DRM is Destiny

So I am writing again for the first time in a long time. I thought I would chime in on the news that sales at iTunes are dropping. This may all be my fault. My iTunes account says that I have made 100 or so transactions with the service since I started using it in fall 2003. My last purchase, however, was September 13th. Why did I stop downloading from iTunes? First, I decided I wanted to buy CDs, since they are roughly the same price as iTunes albums and more tangible. I also stopped buying singles – I want to enjoy whole albums if I am going to buy them. Finally, I started using the eMusic download service and have been very happy with their service.

You may not know eMusic, but it has quietly climbed up to the No. 2 spot in the music download market. How? They allow subscribers to download a number of MP3 files, without copy protection, every month. How? Well, their catalog is limited to mostly odds and ends that major labels don’t own. There’s no Jay-Z or U2, but they do have Sufjan Stevens and the White Stripes. I thought I would try out the service, get a few albums I liked, and quit. I haven’t yet though because my list keeps growing as I discover new music on the service.

So what does this have to do with iTunes? Clearly eMusic isn’t stealing customers away from iTunes because of its selection. I’m not sure eMusic is stealing customers away at all. But DRM does make a huge difference in getting customers to buy into a music service. Napster and Raphsody seem stunted by the fact that there are tremendous limitations on what you can download, transfer to an MP3 player, burn, etc. iTunes has a simple pitch: you can play your music on your computer, burn it, share with up to 5 friends, and play it on the most popular MP3 player in the world. That is why iTunes is the most successful music download service – it has one of the most lenient DRM policies.

Still any DRM is bad DRM. It doesn’t seem fair that iTunes tracks can only play on my iPod and iTunes – what if I want to transfer them to my Media Center PC or my XBox 360? Or my Linux machine? DRM even drains battery life on your iPod! This is why I started buying CDs (which are largely DRM-less since the Sony rootkit scandal) and using eMusic.

Now since I have all this unprotected music, the labels would speculate that I am probably illegally distributing it to all my friends – customers only stay customers if you have a leash tied around them. I don’t share my music on file-sharing services, however, because my bandwith is precious. And when I do share music its with the same 5 “friends” on my iTunes account – all members of my immediate family (I know, I know, Mom should be buying her own copy of The Black Album). So RIAA, if you want to continue to grow your industry why don’t you trust your customers and offer more content for DRM-less download?

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Statistics, Blogs, and the Long Tail

As seen earlier on the Collegian: Web Wire blog…

Earlier this month our wonderful systems manager, Rick Simpson, began providing us with daily statistics information about our site. In the past, statistics were tabulated at the end of the month and didn’t give us a good idea about what are visitors were looking at on a day-to-day basis. Our statistics reports are publicly available, so if you’re curious you can see what I’m talking about. I try to avoid getting too worked up over some details, because statistics can be lies with numbers. But I did want to focus on a couple areas of interest – blogs and the long tail.

First, let’s talk about blogs. I’ve been checking Technorati, a blog search engine, a lot to see who is linking to the Daily Collegian Online. According to Technorati the answer is a handful of real blogs and a lot of spam blogs (blogs that just steal content and links to attract more hits). After checking out the referring URLs in our statistics I realized that we get linked a lot more often than I realized. College Humor currently has Friday’s Bundy story linked on its home page, as did FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). Bundy, by the way, gathered more page views than our home page yeterday. Yesterday Fark tagged our story about a creationism/evolution lecture from Sept. 29 as “sad”. Those are just some examples of the bigger sites linking to us.

This all leads into my second point – the long tail. Those two “hot” stories from yesterday’s statistics are ones that did not appear in yesterday’s paper. In fact, a look at our statistics reports will show that only about a third of our traffic is for that day’s news. The long tail is a concept introduced in a Wired magazine article that has later been expanded into a book. It suggests that the Internet has started a shift in business from selling a small number of popular items to using technology to sell small quantities of many smaller items. Think of sites like Amazon.com and Netflix, whose selection is a big selling point. Julia Turner demonstrated last month how the long tail works for Slate magazine.

Seeing information like this shows the significance of maintaining archives and not putting them behind a pay wall. Some people may think it bad that a significant amount of our traffic goes to our archives, but from an advertisers’ perspective we’re still delivering them eyeballs. There may be some issues revolving around what sort of audience comes from outside our site. One way we don’t capitalize on this currently is that our archives don’t bring people back into the site well. Our navigation isn’t consistent across the site and we don’t have any “fresh” content on our archive pages. So most people who come to our site from a direct link to a story don’t necessarily to see what else we have going on.

The long tail is a valuable lesson for a lot of businesses including newspapers. Its unfortunate that more news sites do not embrace this philosophy and leverage their archives better.

New Look Collegian

I have been on a kind of blog hiatus since I finished up my summer internship and I am going to try to start up again. First up though, a post I wrote for my Collegian web log about the biggest development in my life this fall: the Collegian home page. I plan to repost relevent stuff from that blog in the future.

Our Brand Spanking New Home Page

All the News that's Fit to PrintYou probably noticed last week we launched a redesign of the home page of the Collegian Web site. You may have also noticed that we changed the Web site’s name from The Digital Collegian to The Daily Collegian Online. These are two of the more obvious changes to the Web site this year, but they will not be the last.

I would like to use this blog as an opportunity to highlight some of the new features on our Web site and give you an idea of where we are going in the future. I would also like to give you an idea of what is going on behind the scenes, so you can give us a break when things don’t look 100 percent.

The home page redesign is just the first part of a year-long project to revamp the Web site. I designed the new look, taking the best parts of an earlier mock-up from my Web project partner, Chris Bajgier. Our design goals included making pages wider, creating a consistent set of navigation links across the site, and making better use of space in general.

The new home page has more room for top stories, features, and section headlines. It also shows the weather more prominently and includes a preview of the day’s front page. This is a feature our design staff has been begging for and we’re glad we can highlight their work on the Web site. Behind the scenes, the page uses something called Cascading Style Sheets, which create a set of design rules and keep file size down. The expanded Collegian home page takes roughly the same amount of time to load as the original.

So far almost all the response has been pretty positive from both our staff and our readers. The biggest question/complaint we have gotten is why we aren’t using this design on all of our pages. The answer is a bit complicated. The Collegian uses some custom software to generate the article and section pages. We tried porting the templates over when we updated the home page, but ran into difficulties. At the last minute we decided to hold off on the other pages. We’re working on resolving these technical issues and hope to push the other design changes in the near future.

I won’t say much more for now, but I’ll be back later in the week with more details about our Web plans. In the meantime, you can read Editor-in-chief Erin James’ column about the web and Web editor Allison Busacca’s column about our blogs. Thanks for reading.

Congress Wants to Regulate Facebook, MySpace

The Internet is an excellent medium for communication and collaboration. Possibly too excellent for Pennsylvania congressman Michael Fitzpatrick. This week he introduced his Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA, with the emphasis on dope) in the House, a bill aimed at blocking access to MySpace and Facebook in schools and libraries. The objective of this bill is to protect children from stalkers and predators on these sites, but this is a rather foolish and dangerous approach.

For starters, most of these sites are probably already blocked in schools and it doesn’t stop kids from accessing these sites at home. The only people who will be affected are poorer folks who cannot afford internet access at home. Of course, these sites are probably more dangerous for them too. Social networking is a powerful tool that has legitimate uses and should not be treated like porn.

Also problematic is the law’s wording, which describes a social networking site as a web site that “allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users; and offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, email, or instant messenger.” By that standard, sites like Blogger and AIM could be blocked as well. That would make the internet about as static as a book – something libraries do not need anymore of.

What really concerns me right now is what this means for colleges and universities (since I am a college student). Reports suggest that the law is directed at schools and libraries that get Internet access through a federal E-rate program. The E-rate program is supposedly limited to K-12 schools, so it seems that the Facebook may be safe – for now.

Technorati, the next Digg?

I got a chance to take a look at the new Technorati during lunch today and I was pretty surprised. It seems like these guys are constantly reinventing themselves, still struggling to define the currency of the blogosphere. Is it the blog, the keyword, the tag, or the post itself? The post seems to get the vote in this latest redesign, which has top blog posts broken down by category in a manner very similar to the latest Digg. These days, Digg must be feeling very flattered.

Truth be told though, Technorati may be the more ideal social bookmarking platform than Digg. Digg is a supposedly an open platform, but you have to be a member to submit or “digg” content and these days you may even have to sign in to view it. This and the fact that “digg”-ing a story takes extra effort is the reason why only a subset of Digg’s readers actually contribute. Technorati, on the other hand, uses links as its article sorting method. It profits off the links people are already putting in their blog posts. So it in theory is a more accurate reflection of what is hot on the Internet.

But does the wisdom of the masses produce a better set of articles? I would argue no. The front page of Digg still seems much more compelling content-wise than the front page of Technorati. It’s the same reason I like the most-emailed stories more than the most-read or most-linked on the New York Times. Making the “cost” higher means that people focus on more interesting stories, rather than ones that are already popular. So while the new Technorati is interesting, its Digg-likeness is only skin deep.

Facebook-ed Birthday

So today is my 2nd birthday on the Facebook and its amazing the difference a year makes. The Facebook, a social networking site for college kids and beyond, has a feature where they show you if any friends’ birthdays are coming up. It’s a clever feature and last year it landed me a random birthday greeting from one of my “friends”. This year, I have recieved 10 birthday greetings so far. So how did I suddenly get more popular? I didn’t. I believe the difference is that more and more people have made the Facebook part of their daily routine (even on Sunday morning). I knew that I log on about once a day and I figured others did as well, but this is pretty overwhelming proof. Social networking, creepiness aside, is a pretty big deal. I’m 21 today, by the way, though I haven’t had anything to drink – yet.

The You in User

A professor once told us, “Only two industries call their customers users: IT people and drug dealers,” I had to get that out of the way. The internet has been alive with debate this week about “user-generated content” and I am happy to report that the name itself has been debated. As a content-creating user (is that what we’re calling it), I figured I could chime in on this subject.

Talking about a YouTube-esque video sharing site Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal writes today, ” The short cinematic pastiche we saw is an example of what has come to be called a “mash-up,” and for a big part of the tech world, these sorts of mash-ups are becoming the highest form of cultural production.” Ouch. Besides the fact that most user-generated content on the web is not a “mash-up”, is being derivative that shocking. One only needs to take a look at Google News to see the echo chamber that is the mainstream media. Hip-hop music is an entire art form based around building something new out of old tunes. And Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of “mash-ups”, be they sequels or remakes.

Most user-generated content, however, I think is “organic” content that comes out of people’s daily lives. SixApart’s new Vox service seems to be trying to cultivate people’s lives into interesting content. Flickr, for example, features lots of great original photography from a large group of users. There are plenty of worthwhile pictures for the public, but the others also are special because they mean something to someone. User-generated content is also helping to grow the “knowledge” of the Internet in exciting ways. The Wikipedia is a great example, there is a lot of stuff in there you could never find anywhere else.

I think the debate on books has triggered a lot of this backlash. I do not think books are dead, but I think there are certainly some that could be improved. A hyperlinked (even wiki-fied) textbook would be much more helpful than a printed one. Likewise, print encyclopedias are useful to no one. Still I think there is an audience for printed media. Coffee table books should not be done digitally. And I don’t think hyperlinking and commenting would do very much to improve literature. And I still think there’s something nice about a tangible object in your hands. I do think there is plenty of room for change though.

The Internet has enabled more opportunities for value creation than ever before. People can continue to complain about this or they can accept change and move forward.