An unfortunate re-telling of digital media history

Let me begin by saying that a recent lecture by Jawed Karim, the until recently silent founder of YouTube, is a great listen for anyone interested in how startups really start up. The talk involves are very well-spoken pursuit of the larger context in which YouTube (and online video sharing sites) rested, in an attempt to argue why the company succeeded. Alongside this macro view, is a good account of the iterative attempts by the team to figure out how to get people involved with the website. I think many would agree that a combination of good design, cunning, connections (can anyone say PayPal), culture, cash, copyright violations and luck were involved. Unfortunately, the lecture also engages a somewhat unfortunate re-telling of the history of digital media – specifically what we consider today to be “participatory culture.”

First, and foremost on the list is the claim that “Hot or Not” was the first website to which any user could post media. I reckon to anyone older than 26 this claim seems a bit off the mark. We shall accept that fact the Usenet is not a website, while at the same time remark that Usenet is a rather massive collection of user-submitted media dating back quite some time. And let us ignore as well the file-sharing realm, from Hotline to Napster to Kazaa to Limewire, since these are not websites. However, I think we would all agree that P2P applications enabled perhaps the largest aggregation of user-submitted and generated media.
A little site IUMA, back in 1994/1995 was accepting audio (specifically music) from pretty much anyone happy to submit. Then there was that little website called, and the collection of other sites (Audiogalaxy, dMusic,, etc) who all accepted music/audio from pretty much anyone. Let’s not forget the homepage phenomenon, and the fact that anyone who could use the tools could submit photos, text, audio and even video.

Second, is the apparent claim that video sharing websites did not really exist before 2004/2005. Again, not really true. There were a number of video sharing sites online from 1999-2001, including sites still around today like iFilm and Guba. In fact, if my dusty memory serves, I believe Odeo was originally a site for sharing user-generated videos back in the good ole days.

Finally… I don’t really have a finally. My point here was not to be snarky, but rather to make it clear that internet history is a rather rich phenomenon. Even Jawed comments that its unlikely that any idea is a new idea. Perhaps it really is just broadband penetration. South Korea and Japan have enjoyed video sharing sites for awhile, and both countries have seen broader access to high-bandwidth internet connections. Or Jawed’s attention to the higher-quality video encoding in shockwave seven.

Oddly, I think the domain name really stuck with people and became a source of habit. It would also seem that the submission and availability of copyrighted, but otherwise unaccessible material was important. That final point, as sad and empowering as it may seem, might actually be the major factor. As YouTube now focuses on cleaning out copyrighted content . Who knows.


Oops, there’s another subatomic particle…

So I am reading this book on artificial intelligence.  I reckon its an “old school” kind of book… Artificial Intelligence, by Philip Jackson.  Even when my head spins a bit from the mathematico-logical stuff filling the pages, I am struck by the casual and approachable style of the author.  Maybe this makes ts a coffee table book on AI, but I don’t think this is truly the case.  There is something of value in being able to communicate complex ideas in simple terms.  Or to write in a scholarly, yet conversational tone.  In fact, this seem to be a lost art in academic circles. 

In a section early in the book discussing just what kinds of problems can be expressed mathematically, Jackson spins out “ooops, there’s another subatomic particle.”  I figured that was a line you don’t run across everyday.

Sue ‘em, then Do ‘em. Gaining popularity

Looks like other tech blogs have picked up on my the meme highlighting the dominant hollywod strategy for do new media deals. TechDirt wonders if its more than sour grapes that leads copyright holders to announce to the world the threat of lawsuits before cutting deals with folks like YouTube. Mashable wonders if TimeWarner is just adopting the same strategy employed by UniversalMusic in its public clucking while negotiating. Even GigaOm ponders the domino effect of lawsuits and deals.

This is old school media at its best. Take a meeting. Shoot for the moon. No dice. Threaten a lawsuit. More style points awarded if you blab about a lawsuit in public before doing so with the company under threat. You might also call it the “who’s your daddy” helpful reminder.

Sue ‘em, then Deal ‘em. Part Deux

Startups interested in anything media/entertainment sit in this unfortunate purgatory. No one will do a deal with you until you are huge. You get huge by enabling people to do things they couldn’t do before… which usually means bending/breaking/discovering the law.

Mr. Cohen has hit the nail on the head on this one, in his post on the Universal Music vs YouTube clucking. I quote:

Have a good idea for a business employing music? Try to be reasonable and ask for permission? You won’t get it. You’ll spin your wheels, wasting time and money, and eventually be forced to go out of business, or launch on such a limited, hamstrung basis, that you’ll end up with a site/service that no one wants to use….

So act brazenly, steal with impunity. Maybe, like the principals of Hummer Winblad, you’ll be sued personally for your efforts, but you’ll go down in the history books as bringing the future to the people, as pushing the envelope, as doing a good thing.

Without Napster, there’s no iTunes Music Store.

Without the Rio, there’s no iPod.

Don’t ask! Hell, record execs are too busy in marketing meetings figuring out how to get their wares placed in the few existing slots on radio so they don’t get fired to pay attention to your wacky idea until it gets traction.

Its good stuff. Read more.

People-powered news no longer a red herring

For quite some time now, the so-called digerati have been trash talking the “old media” by highlighting the threat of people-powered, or distributed news production. You might call this form of news “power to the people with video cameras.” For the most part however, the impact of this newfound capacity to not only produce, but also widely distribute alternative news and information has been considered an insignificant pipe dream, a red herring. The work of overzealous political bloggers, or radical newsies who are doped up on insence.

The New York Times today picked up on the rather steady flow of videos, posted to sites such as YouTube, capturing attacks against US troops. These are the sorts of footage most likely to take the distirbuted news topic to main street. You have the type of footage most likely to be consored by the US government available on a set of internet sites to which US citizens have access.

So now the debate will turn past whether distributed news production will be a problem, to the ethics of censoring this footage- whether that censoring is done by the individual, the media, or the government.