Online Collaboration, Fans

Not only getting to see how the sausage gets made, but also getting to give the grinder a crank or two oneself: Fans Get to Talk About ‘Transformers,’ and the Knives Are Unsheathed

Hollywood is a town of talkers, not listeners. That’s why studios handsomely pay consultants to parse the results of focus groups and audience exit polls or eavesdrop on online chat rooms.

Only rarely do the filmmakers themselves talk directly to fans but Don Murphy, one of the producers of the summer blockbuster “Transformers,” decided to do just that.

Four years ago, Mr. Murphy, a comic-book lover since growing up on Long Island in the 1970s, turned a forum on his personal Web site ( into a rolling conversation about the movie, which was released on July 2. And much to the delight of some of the fans who posted on the site and engaged with Mr. Murphy, they actually had some influence over changes in the script and casting.

The site would seem to be a perfect example of a modern media company reaching out to potential audience members in a new, interactive conversation. But in an unorthodox twist — one that might give media companies some pause — Mr. Murphy’s site quickly became a home not only for fans to debate whether Megatron’s form should be a tank or a gun (he ended up as an alien jet) but a place to vent frustration with the movie’s production as well as with the executives who worked on the film.

The site also helped expose the internal politics of making movies, where credit is hard fought and studios seek to distance themselves from things or people they can’t control.

What Do Turtles and Microfinancing Have In Common?

Distributed networks! In Poorer Nations, Cellphones Help Open Up Microfinancing

The value of mobile technologies has benefited microlenders, too. Jamii Bora, the largest microfinance institution in Kenya, has more than 150,000 borrowers. The organization, whose name means “good families” in Swahili, began to experiment last year with mobile point-of-sale devices, magnetic-stripe cards and fingerprint authentication to take its remote branches online.

[…] The system that Jamii Bora uses allows clients in the countryside to make loan repayments, receive disbursements and do other business electronically. Once clients log in with a fingertip, authenticating their identity, they are connected to a central database in Nairobi.

In a system similar to the one Vodafone has set up, cash is paid and received through loan officers or sales agents in gas stations or shops, which settle their accounts with Jamii Bora.

[…] “This is the most inexpensive way of being linked,” Ms. Munro of Jamii Bora said. “Every loan officer and man on a bicycle is online with our central server in Nairobi. And at the end of each day, we know the cash position of each branch.”

Compare with In a snap, turtles could aid researchers in saving speciespdf

In an experiment taking place along the Deerfield River in Western Massachusetts, two otherwise unrelated groups of researchers are working together: computer engineers like Garber who are testing a new wireless communication network, and biologists like Jones who are tracking snapping turtles — a species they worry may be headed for decline as land development shrinks their habitat. The idea is to create a network of constantly moving devices that record and store information, transmit data from one device to another, then relay all the saved information to a central location while running on self-charging batteries.

[…] The solar-powered computers are light enough that they don’t weigh the turtles down or interrupt their mating habits, Jones said. Stuck to the shells of about 15 turtles found in spots near the Deerfield swamp, the gadgets will take periodic readings of the reptiles’ location and body temperature. When one computer-carrying snapper gets within a 10th -of-a-mile of another, the machines swap information.

The series of short-distance transmissions allows for long battery life in each computer, and the solar panels attached to the units are expected to keep the batteries charged constantly. Without a relay system, a longer transmission would require a larger battery that would drain too quickly or be too large for a turtle to carry.

The turtle-to-turtle relay ends when one of the snappers passes near a single base station that receives all the accumulated information. […]

Rapid Changes In Distribution, Slow Changes In Legislation

Not just a problem for the US press: British Press Assails Curbs on Reporting

Britain has some of the tightest restrictions on reporting in the Western world, limiting news organizations’ ability to publish pictures or articles about the subjects of criminal investigations. The rules are intended to ensure fair trials by keeping potentially prejudicial information from would-be jurors.

But critics say the restrictions seem increasingly out of step in an era when Britons can turn to the Internet or other sources for unfiltered information on prominent subjects like terrorism. And, based on their coverage of the recent events, news organizations seem unclear about how to apply the rules.

A Business Look At the Universal/Apple Contretemps

Frankly, it’s the Zune statistic that I found most interesting this this article: All Shook Up, Right Down to the Musical Core

In this environment, the music industry has a tempestuous relationship with Mr. Jobs, more respect-resent than love-hate. Label chiefs respect that he has revolutionized the online and portable music businesses at a time when so many others have flopped, and file-sharers and sites like Russia’s — a site that labels have accused of piracy — have wreaked havoc on the industry’s business models. (AllofMP3 was conveniently shuttered last week as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia prepared to visit President Bush.) But the chiefs resent Mr. Jobs’s rigidity in areas like pricing — 99 cents a track, take it or leave it — and iTunes’ proprietary digital-rights management software, which has made songs sold there impossible to play on rival devices.

Most of all, they envy that Mr. Jobs is in a much higher-margin business of selling gadgets. Ms. Kevorkian of IDC said the label chiefs might still hold out hope that Apple will share someday the spoils of each iPod sold — along the lines of how Microsoft agreed to pay $1 for each of its Zune players, introduced last year. But only a million Zunes have been sold, while iPod sales have topped 100 million.

[…] Although his anti-protection measure stance is somewhat self-serving — European antitrust regulators had been circling the closed iTunes system — there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Mr. Jobs may be on to something. And, if so, the other big label groups — Universal, Warner Music and Sony/BMG — could follow suit and offer protection-free tunes, although perhaps not with their entire catalogs, as EMI has done.

[…] Oddly, Universal or anyone else doing exclusive deals with iTunes’ rivals could end up reducing the clout of iTunes but spurring more sales of iPods — and that means more music to Mr. Jobs’s ears.

Music and Market Choice

A Cinderella story for Disney Music Grouppdf

For more than a decade, Walt Disney Co.’s Hollywood Records was an industry joke.

Now, it and Disney’s other labels are having the last laugh at a time when the rest of the beleaguered music industry has little to smile about.

[…] Disney Music’s strategy has been to court an audience that its larger rivals have mostly ignored — children and preteens, whose parents still buy CDs. It’s also leveraged the potent partnership it enjoys with the Disney Channel, a veritable launching pad for “tween” stars.

Privacy and Broadband

An adjunct prof at the K-School makes a sadly unrealistic proposal, using an image from lectures on architecture as policy: Ensuring privacy in the broadband erapdf

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits unreasonable government invasions of our privacy. But what is unreasonable in the post-9/11 era and a war against terrorism that has no closure? Will fear and the manipulation of fear lead the United States into becoming a “panopticon” society to create a sense of security from terrorist acts and violent crime?

[…] Here are my suggestions: The states should add an amendment to their constitutions for a general right of privacy, as is now included in the state constitution of California; Congress should create a federal Privacy Commission, whose role would be to investigate violations of privacy laws and bring cases to the Department of Justice for prosecution, modeled after the Privacy Commission of Canada; Congress should also strengthen existing federal privacy laws.

Broadband service and surveillance cameras are necessary technologies that are not going away. In the post-9/11 era, however, they could render the notion of privacy as outdated as Bentham’s panopticon. Innocent citizens beware. A “spying/lying” government may be trying to rehabilitate you, too.

C.f., New York Plans Surveillance Veil for Downtown

See also this op-ed from the LATimes: YouTube This!pdf

The theory was that the 24/7 surveillance wrought by camera phones, blogs, YouTube, Facebook and MySpace have turned all of us into public figures. Because everything we say or do is now apt to turn up on the Internet — potentially with humiliating results — we must now live our lives more judiciously, cognizant that in the new “transparent” age, there is nowhere to hide.

Not long ago, such a society would have been deemed an Orwellian nightmare, a living hell where the brain police spied on everyone. But somehow Friedman has gotten it into his head that although surveillance is a bad idea when the government does it, it is just peachy keen when done by amateurs.

I’m not so sure. […]

[…] In a society in which everyone has already decided to immortalize their stupidity, being an idiot isn’t going to hurt anyone’s career. The new “transparency” is just like the old television: The whole world may be watching, but nobody seems to be paying much attention.

Wait, You’re Saying the FCC Sold Out The Customer?

Now this is news, as opposed to when the FCC declared that fiber would not be subject to “common carrier” requirements: FiOS users say Verizon cuts copper wires, cheaper optionspdf

Verizon’s new high-bandwidth fiber lines are fully capable of carrying not only calls but also Internet data and television, with room to grow. But once the copper is pulled, it’s difficult to switch back to the traditional phone system or less expensive Digital Subscriber Line service. And Verizon isn’t required, in most instances, to lease fiber to rival phone companies, as it is with copper infrastructure.

What’s more, anyone who owns Powderly’s house in the future will face higher bills with FiOS than another home with copper. […]

Of course, Verizon points out that everyone *is* notified:

A Verizon spokesman said customers should have been notified at least three times: by the sales representative, by the technician, and in paperwork

Of course, I’m *sure* that notice is accompanied by a copy of the FCC chairman’s statement, and the dissenting comments.