January 31, 2010 | 2 comments

Rock IIMy sister is a singer-songwriter. Her songs are great, and you can find them in the usual locations: MySpace Music, and Facebook. Interestingly, though, she’s decided there are different purposes to each:

  • Her page contains more polished recordings.
  • Facebook has those too, but also contains more rough-and-ready demos, ideas and experiments; it’s also updated the most, probably because she spends more time on it than on any other site.
  • The MySpace page seems to exist because you’re expected to have one.

I wonder how common this is? Any other musicians care to comment? Is there one best place to promote yourself as an independent musician?

PubCasts: subscribe to publications through RSS

January 28, 2010 | 1 comment

This is inspired by the iBooks launch, but it’s applicable to any ereader that uses the ePub format. (Or, indeed, it could use any ebook format – MobiPocket, Kindle, DAISY, etc.)

A podcast is just an RSS feed with a file enclosure – part of the RSS standard – that points to an MP3 file. Similarly, video podcasts point to video files. An obvious evolution, then, is the pubcast: periodical publications delivered through RSS feeds.

Free publication subscriptions

In the free case, a user would simply subscribe to a public pubcast feed with a compatible reader. The reader software would check regularly for updates, and new publications would be downloaded and fed into the user’s ereader software on release. Easy.

Paid publication subscriptions

In the case of paid publications, there are two options:

An authenticated pubcast feed. When you subscribe to a publication, you get an address to an RSS feed that requires a username and password to download content. (Gmail is an example of an application which already does this.) This authentication ensures that only paid subscribers can access the file, but you could go a step further and watermark the publications themselves.

Activation within the ebook file. The RSS feed itself is public, but each downloaded publication could require an access code to read. This would open the door for public feeds of paid journals, where users could buy each issue individually to read.

Making subscriptions an open standard

Either way, this approach would allow any ereader using any compatible software solution to subscribe to periodicals. It could be used for newspapers, magazines, journals, zines, or new kinds of periodical; they could be hosted anywhere and, in the case of paid content, use any payment provider. I love reading, but dislike monopolies, so this is something I’d like to see.

iBooks is a killer app for ebooks

If you pay any attention at all to the tech press, you’re probably sick to death of the iPad, Apple’s announced tablet device. I’m posting about it anyway, because there are two things that haven’t been discussed enough, which I think deserve a mention.

One: this isn’t a device for the tech community. I think Rafe Colburn hits it on the head:

It’s just an iPod Touch with a big screen, but that’s all that many people need from a computer. You can use it to surf the Web, read email, listen to music, watch video, or compose documents. That’s the personal computer use case for many people. And I think a lot of people are going to buy them.

He goes on to discuss the locked-down nature of the device, which I agree is a setback that may have a profound impact on the consumer computing industry. (On the other hand, as Yehuda Katz argues, this is a major win for standards-based web applications.)

Two: for me, the big news wasn’t the iPad at all. It was iBooks: Apple’s new iTunes-like store for ebooks. You may remember that iTunes pretty much revolutionized how we buy music, and this is the same; the books are stored in the open ePub standard, so they’ll play with other ereaders, and the experience is seamless. (You almost certainly won’t need an iPad to buy from iBooks.)

Mashable notes that some big players are on board:

iBooks is backed by big-time launch partners Penguin, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Hachette, all publishing powerhouses in their own rights.

You can think about the iPad as a kind of $499 catwalk model, that other devices will slowly emulate over the next couple of years. But iBooks? That’s a store that anyone will be able to use right away, which just might change the publishing industry forever.

Photo by kennymatic, released under a Creative Commons license.

Using game dynamics to drive participation

January 26, 2010 | 2 comments

Going out and checking in

I’ve been using Foursquare quite a bit lately (here’s my profile). There’s a lot to be impressed by: not least the level of mobile integration. Foursquare doesn’t make much sense if you’re sitting at your desk, so it’s far easier to see where your friends are and check into a new location from the mobile app.

The way it promotes participation is even more interesting. The designers decided that just seeing where your friends were, and getting personalized travel tips, weren’t enough. You gain points – the same kind you get in Sonic the Hedgehog, say – for checking in at a location, exploring new places and telling the app about venues it’s never seen before. In turn, the points lead to badges, and there’s a weekly leaderboard for the top scorers among your friends. There’s no real tangible value to any of this, but you feel good about joining in. As a result, Foursquare is hugely addictive.

Open source participation

Over on Twitter, I asked:

Could the game dynamics used by apps like Foursquare be harnessed to make a more participative open source community?

Open source projects depend on contributions from their communities. Getting people to participate can be difficult; although many people will join in because it scratches some kind of itch, moral incentives like a place in the credits help. However, adding these kinds of game dynamics over the top could provide an extra push. Currently, the only quantifiable open source contributions are source code patches, and any software project has a lot more going on; this would provide an opportunity to quantify other, equally useful forms of participation.

Game dynamics in the enterprise

Graeme Hunter pointed out to me that this model wouldn’t solely be useful for open source. An internal project communications framework that also incorporated game dynamics could be a very interesting platform for ideas, solutions and internal innovation. He’s right; I think it’s an idea to keep in mind if you’re looking for software to use internally for your project.

There are also implications for online communities, where game dynamics are often already used (to rate individual contributions, for example). What if we used similar ideas for education? Or a community centering around journalism?

Photo by dpstyles, released under a Creative Commons license. It’s of a Target store in Milford, Massachusetts, where they use game dynamics to encourage faster checkout times.

Update: Graeme comments below with an exploration of what a participation framework using game dynamics might involve.

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