Snapchat: Not Just For Showing Bits Of Yourself. Probably.

March 6th, 2013 | thinking

Snapchat gets used for sexting a lot.  Sure.  I get that.  I’m not sure, however, if the monstrous volume of messages the service is apparently processing can all be ascribed to sexting.  I tested it with a few people, and I have a feeling a big part of the appeal is that it treats photos and video as if they were as ephemeral as texting.  Most texts, after all, are things that exist purely in their moment and then become landfill in the back of your phone.  Over the years, I’ve several times watched my kid have to shovel out the back of her phone so she has room to receive texts again.  Some texts, you want to save, sure.  Most, you have to delete after receiving, or go back later to clear them out because they’re just laying there.

It’s not a leap to think that inspecific, fun photos and video messages could be treated the same way.  It’s saying hello.  For ten seconds.  What’s more transient than saying hello?  What’s more insubstantial but pleasing, really, than a message meaning “I just thought of you.”  You don’t necessarily want or need to permanently store every single instance of someone saying hello.

It’s no wonder Facebook hacked together a competitor in a hurry.  That sort of drive-by informational traffic is their wheelhouse.  It’s no wonder that more secure variants of the Snapchat idea, like Wickr, are popping up.  There’s all kinds of potential in transient self-destructing communication.  (There are arguments as to how secure Wickr is, obviously, just as Snapchat itself is not as opaque as it would like to present itself.)

It’s a more interesting idea that you might immediately expect, to bat around, with considerable speed, fast-expiring audiovideo content that doesn’t pile up in your storage. 

But, yes, it’s probably used mostly for sexting.

Here’s a thing, though.  We used to say that porn was a major driver of online technologies.  Here in 2013, though, the vast majority of porn content is home-made or made to appear so.  So, perhaps, that old adage still holds true, and the Snapchat experience could be the future of something.

Anyway, I’m going out to drink a lot.  And I’ve already deleted the Snapchat app from my phone, for the safety of everyone.

Google TV, And Why It Hasn’t Happened Yet

March 5th, 2013 | thinking

After I posted this raw braindump yesterday, a few people called me out on this bit:

I wonder what happens when Google decide to look at TV interfaces, long expected to be an Apple focus going forward.

Because, of course, there is such a thing as Google TV, and has been for a couple of years, along with airy claims about half the new TVs in America being fitted with it  Which may be true.  I don’t live there, after all.  But I will say that I don’t hear a lot of people talking about Google TV.  Wikipedia (yeah, I know) notes:

Cable providers as well as content providers have been slow to warm to Google TV. NBC, ABC, Fox,[47] CBS and Hulu have blocked Google TV enabled devices from accessing their web content since Google TV’s launch

Here’s what I was thinking.  From one perception, there are two Googles.  There’s the Google that fiddle-farts around with stuff just to have a foot in that space.  The Google that made Orkut, for instance.  And then there’s the Google that released a fleet of camera trucks into the wild in order to make a free online street-level interactive map of the world.

Google TV, as it stands now, strikes me as the former.  A TV guide, a TV browser, Send To TV – these all seem like play to me.

But what prompted the thought was recent developments, in the last few weeks – additions to the platform, moves to become a spectrum database, and the like.  What if they put together a larger and more directed team, with the mandate to go from, if you like, from Google Wave to Google Street View, with the freedom to go nuts, reach for the sky and iterate like all hell?  The full NASA, as it were.  Actually looking very hard at the problem with the intent of claiming the space.

(They’ve made some interactivity hires recently that kind of informed my speculation, too.)

Anyway.  That’s what I was thinking.  Google hasn’t done TV yet.  Not really.  But they could.

Google, Apple And A Technological Moat

March 5th, 2013 | thinking

Originally written at the weekend for my newsletter.  Which fell into a spam abyss, so most people didn’t see it.

I get oddly annoyed at my phone.  I’ve been using smartphones since the 90s, and I am annoyed at how stupid it still is.  Which is a stupid thing to be annoyed about.  (Unless you, too, have been travelling outside your country of origin and didn’t have the time/energy to sort out a local SIM card with a data plan (possibly because you had an international plan in place that seemed to have inexplicably evaporated), and so spent a few weeks manually throttling your cellular so you didn’t rack up a £1000 bill.)

Nested parentheses.  I should quit while I’m ahead.  But I’m always bugged by how my phone seems never to be working hard enough.  I’ve just, finally, found a podcast app I like, Downcast, which does the thing I thought was bloody obvious: it automatically downloads podcasts itself, and syncs information between all my instances of the app (iPhone and iPad).  How was that hard?  Really?  I’m baffled — but fucking Apple couldn’t do it.  iTunes would never do it without a cable connection, and their Podcasts app isn’t fit for purpose.

I don’t think it’s arrogant or demanding, these days, to expect that a (yes okay I have disposable income) premium smartphone should bring me stuff (yes okay like a slave shush).  That said, I’m starting to get the sense that Android may do that job better.  In fact, in many respects, I’m getting the sense for the first time that I may have backed the wrong mobile-OS horse.  I am looking particularly at Google’s hires of late, and the appearance that they seem prepared to spend their money.  I wonder what happens when Google decide to look at TV interfaces, long expected to be an Apple focus going forward. 

What happens when Google’s field of interests do not directly intersect Apple’s as such, but simply surround them?  Cutting off the bridges of intent that Apple have been slow to lay, and putting a commercial moat of sorts around Apple?

I’d rather that than the technological equivalent of a coalition government, in which no risks are taken and no forward motion is achieved.

Download Wristbands, or: How To Give Books Away At Parties

February 21st, 2013 | thinking

Download wristbands.

What’s a download wristband?  Simple: imagine a sleek, customized download card you can wear around your wrist.  Each one comes with a unique code, redeemable on for a free album or single download. Use download wristbands at your next concert. Instead of stamping wrists or using the venue’s wristbands, you can arrange for the door-person at your next show to put a download wristband on everyone who comes into the venue. Then your fans can take your music home with them after the show.

Now imagine that for digital books, of all kinds.  Imagine handing those out at a launch party or speaking gig or panel appearance or some such, or seeding them at a show or other event or gathering.

Somewhat more interesting and elegant than being given a scrap of paper.  A hell of a lot easier than shipping a few crates of books (especially if you’re a self-publisher or, of course, a digital-only publisher).

There’s something to be said for learning from the awful, twisting spasms of the music industry.

THE HUMAN DIVISION And The Digital Serial

February 13th, 2013 | stuff2013, thinking

I’ve already talked about the first instalment of John Scalzi’s serialised sf novel THE HUMAN DIVISION here.  I read parts two to five on the train into London today – I’ve been getting them auto-delivered every week, and intended to read a couple of parts on the plane, but got into David Byrne’s HOW MUSIC WORKS instead.  (Still on track for a book a week in 2013, if you squint at it.)  Anyway.

What I wanted to briefly note down is this.  This is a thirteen-part serial.  Each piece takes no less than ten or fifteen minutes to read, I think.  Some, like the first episode, are much bigger.  He’s taking a risk by varying the length of the episodes so dramatically, but I think he’s getting away with it.  Each piece is costing me 99 American cents, or 64p.  An mp3 runs me 99p on iTunes.  A tv episode costs £2.49 on iTunes.  Each episode of THE HUMAN DIVISION automatically downloads to my Kindle. 

In modern-day terms, this is the equivalent of a cable television show season happening – but in a deeply participatory “cool” medium, and with a greater informational density than other cool media like tv or even comics.

It’s the instant nature of the ebook, with its automagic form of broadcast, that’s the killer.  If there was a single serious misstep, it was that the publisher did not negotiate with Amazon (I don’t know if it’s true for other vendors) to create a one-click subscription for all thirteen parts.  Perhaps that was impossible.  I certainly would have liked it, though.

While companies like Netflix attempt to embrace the “novel for television” by making all thirteen parts of HOUSE OF CARDS available simultaneously, it’s interesting to see Scalzi and Tor go the other way by testing not a traditional serialisation but a “television season for novel.”  The walls of the current standard of container are getting bent a little.

You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Stephen King’s forays into periodical serial had been taken in the spring days of the e-reader, tablet and smartphone.

Yes, doing digital-only or (in this case) digital-first still feels a little exclusionary.  But, honestly?  Is it any more economically exclusionary than publishing in hardback?  And it’s not like there’s not a substantial digital-first audience out there.

I don’t pretend to be informed enough to know if THE HUMAN DIVISION constitutes a signal suite of breakthroughs in publishing.  But it’s the one in front of me, and it’s gotten me thinking.  There’s a beauty to the idea of signing up to receive the digital broadcast of a prose serial.  Buying a season of book and having each piece magically appear every week.  And, conceivably, reaching an audience that won’t or can’t hit bookstores, through the developing momentum of word-of-mouth over thirteen weeks.  And, frankly, getting to talk to people for an entire season, one week at a time.

Not Fully Baked, as a thought.  But it’s nagging at me.  There’s more to unpack, but I wanted to get this down now.