertaining as it is insightful, on the complete pallet of workings of the new order of the web, of which YouTube is a great example. Please enjoy :

Thanks, once again to Raymond for the tip on this video.

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The Big Questions

A few months ago, on July 8th 2008, I shot this video at Odense harbour. I didn’t manage to edit it until the 25th. Then my dog died from one week to the other, and I didn’t do any real work on the Kaplak Blog for a complete month. I didn’t at all feel like presenting myself on video on the web, like nothing ever happened. I was ripped to pieces.

I am coming back, though, and what I say in this video is of core importance to what we do in Kaplak. It’s what makes sense of what we do, even when the outside world can’t make sense of it and even when we sometimes ourselves lose focus, when we discuss or dive into technicalities of niche products, long tail distribution, web filtering methods, free software, bittorrent seedboxes and twitter tools.

Here’s the full quote :

The question is, if the tools we have right now are sufficient for us to find relevant information, which we need for our lives, for our businesses, for our children’s educations – and everything in our lives. If these tools are sufficient to survive this onslaught of material which is added to the internet every month. There are millions of new websites created every month, and seach engines can only show a limited amount of results on a results page. So there’s a lot of things which are lost in the filters we use right now to filter the internet. Luckily, there are a lot of new filters and new tools, which are being developed all over the world. So some of these new tools will help us find the information that we need. But the question is, who is it going to be, and what are those tools going to be like, and who is going to control those tools? Those are the really big questions, as we see it.

What’s at stake, in other words is how we filter the web and find information. That’s one thing, and we’re working on it – and so are a lot of very talented people, all over the world.

The other thing is who is going to control these architectures of information. This part is a lot more tricky. This is where free software, the copyfight, DRM activism and ‘cloud computing ideology‘ comes into the picture. This is also why we don’t really like social networks, but love RSS feeds.

To get at the second thing, however, we need to create a sustainable business on the first. But these things are connected, and each day we walk the delicate path between falling into the trap of entrusting our information to proprietary designs, on the one hand – and on the other hand, our vision of a future, where each peer in a global peer-to-peer network of everyone of us is capable of reaching out to whoever he or she wants to connect to. Where even marginal products can be sold, and unpopular messages get out to the people who wants them, without being filtered by the centralized algoritms of corporate monopolies or crude filters of nasty regimes, or without, what is at least equally as bad, being buried in mountains of spam or mainstream crap.

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To Fail Informatively

Clay Shirky on the merits of metadata

Video featuring an interview with Clay Shirky with some memorable quotes, found courtesy of Jake Mckee.

One of Shirky’s great points is, that in order to coordinate group efforts on a large scale, one needs to fail informatively, i.e. deliver the metadata to enable the user to identify which projects and tasks are worth pursuing and which are not. Answering a question by Chris Heuer on “how to connect the dots” i.e. groups working independently of each other but often on similar projects : (my emphasis)

The two modes of management we have are the micro manager [and the] grand strategic visionary. Neither of these really work with community. You need something in the middle, which is a kind of facilitation skill. Noone to guide the community, noone to let them go. And it is really, for the individual projects, that’s what you need.

For the, you know, web scale how-do-we-connect-the-dots, the only answer I’ve seen, that really works at large scale, is to work informatively, and to fail informatively.

So if you go on to Sourceforge, which is the biggest collection of open source projects in existance, three quarters of those projects are completely inert, 1 developer, no downloads ever, it’s just nothing ever happened. But on Sourceforge you can always tell what’s working and what’s not, every day. So it doesn’t matter that you’re letting people try things all over, because they can discover each other and move off “this project isn’t working but that one is”. And so you gotta give people the kind of metadata it takes to say : “This is what my organization does, what’s your organization doing, I can find it on Google, I can pull it out of an RSS feed, I can work with it”. If you give people that kind of information, then they’ll find their way to each other, and you don’t have to do anything top-down, you don’t have to do anything to restrict the grand experimentation. But you also don’t end up with lots of little pockets. The open source movement, as so often, they do that better than anyone else, but I think the rest of the world is catching up.

More on the merits of metadata in this post from last year.

Shirky also had an opportunity to expand on the previously prophesized “50 years of chaos” and what happens with the introduction into society of technologies such as the printing press and the internet :

The biggest surprise and the biggest pleasure researching the book was actually the early history of the printing press. Because it became clear, reading the various accounts of what happened between 1450 and 1650, that we didn’t move from situation A to situation B. We used to have this pre-literate world, where scribes were copying bibles by hand. All of a sudden we had science and this enormous up-welling of all kinds of publications and the catholic church was undone as a pan-European force. We didn’t go from A to B. We went from A to a long period of chaos. And only out of that chaos did B arrive. And that’s my thesis for what we’re seing now with the internet. We’re not seing an orderly transition to a new kind of society. We’re actually seeing all kinds of experiments, short term and long term. We can’t tell which ones are gonna last and which ones are gonna be blips. And in the meantime, a lot of stuff in contemporay society is just going to break. And so, things are going to get weirder, before they get saner, I think is the conclusion.

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Kaplak and The Wiki Way

This video is a few words about our online method and work ethos, which is greatly inspired by what has been coined “the wiki way”, by our friends at About Us, among others (and yet others).

I’ve previously written about Kaplak’s multi-platform strategy and compared our business aspirations to the world of grafitti painting in our local neighbourhood. We want to create a company, which is capable of inviting “tags” and “shouts”, i.e. inputs from outside our company, so that we may, in the process and with time, learn how to do a great “piece”, so to speak. Inviting outside input is more difficult, than one would imagine, as everything in the business world as is, is built around keeping closed circles closed and creating stiff hierarchies, which are detrimental to the very kind of open, global process, we mean to help kick off and participate in. By all means, we want to steer clear of the corporate thickness, which quickly creeps into a company and prevents it from doing bold things.

Thus, we mean the “wiki way” in broader terms, than for just the work of building a wiki. We consider it a way of doing business and a mindset, which we need, in order to maintain a broad online presence over a number of different platforms and web architectures, without being overencumbered by the sheer vastness of what we’re doing – “making the world’s ends meet”, as we say, i.e. making financially viable connections between niche products and global niche markets.

Building and writing a blog sometimes can be like working against the clock. Posts are time-stamped and articles read and digested in the order they are published.

Not so with wikis. They evolve slowly over time, as additions to the wiki accumulate, from vastly different and otherwise territorially and contextually dispersed contributors. A wiki is built from time to time, when there’s something to add. A page can be an inactive dead end for months or even years, and it can see a sudden outburst of activity from one moment to the other, when it finds it’s use in a new context.

We understand and implement our online strategy much in this way. We use web tools and services, when they are useful to us, and we try to add bits and pieces to our network, when we need to. We don’t write blog posts every day, just for the sake of it or just to draw in traffic. However, we do work systematically to find explicit ways to add information or new contacts to our network. Precisely where the activity occurs – whether it happens on Twitter or Friendfeed, or somewhere else – is less important, as long as our pieces and nitbits are closely interlinked, and as long as we can feed stuff from one platform to another. The last thing is a high priority, which is why RSS and widgets are important. But what is even more important, is that in most contexts, not just in our wiki, we invite replies, comments, reactions, input, if just for the rare case, when someone in some unexpected context stumbles upon one of the bits and pieces, which help he or she activate that page and connect with us.

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