I don't pirate music
I don't pirate music mainly because, like books, I generally don't listen to new music unless it's recommended to me personally. At that point, I normally just run out and buy the physical album, because I still enjoy hearing a set of songs specifically arranged together. You know, an album. I also sometimes hear new music played on 101.9 WRXP in New York City**. Radio has, and continues to be, basically the closest thing to "free samples" of music. But it's not free, despite the false advertising campaigns you may hear on radio attempting to persuade users not to switch to satellite and/or Internet services; the listener suffers through roughly 20% advertisements***, like television.
But I'm coming to a point - my own habits are similar to pirates in motivation: I enjoy free samples and when I encounter good music that I enjoy, I buy it.
Yet another study has come out indicating that - no surprise to me or many of you - music downloaders are much more likely to actually buy music than folks who do not download music for free. And yet, the RIAA wants them to become like their non-downloading customers - you know, the ones who spend less money on music. This makes no sense.
What does makes sense is the concept of free samples. Sometimes you get samples of toothpaste in the mail. You might have a swab of cologne in a magazine. At the supermarket, a person might hand you a tiny cup of juice drink, or a wedge of the cheese they're selling at the deli counter. Software does it all the time, too. Trial-ware, free-to-play games, and shareware have long since been great advertising and distribution mediums for software.
There's simply no free samples in music.
But what about music? There is no true free sample medium. Radio is close, but again, your attention is valuable. And let's face it - most radio stations are either ClearChannel or a ClearChannel clone, and play the same 25 songs 99% of the time. MySpace has those music widgets, but that only works if you go to a band's MySpace page in the first place. It's been tried with DRM, except DRM sucks for a variety of reasons, so few wanted to buy DRM-enforced hardware.
And here's what's really outrageous: the record industry expects you to pay for its advertising. Let's break this down.
There are two primary products of the record industry: Concerts and Music (in the form of CDs or paid downloads). How do you advertise these? With the radio, which you pay for with your attention to third-party advertisements. How about putting it stores? Stores need to pay for some sort of rebroadcasting fee. How about product placement in movies? Movies pay record companies for the right to play the songs.
You Pay For Advertising Music
So where's the advertisement? Occasionally, I'll hear a concert on an advertisement slot on the radio. This is partially paid for by the fact that it's impossible to get good tickets for a show, because they've been all given out to radio stations and scalpers, I mean scam artists, I mean, legal resellers. *eyeroll*
What other industry can possibly claim such a privilege? As I understand it, being a social media marketing type, no one. The record industry enjoys not only selling products, but selling you advertisements for products.
What can you do about it?
- Buy directly from artists whenever you can.
- Don't listen to advertising on the radio. Change the channel.****
- Consider unlimited subscription music services. For the music you get, at least you're not sitting through ads!
** 101.9 WRXP has become, in the last couple years, the best rock station I've ever heard in my life.
*** Fortunately, 104.3 is pretty decent in New York City, as well, so I can just change the channel. Another blog entry, I'll talk about how traditional advertising doesn't work for anyone with a brain in almost every medium.
**** Sorry, WRXP! :(
I don't pirate music
So, Haiti is all over the news. It is, in fact, a horrible, horrible tragedy.
But you should totally be already aware of the most recent Supreme Court decision about political contributions. It's right on the front page of ... no, wait... click on "politics" of your favorite news site... now ... scroll down... further. Okay, now ... hmm... hit "archive" now search for "Supreme Court". Okay, there you go, like I said, right on the front page ... err... ridiculously buried.
Why isn't this the front page story on every news outlet?
Okay, let me recap for you, in the case you missed it. The recent Supreme Court decision, 5-4, was that companies can now donate as much money as they want to political advertisements. Don't worry, personal donations are still capped at ... something like 2 and a half grand, right?
Pinch me. Please!
Imagine this nightmare: Exxon decided to drop a tiny fraction of its advertising budget, say, 100 million dollars, (and remember, business expenses are write-offs!) on buying a few senators to reverse environmental regulations, or to say, pass the ANWR Alaskan oil drilling bill that so narrowly was defeated a few years ago.
Worse, I've read analysis saying it doesn't even bar foreign companies. China's not in a recession. Imagine China, whose government - remember, they're communist - can just funnel billions into a US subsidiary that it controls, to pass ... does it matter? Trade deals that are detrimental to the US? Ignoring their interest in the genocide of Sudan? Forcing all businesses to bow to its censorship of the Internet? Removing military defense of Taiwan? Etc?
Net Neutrality's Death, Incoming
Now, why am I writing this in my Internet / social media technology focused blog? Simple. Net Neutrality. There's a lot of telecomms who want to see Net Neutrality be Neutered. (Like that pun?) They have lots and lots of money, because, well, it's difficult to live in a digital age such as ours without having a cell phone and an Internet connection. (And I hear a lot of you enjoy your DVR cable TV, too, right?) Obama's election cost nearly a billion dollars in donations, and thankfully, it was grass-roots, shattering records for the *number* of people who donated. Imagine those 2 million people's donations matched by ... one corporation who will earn lots of money watching Net Neutrality die.
Now imagine that there are multiple corporations with that spending power.]
Now remember, Net Neutrality is just one of any number of issues. Starting to get the picture?
For Sale: Any Politician (Or their political demise)
Buy your own president. Or, a few senators who sit on the wrong side of the aisle on the bills you need. It's easy! They won't play ball? No problem. Find someone who will, support them, and smear the incumbent! Rinse, wash, repeat. (And by rinse, clearly I mean "rinse your hands of the fact that this practice is wholly unethical and anti-democratic.)
Sure, it won't work for everyone, but when the Congress is divided so closely, you only need a few! And then there's earmarks! You know how easy it is for one senator to sneak a few dozen million in earmarks for their pet projects, right?
Readers know that I generally don't use swear words in my posts. Well now, I really mean it.
Go to this link:
Find your senator. Write them a note. Total time: 5 minutes. That's all I ask.
This is like deja vu, for me, since I seem to talk about it at least a few times a year to people.
Linden Lab released its latest numbers for the Second Life economy. On the surface, the headline is "ZOMG SL ECONOMY GROWS 65%!". In fact, the blogosphere has already picked up this headline, in the usual "Gee, I don't bother to understand the platform, technology, or relevance." that I so recently griped about.
This is Linden Dollar (L$) transactions between users. Sure, it's the virtual economy, but this is not a meaningful number. Allow me to:
- Explain why this is not a meaningful number
- Explain the various ways this number can be easily manipulated
- Explain what metrics are meaningful
L$ transactions is not a meaningful number
If I'm in Second Life, and I have L$ play money, and I spend it, I'm spending play-money. It has the *potential* to become real money, but only when cashed out, such as with Second Life's Lindex system. The examples of real items that can be purchased are extremely rare; since the power of a currency is dependent on the buying power, then we can't consider this a real currency in-and-of-itself. Naturally, Linden Lab would be stupid to have it any other way - if it were considered a real currency, they'd have a dozen government agencies of each of a few dozens countries banging on their office doors demanding regulation as a bank, or perhaps its own country. So, as a side-note, it's ironic that Linden Lab touts the SL L$ economy, but absolutely needs to ride the other side of the legal line in terms of validity of its currency.
Now, even not as play-money, we have the issue that we're talking microtransactions. The average transaction size is tiny - as most things in Second Life cost the equivalent of pennies. People are much more likely to spend their money on super-cheap items on a whim.
Gambling A Problem
A few years ago, Linden Lab used to post, on the Secondlife.com website, the last 10 or so transactions done in world, with what what purchased. Back then, Linden Lab was doing the same thing - publishing the L$ transactions like it's the greatest statistic in the universe. I took a sampling of the transactions, and found that 7 - 9 of each 10 were gambling related. For example, the transaction might say "50L$ - poker table" or "10L$ - slot machine". If 70 - 90% of transactions are gambling related, then the number is hugely inflated.
If I were to sit down at a SL slot machine - well, one that isn't horribly rigged to the benefit of the house - and, in my experience, since gambling in virtual worlds is completely unregulated, they all are unfair - I might spend an hour at a machine. Let's say I break even. I would leave the table with no more or less *net* money. However, I could have racked up hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of L$ in transactions in that hour. In a real economy, we don't count each transaction at a casino for the same reason. People report their net gain / loss, unless you hit something like $10,000 or more, in which case tax withholding is taken immediately.
But gambling is banned in Second Life, so you say!
No, not really. As the Alphaville Herald (formerly Second Life Herald) has reported, gambling in Second Life is still alive and well under the guise of "games of skill". While some of it has gone, I did my own searching, and it's pretty easy to find a variety of places to go. Also, some of them use a third, imaginary currency to do transactions, however, this is a minority case.
The Number Can Be Easily Manipulated
Let's write a hypothetical script. I'm not the first to suggest this is possible, and, *any* scripter in Second Life will tell you how easy this is - I'm not revealing any sort of secret. It probably could be done in 10 lines of code or less. EDIT: And as I suspected, it had been done already, as covered by the Herald. (Thanks Pixeleen of the Alphaville Herald for the link.)
Anyway, this script would pass a small amount of L$ - let's say 10,000L$ - roughly $40US. This script would be run on 3 or 4 avatars, and constantly be passing money back and forth. Let's look at the numbers one might generate using a sluggish estimate of 1 transactions every 10 seconds.
10,000L$ x 6 per minute = 60,000 / minute
60,000 x 60 per hour = 3.6 million / hour
3.6mil x 24 hours per day = 86.4 mil / day
86.4mil x 365 days per year = 31.536 billion L$ / year.
According to the Linden Lab statistics:
"User-to-User transactions in 2009 totaled US$567 million in 2009, growth of 65% over 2008."
Assuming $4/1000L$ as a decent approximation, that's about 141.75 billion L$ transactions. Note that Linden Lab reports only 500 million L$ in XStreet sales, less than 1% of total transactions.
So from this simple script, with a modest 1 transaction per 10 seconds between all the avatars, one might generate 22% of the entire L$ transactions in all of Second Life's millions of users. If the transactions were faster, or more L$ used, a few avatars could easily shatter the numbers.
That's how unreliable these numbers are.
I'm not saying Linden Lab manipulates it - let me be clear. I just want to point out that this number is essentially unreliable.
EDIT: Massively blogger Tateru Nino published her own take on Linden Lab's 65% figures just now. She's a bit more critical than I was, but pointed out at least one major way that L$ transactions are inflated - management of accounts. Shop owners, land barons, and a variety of groups in Second Life often times have money shared in trust. This money may be passed around fairly commonly. Some specific examples might be:
- A shop sells popular item X made by multiple creators, who each need a cut of sales. Buyer A pays shop owner B. Shop owner B pays multiple avatars their cut of sales. Suddenly that 100L$ sale became a total of 200L$ in transactions.
- A land baron has 10 sims that they rent. They use one avatar to collect rent. They have staff to pay, as well. Similar to the store, the actual rent cost is, at minimum, doubled, perhaps more if there are any intermediaries.
- A charity group has a trust account for L$. Donations to the group pass through multiple avatars before reaching the US$ cash-out. Since Relay for Life this year earned over $250,000US this way via Second Life L$ donations, I'd say this is a real issue as well.
Let's Talk About the Reliable Numbers
There are 3 reliable numbers that I'd like to point to:
1. L$ sold for real currency on the Lindex (and 3rd party L$ transactions sites)
2. square meters of land owned in SL
3. number of active users (non-bot)
1. L$ sold for real currency
This is a highly interesting statistic because it represents actual commerce. This is real money being exchanged. According to Linden Lab's statistics:
"The total US dollar value of all Linden dollars traded on the LindeX™ currency exchange in 2009 reached US$115 million in value, 7% growth over 2008"
That is absolutely not a trivial number. You'll notice a few things:
- The number is approximately 1/5th of the transactions number.
- This number is still on the rise. A 7% growth in a global recession is pretty dang good.
- The growth percentage is much lower than the growth of raw transactions.
2. Square meters of land owned in Second Life
This is extremely important as it represents actual monetary investment into Second Life, in purchasing real servers, real bandwidth, and real support time from Linden Lab. According to Linden Lab:
"Resident-owned regions reached 23,900 in December 2009, up 6% over December 2008"
To give you an idea of the scope, 23,000 sims equals approximately $6.9 million in raw monthly sim revenue. It's probably lower than this since there are low-density sims which cost less than regular sims.
This number has grown 6%, which seems on line with the Lindex L$ to real currency transaction growth of 7%. Again, in a global recession, nice work to Linden Lab.
3. Active Users (Who are not bots)
There are no "users who left Second Life", since there is no account termination unless User accounts are purged specifically requested by the user, or by administrative punishment for wrongful use of an account. Additionally, Linden Lab has purged old, inactive accounts at least once. I can see the reasoning to remove unused alts, bots, and failed account creations, however don't see the reason to remove accounts that spent any significant amount of time in Second Life. But I digress. Raw users is not a good metric of populace and usage of Second Life, and thankfully it it one that Linden Lab has long abandoned as touting.
Active users is a much better metric. Active users can be defined in many ways, but ultimately it involves a certain number of visits and a certain numbers of minutes use over a certain amount of time.
Linden Lab's latest report doesn't have this data. Instead, it reports usage data, some of it broken down into bands of use. It's a huge loss not to have more data on these users. When people sign up for accounts, it asks for some info, but no where does it ever ask, "Why are you trying Second Life?"
I'd love to see stats on:
- Number of people who log onto Second Life once for a specific event and/or location advertised outside of Second Life.
- A totally revamped Registration API that solution providers can use to better sign up users and provide better statistics. Universities could then say things like, "We signed up 100 accounts, they were students who were assigned to do a class" and then cross-reference this with their usage. A marketing campaign by a Fortune 500 company could say, "We signed up 5000 users from our website promoting our Second Life attraction", and the same cross-referencing done with usage.
My current company provides metrics solutions - as do a few competitors - and these help illuminate usage, but only for the company or organization who sees the statistics. It would also be a great help for Linden Lab to provide more hooks in their code to grab more data. You know, like Apache does with a standard web-server. Grab the data, let us get into the data of a sim using a standard web / command line interface / database.
Second Life grew at least 7% last year. Reports of it growing 65% are highly exaggerated. The truth, if I had to guess, is more like 10 - 15%. At the same time, I wholeheartedly applaud Second Life for growing the amount it did. Rumors of Second Life's death for two years now are also highly exaggerated.
Idiot bloggers who republish the 65% statistic without taking a minute of time to analyze and question the data deserve to have their blogging license revoked. Likewise, the same is deserved by writers who proclaim Second Life dead. ^^
Back in October I did a panel with some smart folks, for a Nokia series in Second Life. The topic was "Perceptions of Non-Human Avatars in Virtual World Business". Thanks to Treet.TV for filming, hosting the video, and the link.
"Your host Hydra Shaftoe (wolf) finds out from this panel: Blue Linden (dragon), ePredator Potato (alien), Digistar Brower (Nokia spokesperson), Hiro Pendragon (ninja), Seklit Diller (furry), and Flea Busy"
Oh, the posers.
So, I've been in virtual worlds since about 2001. That's only half as long as some of the old school VRML veterans, experts like Bruce Damer, et al. But for the new age of virtual worlds, the 3-D rendered graphics, broadband-driven ones, I can claim a decent level of expertise. I have seen folks come and go over the years. This was especially true in the 2006 - 2007 heyday of Second Life, and there's a new batch of folks coming in now.
And lots of posers.
I won't name names. (I'll wait for the book deal for that, eh?) But those of us who've been around long enough know who they are. They run high-profile blogs with lots of hits mainly because they relink virtual world related stories a few times per day. They run conferences, and charge lots of money. They develop high profile projects for high profile contracts, and leave them as ghost towns. They run user groups, some even large ones, without any sort of technical knowledge of what virtual worlds are good for. They're getting money from big government and charity grants, and doing lame work with it. They are notable ivory-tower types, too, who have great rhetoric and management skills but fail to grasp the underlying power of social media and virtual worlds.
Meanwhile, there are lots and lots of great bloggers, developers, artists, writers, thinkers who are busy working. And not being heard as much as some of the posers are. Sure, they have blogs, and can only post once a week. Or once a month. There are those making great projects under NDA that can't speak about them. There are those who are brilliant but don't like to write. There are those with fantastic ideas and no funding because they didn't exploit the 2006-2007 years for their own gain. Is it their fault they aren't more well known? Sure. Does it means it's fair? No.
Problem: Lack of Fact-Checking
The problem is simple. No one seems to fact-check. People write blog posts about virtual worlds, and unless they're grossly inflammatory, people generally aren't questioning the writers. Same goes for big-media. I've read egregious mis-reporting from the likes of Wired and even the BBC. Retractions? Not so far. I've attended speaking events where speakers in Second Life will talk out their asses and not be challenged by the moderator. I remember one person claimed that Artificial Intelligence was already beating the Turing Test. Riiiight. *eyeroll*
I'm angry. I'm angry because the same lack of fact-checking, the same yessing of people talking bull led to the post 2007 hype cycle bust for virtual worlds. People in positions to question didn't, and consequently lots of money was spent on stupid things. I propose an end to this. I'm working with a talented colleague in virtual worlds in creating a new media forum to set a much higher standard. It will be a blog and discussion location for to get an in-depth look at things with virtual worlds, not just a surface-peek, a re-posting of a press release and a screenshot.
"Robert Gibbs, Mr Obama's press secretary, emphasised that the President backed internet freedom and said that Google had co-ordinated with the Obama administration before it had acted."
Mark my words - this story's just at the tip of the iceberg. We're going to be hearing a lot more about China, censorship, and cyber attacks.
<3 Google today.
Read this article on Mashable. Basically, Google had been complying with China's search censorship requests, and had taken a lot of heat for it. And then "sophisticated attacks on the Gmail accounts of Chinese human activists" forced Google to change its mind. Read the article if you want the story, but I want to talk about why Google was smart from start to end on this.
1. Google gave China a chance.
There's no legitimate "Oh, Google are being xenophobic anti-Chinese" excuses that can be used. Google opened the door, China closed it.
2. Cyberwarfare is a serious issue that is overlooked by many.
Countries around the world are ramping up cyber military groups to do infrastructure attacks on the Internet. We've seen it from North Korea, China, Eastern Europe, Russia, and other locations. A year or so ago, we saw the web take a huge hit due to essentially DNS faking that disrupted the greater Indian subcontinent. Spam, sabotage (both military and industrial) and spying are rampant. The media's not talking about it. Companies and governments want to pretend it doesn't exist. Fortunately, America's had an official government unit for years, and under Obama, America's anti-cyber-terrorism effort is being expanded. Google making this move based on the cyber attacks is a strong message about the seriousness of the issue, as well as the obvious government-backing of them. This alone is going to piss off China's leaders a lot.
3. Google got penetration into China.
If China pulls the plug on Google, people will notice. They also set the standard for speed and quality of searches. If China had never gotten Google in the first place, China's own search services would have ruled.
My estimate is that the Chinese government knows that they realize censorship is, at best, a temporary solution. If they don't realize this, they're blind idiots and are in store for a revolution. However, I don't think they're dumb. Dumb people can't rule over more than a billion people for very long. I think that they are trying to evolve their economy as rapidly as possible while they hold the dam, and by the time that censorship has to end, standard of living will have risen to a level high enough where its citizens won't demand revolution. At the least, it's a slow change and current politicians won't have to deal with it. At best, they are a slowly evolving dragon.