Oct
2009

Am I A Pirate?

I certainly don’t dress like a pirate, and I only talk like a pirate one day a year. So why do I feel like a criminal?

Well, what is Internet piracy? As defined by YourDictionary.com:

“Using the Internet to illegally copy and/or distribute software, which is an infringement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA) in the United States.

This week a magazine writer, who I follow on Twitter, posted a link to a You Tube video. He called the link “One of mankind’s greatest ever achievements:

Here is the video:

As a professional TV producer, and someone who has been taught a lot about ethics, I found myself confused about how I felt towards the video.

On one hand I loved it for its creativity and thought it to be almost inspirational. The idea of all these people, who are mostly strangers, coming together to make this video is so amazing to me. On the other hand, it breaks the law. Those students especially(being TV students), know what they are doing. In the TV field, you are taught the rules, and the rules clearly state that without written consent, you don’t have the right to take this music and do what you like with it.

Here is the basic definition of what copyright infringement is as defined by Wikipedia:

“Copyright infringement (or copyright violation) is the unauthorized use of material that is covered by copyright law, in a manner that violates one of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works.”

These students had no malice in mind as they set out to make this video. They simply wanted to create something fun and creative. They wanted to entertain and excite people. While they may have wanted to get noticed on the world stage, they certainly we’re not looking for any monetary profit from this. If any profit were sought it would be a good grade from their professor for such an innovative idea. So why should these students be punished or charged with any criminal act, or sued? They shouldn’t.

As someone who produces content, here is my take: I am all for the continued sharing of information on the Internet. After all, that’s why the Internet exists. Let me be clear though. Sharing “information” should remain free, not profiting from others work. Specifically, I’m talking about produced entertainment that is original content seeking to make a profit.

In the field of news, we produce for the user. The point of all that we are producing is to share information with the viewers. They should then be allowed to share that information with as many people as they like. I also feel that as a producer of information, I should be allowed to use whatever resources I can. Sadly, copyright law does not agree with that thought, even in the news world. For example, my company doesn’t pay for ASCAP or BMI rights. So if I don’t have the permission directly from a musical act to use their music, I can’t.

If I create an original video, and the elements of that video are all mine, and I choose to share that video with the world on the Internet, then that is my choice and I should be free to always have that right. That work should also be protected as mine. Yes, I want as many people to see it as possible, and no I don’t want to charge them. But if someone else wants to use it, they need to ask for it. It’s a simple rule we were taught in grade school: sharing.

I want to share with you. If you have something, of your own, you would like to share, then I would be open to that. However, it is wrong for you to take my work and make it yours.

Just because I enjoy watching a TV show, doesn’t make that show free for me to edit. Even if I buy a copy, I still don’t have the right to re-edit the outcome or re-distribute it. To claim that I do have the right online just because the Internet is an open place to share information is simply wrong, and hardly an excuse.

Artists create work to be seen, not to hide it from the world, but that doesn’t give us the right to change the work after we get it, unless we have consent.

Here is another perspective.

I am obsessed with the British TV show “Doctor Who.” The show has been around since the mid-1960’s, and came to an end in the early 1990’s, but was resurrected in 2005.

When the show came back I couldn’t wait to see it, but the show was only broadcast in the UK. A friend of mine downloaded a few episodes and then burned them to a disc and shared them with me. I viewed the discs and fell in love with the show all over again. Was this illegal? The action of my friend was illegal, but I argue that had there been any legal way for me to view it, and even purchase the video right away, I would have agreed to it. To further that point, as soon as the show went out onto DVD I have bought every season. When the show was broadcast domestically I paid for the cable channels to view it. Does that make up for my previous actions? I feel I could argue yes. The viewing British public is allowed the option of viewing the show again as many times as they like via the web, but if you are outside the UK, then you are denied that access. I would be happy to pay a reasonable fee to have that access, to see it right away.

Over the summer, a British actor and writer named Stephen Fry was asked to give a talk at the iTunes festival in England. He spoke on the history of copyright law and where he saw the world going in this digital age. He highlighted each time in history a piece of new technology came along that allowed people to reproduce original content. Fry outlined all the different arguments and legal fights that also accompanied these technical advancements. As he talked about his business, the film and television industry, he stated that he still didn’t know exactly how he felt about the current state of things, but did feel strongly that the industry is doing the wrong thing in taking strong legal action against those who illegally download. He went on to say,

“I think that most of us would agree that someone who downloads on the industrial scale in order to sell and make a profit probably should be prosecuted, but what I have tried to make the people in my own business understand, and many of them refuse to understand it, is that it does no good whatsoever to label people as criminals. We all know that preposterous, irritating, commercial that is on every f***ing DVD, ‘You wouldn’t steal a handbag.’ No, you want to find the person who made that commercial and say can you not see the difference, are you truly so blind, as to think that all moralities is so absolute, that someone who bit torrents an episode of their favorite American TV show ‘24’ so that they can see an episode before anybody else, is the same as somebody who steals somebody’s handbag? Do you not see the difference? Do you not see that when I was illegally taping it didn’t mean that I crossed a line into criminality from which I can never escape, that I am now a criminal I will never be a good citizen. I am the enemy of the copyright makers, the enemy of the creative artist, I am destroying live music, do you not see it was because I was a student, cause I love music, because I wanted a good compilation, because I was excited about the possibilities of having my own compilation, and that the moment I could afford to buy music I bought music. Because I wanted to, and that is what 98% I would submit, at the very least, all of you are like. I bet most of you have illegally downloaded at sometime, but that does not mean that you are now the enemies of society. That does not mean you should be characterized as criminals and pirates and destroyers of art, and enemies of musicians, and enemies of filmmakers, and the idea seems to me so stupid, it’s simply psychologically because it seems to misunderstand how human beings are. We are not nouns, we are verbs, we are processed we are being things through our life. We are not now suddenly criminals.”

Fry goes on to cite a study that shows how this action can alienate the people who do buy the work, and asks, how could any artist feel this way? People want to enjoy the work, he says, but the average consumer has been left out of this debate. Fry says we all just want a reasonable price and that at the core we are not all out to steal from the artist. He says we just need to work out how this can be done in a reasonable way, in the current technological world.

Stephen Fry is not alone in this specific line of thought. Mega-star and U2 lead singer Bono feels the same way. In Earlier this year, during a publicity tour for their newest album, “No Line On The Horizon,” Bono was being interview by Simon Mayo of BBC Radio 5 Live. The band recently agreed to allow their music to be a part of a new website called “Spotify.” The website is just like Hulu or TV.com except it’s for music. For citizens of the UK, the music is posted for free and open to be listened to as often and the user likes, just as an artist might post it on MySpace. The user is restricted from downloading the music for free and will hear a brief commercial every half hour.

Bono spoke about how the band, as artists, want their music heard, and if people can’t afford to buy their music right now, then listen all they like. But as soon as they can afford it, then please go purchase it. He went on to say that people want to be apart of the music and the band.

Here in the United States, entertainment companies are slowly starting to get the idea. In the last couple of years we have seen a slew of new websites owned and operated by the copyright owners. We have Hulu, TV.com, and so many more added each week. These websites allow for the user to go online and view their favorite TV shows. You can even share them on social networking sites.

Now, there are considerable limitations to these sites, but it’s a start and the message they are sending back is clear, “we get it.” It gives the user the option to view their shows as often as they like until the content is available to purchase for a reasonable fee. This is the direction we have been craving for years. The response has been very positive and more and more content is added to these sites everyday.

In a perfect world these steps will continue to evolve and balance will be restored to the Internet, and people like me won’t feel like criminals, but the debate over net neutrality might bring all that to a screeching halt.

So what is Net Neutrality and how will it determine the future of the Internet?

As defined by Google:

“Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet… net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. “

Basically, the companies (or Internet Service Providers), that we pay to access the Internet, now want to further their control over how we use the Internet. They want end to the unlimited use of the Internet as we currently know it. If these companies got their way, I may never be able to enjoy a TV show for free on the Internet. They would require all of us to pay them extra to gain access to use sites like Hulu or TV.com. It wouldn’t stop there either. It’s unclear just how these companies would charge us depending on the different sites we use. With billions of websites in the world their charges could be endless.

The future is still very uncertain for net neutrality. Our government is still debating the outcome. So in the meantime I will enjoy the new technologies that the copyright holders have developed, and soak in as much (legal) entertainment as I can. So far my telepathic campaign to get international shows available domestically for a small fee, has made very little progress (surprisingly).

To answer the original question, am I a pirate? I don’t feel that I am… Yarrr!

Oct
2009

I’m Sorry, I’m an Apologist!

Being an “apologist” means never having to say you’re sorry, or at least I wish it did. According to Alan Cooper, the author of “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum,” there are two kinds of people in the world, apologists and survivors.

I am proud to be an apologist. If you have read Cooper, then you may be asking yourself why would you own up to being an apologist? If you have not read Cooper, I will explain what it means to be an apologist, a survivor, and why I think the apologists are crucial for us to move forward with technology and design.

What is an apologist? As defined by Cooper, an apologist looks at technology and defends it. To use Cooper’s phrase, an apologist says, “Look at what the computer lets me do!” The apologist loves the technology to the point of defending it and making apologies for it when the technology fails. Cooper goes as far as claiming that the apologist suffers from Stockholm syndrome.

Before I can explain why I am proud to be an apologist, I must define the other side of the coin, the survivor. Cooper says that the survivors “are the vast majority of people who are not impressed by the newfound power, but who are mighty impressed by how stupid the interaction makes them feel.“ Basically these are the folks that just come short of loathing new technology. They accept that they need to use it, but get frustrated quickly when the technology doesn’t allow them to do what they want to do, but instead forces them to do it the computers way.

So, what makes me an apologist? First I must confess I was rather embarrassed reading the difference between the two groups of people. I realized as soon as Cooper described the apologists, I was one. Then I immediately realized I spend a lot of my time helping and problem-solving for the survivors.

My apologist ways began early in life. When I was a freshman in high school, I had a video teacher that always said, in the world of television, learn how to do everything. The more you learn the more valuable you are, the more job security you have. I took those words to heart, and since those days in high school I soaked up as much know-how as I could, little did I realize there was a digital revolution going on.

I learned how to do everything, which included a lot of technical jobs. I could write and report if I needed to, but the technical things were fun. I enjoyed playing with the new and improved toys. These toys allowed me to do my job better and more efficiently. The problem with new toys is, not too many people know how to fix them (as they are new).

When my newsroom made the change over from editing video in the tape-to-tape format, we switched to a computer program called Avid Newscutter. Avid is a very common name is TV. There is an inside joke in TV that Avid is just another four letter word people curse with. Avid is a company that makes many non-linear editing systems.

There was a lot of fear when making a major switch like this. Everyone trusted the old way, and the new way was all computerized. While the computer offered us more options and more functions to edit with, the fear was that we could loose the footage and possibly not get our broadcast on each night.

A few weeks before the newsroom started the switch over I went off for a special two-day crash course in Avid Newscutter. I was the only one, and I came back with my mind just spinning. I was thrilled and excited. I could see all the potential for a better newsroom. I saw how we could edit faster and get more work done than ever before. The problem was teaching everyone.

From that moment forward I spent all my time editing only in Newscutter. I quickly learned all that I could about the program. What I didn’t know, I looked up and studied. A few months later our newsroom completed the switch over. The Avid conversion team stayed with us for a couple of days and went home. What they left behind was a room of very confused people who were nervous about what was going to happen next. After a few weeks everyone calmed down and a lot of people adapted very quickly, but as problems came up, I was able to go around and solve them.

Cooper says the apologists thrive on the problem solving and enjoy the challenges they are faced with. I admit I love a good challenge and in the first couple of years, I enjoyed being able to solve everyone’s edit bay problems. Now, however, the consistent issues are getting old. The problems are the same and the survivors of the newsroom are getting more and more frustrated that Avid has created a program based on a design from engineers, rather than everyday users.

This is a really tough issue with the design of Avid’s products (as with most editing products); the designer is not the everyday user. When I have a serious issue that is way over my head I call our own engineers. When they come to take a look at the problem, it can take a lot of time explaining what went wrong and why there is a problem. There are the basics like why won’t the machine turn on, or where has all my video gone that I just captured into the system? Then there are more technical issues that leave the engineers asking why anyone would want to do something like that. Well that’s just it, as the day-to-day editor there are a great many things we may want to do that they just can’t conceive as an engineer. As an editor I could develop a list a mile long with options I would like and the easy ways of accessing and using those options.

Could this be the voice of a survivor inside of me? Perhaps, or it could just be that as an apologist I hear all the complaints. I see all the problems that the others face, and while I know how to deal with the problems head on, I also see the need to end those re-occurring problems. If these editing programs were based more on spending time with the user and re-designed based on their needs we would save a great deal of time and frustration on the survivors’ part.

The whole point of Cooper’s book is to appeal to engineers and designers to change their ways. He asks them to stop designing complicated programs and technology that the world must fight to learn and understand. Instead, cater to the needs of the user, and start with how they want to use the technology, then make it. It’s a point that author Dan Saffer also makes in his book, “Design For Interaction.”

Saffer says there are good interaction designs and bad ones, but that the most important rule is to design for the user. He says that interaction design is about the behavior, and interaction between machine and user.

I love Apple computers. Half the joy of starting grad school was that I knew I would need a new computer and I knew that I was going to get a new Macbook. I even went as far as convincing myself that I needed a new i-Pod Nano as well. You see it’s the technology that I love. The idea that I can tackle the task at hand with newer and greater technology excites me. I also get excited that I can solve more problems than I was able to before with the newer technology. While the survivor might see it as frustrating to continuously need to get new equipment, I love it. Yes I will admit it’s too much money to spend over and over again, and Apple is especially too expensive, and certainly could drop prices, but purchasing an Apple product has become fun. Sadly that doesn’t take the sting out of my wallet.

During the day I work on Windows. I edit on Windows and do all of my job-required duties on Windows. Then I get to come home and play on my Mac. I could do all of the same jobs on my Mac, but we don’t have Macs at work. Many times I will save some of the work to be done at home so that I can do it on my Mac. Now I could start a Mac versus PC debate here, but I won’t, Macs are just better.

I am an apologist, and proud of it. I love my technology and I love that technology helps me expand my thinking by flexing my problem solving skills. Others may see it as frustrating, but I see it as a advancing my knowledge of how the technology works. It’s that knowledge that would make a good designer. We need the apologists in order to advance the world of design. Without one we can’t have the other. The apologists can see the problems and because of their love of the technology can think about how to make it better. The apologist works towards better communication with the engineer, opens the lines of communication. As an apologist, I can talk to the engineers better about what is wrong and what needs to be fixed. I can explain better to them why the survivor is angry and can’t function. The more apologists that can do this the closer we are to a world without either survivors or apologists, just a world of users.

Oct
2009

Their Needs

The idea behind my website is a more localized version of Wikinews, or the iReporter from CNN. I am looking to create a user generated media site, in the style of Criagslist, meaning the user can click on their state, and their town, and upload their news story.

While doing the research on what the user needs for this site, I came across something Hearst Argyle has started called, “ulocal.” Hearst has rolled out a big commercial campaign for the stations both online and on-air to promote ulocal. I have seen a number of commercials for it in the last week. Basically this is very close to the idea I have been playing with. Most of the Hearst TV stations now have a ulocal link on the top of their pages. For the purpose of this research I am going to focus on WMUR in New Hampshire and their ulocal site.

WMUR is a perfect example of how this service can work well. They are the only network TV affiliate news station in New Hampshire. The entire state get a hodgepodge of news over their airwaves. In addition to getting WMUR, some can see Boston stations, some can see Maine stations, while others only get WMUR. So ulocal is a great outlet for the viewer/user to log on and share their news stories that perhaps WMUR can’t get to or can’t deem important enough for their broadcast. The goal being, everyone in the state is coming to this website for their local news, so ulocal is an option for someone to share their story and other folks in the state might actually see it. It’s also a great resource for WMUR to find stories and connect with the community.

I think it’s also important to acknowledge the technical restrictions in Northern New England. In Maine and New Hampshire we are slightly behind in some areas of technology. There are few areas where we get G3 service for cell phones and still to this day a good chunk of viewers still receive TV over the airwaves and not via cable or satellite. Since the digital transition, this has caused many viewers to loose their TV signal and loose what few stations they could get. Many people do still have dial up, but many also work off of DSL because the phone company will provide it. They may have the internet, but not TV.  That being said lets get down to business and figure out what these folks will be looking for in their website.

Their Needs:
Simple design. They layout should be simple and easy to navigate. My complaint on Wiki and iReport is I can’t find anything local. If there is something happening in my town, its complicated to navigate to that.

-Easy Use, not too complicated, easy layout. Anyone from a 16 year old to a 60-year old should understand how to use the site.

-Spell check.

-Mapping feature.

-Sharing feature, share with social media sites (Facebook, Twitter).

-Upload options, video, audio, still images.

-Browsing options, view other states news, or browse your area.

– Source confirmation, at the bottom of the page for each story, the user must make clear the source of the story.

-iPhone application, CNN just launch the iReporter iPhone app. The iReporters can now upload on the go.

-Commenting, I am still on the fence about this option. The user will want it, but it will be up to the community to police the site and report and/or block inappropriate comments.

If I were to launch the program today the following is how I see it working:
As the user logs on for the first time there should be either a map, list of states, or even simply a “Find Me” option. Something like enter a zip code and find my location. Once entered the user would be re-directed to a screen with multiple windows. In the upper left would be a “My Location” heading with a map of the zip code entered. On the right would be a section labeled; “Here’s whats happening in your area” or “Recent News In Your Area.”

The side of the page would list either other towns in that surrounding zip code or simply an option to browse other areas. Before the user can take the next step, of telling their story, they will need to log in and create an account.

The account is important because we want to weed out people who may abuse the system. Like any other website there will not be a perfect solution, but we need to do as much as we can. One on hand it would be too much to ask a user to upload their drivers license information, but email and phone number is not going too far. Once the user has established an account, they may move on to the next step.

Most importantly in the center of the screen would be “Upload Your Story.”

Here the user has a choice of a simple text story, video upload, or even an audio upload.

The next step would be to classify the story. Is it a personal story, breaking news, traffic, events notification, general news, sports and so on. Each one of these categories will have a description in order to better explain to the user best where their story belongs. Also the idea is to not give too many options. I don’t want to confuse the viewer so they get frustrated and go away, never using the site.

Once they have classified their story, then they can move on to uploading it. Similar to a WordPress blog, they can write the text here or copy and paste it from another program. They could also upload an image, video or audio. Just like Youtube, there will be an agreement each time they upload confirming that they have the right to upload this video, audio or image.

Next up will be the confirming of the story. This will have two parts. All stories will need a source. If the story is categorized as a “Personal Story” then no source is needed, but this should be made clear at the bottom of the stories page. If the story is “Breaking News,” the user will need to explain how it’s breaking news. Sports will need to explain the person attended the event.

Finally all stories are considered pending until the user logs into their email and confirms via a link that will be emailed to them. Something like, “Are you sure you want to post this and is all of the information you are posting true?”

Once confirmed, then the story is live, and the user may share it on social media sites. These details are again, in a perfect world how I would see the site working. I am certain there are things I have not covered or have missed. So comment away and please be constructive.

Oct
2009

The Perfect Storm

This is a fantastic week to be talking about how the desgin of something (specifically websites and computers), directs our lives, and not the other way around.

If you have watched any TV in the last few months, then maybe you have seen some commercials for the merger of Commerce Bank and TD Banknorth,  into TD Bank. The pitch of the commercials (featuring celebrities Regis and Kelly) have stressed how flawless and easy the switch would be. Sadly no one talked this over with the IT department.

For the last four days their internet banking has not worked properly. This past Monday was the date they were switching over, or rather merging their banking systems to finish the merger of the banks. This week the system crashed four times. Customers cannot see their up to date account status. For a lot of people it’s a pay week with direct deposit, social security week, and rent week. Money is coming in and out of these accounts all the time, but even more so on the start of a new month.

On top of all of this, the bank is apologizing to their customers by depositing small “thank you” deposits. Basically giving them a little extra cash to make up for the headache. Where does this money come from and how are they affording this?  TD Bank says they have an “emergency fund” just for situations like this. Just last month TD Bank told their customers fees were increasing.

Oddly enough the bank is not getting in front of the situation, other than putting out a press release.

**** A small update:****

Sep
2009

Another Local Media Engine

While sitting in the newsroom today getting ready for my show, I looked up at one of the many television screens, and saw an advertisment from one of the other stations in town pushing something called “U Local.”  I Googled “u local” and found it to be a service ran by Heart Argyle TV stations (may be other H.A. owned items too but mainly I found TV stations)

Here is an example from WMUR, the only network affiliate in New Hampshire.

ULocal WMUR 

Here is how they refer to the site:  “your place to share videos, audio, photos, and stories. Join now and get your own profile page, and unlimited media uploads!”

I like the layout a lot, it’s very simple and right off the bat you can upload a picture or a video. To the right of that you see a selection of pictures already in the system.  There is a comments and forums section and a strong feeling of community.  There is a feeling that the site connects your uploads to CNN as well but it is not very clear.