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Three Screens and a Cloud: Netflix’s Qwikster, Facebook & Amazon 2011/09/23

Posted by nydawg in Copyright, Curating, Digital Archives, Digital Archiving, Information Literacy, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property, Media.
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One of the most pressing and intimidating challenges digital archivists face today, is the fact that there is so much content offered in so many quick-changing distribution formats and accessible on short-lived storage media.  I found that the easiest way to describe this is “Three screens and a cloud” or as former Microsoft head Ray Ozzie put it: “how we consume IT is really shifting from a machine-centric viewpoint to what we refer to as three screens and a cloud:  the phone, the PC, and the TV ultimately, and how we deliver value to them.” [i would change that to IP, but hey, I’m not CEO of Microsoft.]

So as archivists who are concerned with the distribution and accessibility of our digital assets, it is important to ask early, “What format or what media will be required and who is the targeted end user on what appliance?”  In other words, you probably don’t want to send a hi-def Blu-Ray digital video stream meant for a big screen tv to a tiny smartphone!  Or you probably don’t want to stream a FlashVideo version to an iPad user.

But, on the other hand, archivists may not need to archive or preserve (for long-term functions) every possible variation of each format version (for smartphone or netbook (iPad) or television).   By articulating what is really needed, archivists can streamline processes and avoid making mountains where molehills are sufficient.  Archivists who can see the forest for the trees will be able to describe fewer assets more completely so that specific needles can be found within the haystacks.

This leads me to the real groundshifting news stories that happened this week.  The first one is that NetFlix is splitting its DVDs-by-mail service from its streaming.  According to Huffington Post: “In a post on The Netflix Blog that went up Sunday night, the company’s CEO, Reed Hastings, announced that Netflix would split its DVD-by-mail service and its streaming-video service into two companies. The new DVD-only company, called “Qwikster,” will be completely separate from the streaming business. Hastings also expressed contrition for the way the company rolled out its recent price hike, which alienated many customers. . . . “It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.”

Well, obviously, many people are up in arms and think this is the biggest boneheaded marketing move since Coke introduced New Coke! The NY Times’s David Pogue does a pretty good job of getting his gander up as he parses the Netflix apology without fully acknowledging the economics of the “streaming” game.  I won’t get too much into the legal issues (which I don’t fully understand), but I do remember when I was working in “streaming media” as Senior Encoder at SonicNet (and Streamland), licensing costs and marketing dollars generally shift from one medium (vhs, CD or radio) to another (DVD, streaming media or satellite radio).   It seems inevitable that NetFlix realizes, as Blockbuster did years ago, that physical media will soon be obsolete, . . .  so they’re trying to split themselves in order to have different licensing deals with different stakeholders and end users. . . . . and Blockbuster, long-ago doomed, seeks to get in on the action too!

But ultimately, “An issue that both Netflix and Dish face, even when they don’t want to admit it, is the inconsistency of broadband connectivity across the United States.”

Another huge news story from this week was at f8 where Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced major Facebook renovations. ““Millions of people curate stories of their lives on Facebook every day and have no way to share them once they fall off your profile page…we have been working on ‘timeline’ all year…it’s the story of your life and completely new way to express yourself.  “It has three pieces: all your stories, your apps and a new way to express who you are.”  Zuckerberg said he wanted people to be able to share “their entire lives” on Facebook and have “total control” over how their content appeared online.”

Zuckerberg “also announced a series of partnerships with music, media and games companies –including Spotify, Netflix, Zynga [the maker of Farmville] and The Washington Post.”  So this brings us back to the idea of Netflix which  “announced it is integrating its video streaming service with Facebook — allowing users to watch videos on either site and see what people on their friends lists are viewing.  It will be available in 44 countries except in Netflix’s biggest market — the United States, because of the 1998 Video Privacy Protection Act that prohibits the disclosure of video sales or rental records, the company explained.”

So what does this all mean for “Three Screens and a Cloud?”  Well, it’s important to remember that “Netflix is the biggest driver of U.S. Internet traffic, according to one study. As Internet service providers begin capping or tiering their data plans, that could cause consumers to watch fewer streaming videos on Netflix, analysts say.”  So as phone companies begin capping data plans for distribution (streaming), then another part of the archival equation is the storage medium. . . . and, as many people know, the battle is in the Clouds!

DMCA, DRM and The unFair Use Act 2011/09/09

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Copyright, Digital Preservation, Information Literacy, Intellectual Property, Media, Privacy & Security.
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A few weeks ago, I reserved a copy of a Clay Shirky e-Book to take with me to Chicago.  When the book became available from NYPL, I was excited and hoped it would be a DRM (Digital Rights Management)-free PDF copy so I could download it (click the emailed link) to my netbook and transfer it to my eReader Tablet.  (It was my first time, so I was clueless.)  Oh well.  Obviously you can’t do that. . . .  or maybe you can, on a Sony eReader and the York Library.

Yesterday an old friend on facebook asked about borrowing eComic Books with the intent of ultimately preserving on some portable medium.  So I was intrigued enough to do a little research on DRM and found this informative piece from the ASIS&T Bulletin website: “Digital rights management (DRM) is commonly defined as the set of technological protection measures (TPM) by which rights holders prevent the use of digital content they license in ways that could compromise the commercial value of their products.  Restrictions on such uses as downloading, printing, saving and emailing content are encoded directly in the products or the hardware needed to use them and are therefore in immediate effect.”

The whole article is worth reading, but this one part caught my eye: “The New York Public Library (NYPL), for instance, has been considering bringing its digitized collection of dance and performance videos closer to the public outside the NYPL system as long as it is possible to restrict access to this online content to library locations only. These examples show that DRM may actually provide opportunities to expand access to online materials in ways previously not possible.”  The essay continues by examining the DMCA and its relation to DRM, pointing out that “Since the DMCA was enacted in 1998, the Library of Congress has enforced exceptions three times – in 2000, 2003 and 2006 – and was scheduled to do so again in 2009. Of the six exceptions passed in 2006, one specifically allows film and media studies professors to circumvent TPM to make film clip compilations for coursework using DVD copies held by their institution’s film-studies library. A movement has been underway to expand this exception to include K-12 educators, all subject areas and all legally obtained copies.”

And to give you a sense of what is at stake, the author writes “In February 2007, the Fair Use Act was introduced in Congress, but never passed. It would have codified into law all six exceptions from 2006, which are currently rule-made and remain subject to periodic reviews. The Fair Use Act would have permitted the circumvention of TPM for, among other cases, (1) access to public domain works, (2) access to works of public interest for criticism, scholarship, reporting or research, (3) compilations of educational film clips and (4) preservation in libraries. The latter is of particular importance as the various media with historical content, including DVDs, begin to deteriorate. Smith argued that what frightens publishers about the Fair Use Act is that, if implemented, it would render ineffectual the anti-circumvention rules. Fair use would constitute an exception so broad that decisions regarding the right to circumvent would often be made after the actual circumvention. If a content owner objected, the user could take the matter to court, and only then would a judge decide whether fair use can justify that particular circumvention. The Fair Use Act would thus defeat the anti-circumvention rule’s self-help purpose.”

So in other words, the encryption that libraries are using is controlling access to their eBooks, and the anti-copy encryption that companies are using on their deteriorating DVDs are conspiring with the law to keep libraries from providing open access in the future to our resources.  I say instead of “Fair Use Act”, we need a “Fair Copy Act” so libraries will be free to begin their media refreshment, digital migration and whatever they need to do to make sure their media collections do not become time capsules, moments of time captured on obsolete media formats.

 

Errol Morris and Photo Archives 2011/09/04

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Curating, Information Literacy, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property, Media.
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Filmmaker Errol Morris has been thinking about collecting, describing and using photographs in many different formats including one of my favorite documentary films “The Thin Blue Line” from 1988.  His book, Believing Is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art, was reviewed in the NYTimes and is now available at bookstores everywhere (well, maybe not borders).  The NYTimes review starts out: “Likewise, “Believing Is Seeing,” though perceptive about photography, is fundamentally concerned with something very different: epistemology. Morris is chiefly interested in the nature of knowledge, in figuring out where the truth — in both senses — lies.

As that suggests, Morris believes in objective truth, and believes that people can grasp it — “even though,” as he has written elsewhere, “the world is unutterably insane.” The question then becomes how to coax an insane world into yielding up its truths, and “Believing Is Seeing” amounts to a provisional, ­pastiche-y, deeply interesting attempt at an answer.”

If you’re interested in getting a glimpse of some of those chapters and thoughts, you might want to check out some of his The Opinionator blogs including “It Was All Started by a Mouse (part 1)“, “Did My Brother Invent E-Mail with Tom Van Vleck?“, “The Ashtray“, ‘The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is’” and pretty much anything he has written, spoken, shot, edited, made or shared ever!  And then check out this book review podcast too.

From Scroll to Screen and Back: Vendor Lock-In and eBooks 2011/09/04

Posted by nydawg in Best Practices, Digital Archives, Digital Humanities, Digital Preservation, Information Literacy, Information Technology (IT).
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I saw an interesting article in the NYTimes titled “From Scroll to Screen” which looks at the transition in print media over the last two thousand years.  While the author is specifically looking at the transition from books to eBooks, he declares, “The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type. But if you go back further there’s a more helpful precedent for what’s going on. Starting in the first century A.D., Western readers discarded the scroll in favor of the codex — the bound book as we know it today.”

Like many archivists and librarians, I am also highly interested in how this transition will work in the future.  Last year I read William Powers‘ excellent Hamlet’s Blackberry which led me to new ways of thinking about media and different formats used to carry data and information between different stakeholders across time and space. . . .

So this article in the NYTimes by book critic Lev Grossman caught my interest when discussing how one format replaces the previous:  “In the classical world, the scroll was the book format of choice and the state of the art in information technology. Essentially it was a long, rolled-up piece of paper or parchment. To read a scroll you gradually unrolled it, exposing a bit of the text at a time; when you were done you had to roll it back up the right way, not unlike that other obsolete medium, the VHS tape.”

He goes on to explain how those scrolls were items of prestige, probably because of the “scarcity” of scroll-creators.  “Scrolls were the prestige format, used for important works only: sacred texts, legal documents, history, literature. To compile a shopping list or do their algebra, citizens of the ancient world wrote on wax-covered wooden tablets using the pointy end of a stick called a stylus. Tablets were for disposable text — the stylus also had a flat end, which you used to squash and scrape the wax flat when you were done. At some point someone had the very clever idea of stringing a few tablets together in a bundle. Eventually the bundled tablets were replaced with leaves of parchment and thus, probably, was born the codex. But nobody realized what a good idea it was until a very interesting group of people with some very radical ideas adopted it for their own purposes. Nowadays those people are known as Christians, and they used the codex as a way of distributing the Bible.”

And anyone who has ever tried to compare two or more passages in a book  on an ereader, you may be interested to read: “The codex also came with a fringe benefit: It created a very different reading experience. With a codex, for the first time, you could jump to any point in a text instantly, nonlinearly.”   This doesn’t quite work as easily in the tablet or eReader age, but stay tuned, as I imagine at some point they will improve on the technology.   “If the fable of the scroll and codex has a moral, this is it. We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet’s underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don’t turn out to be very compatible.

So as we move from the tried and trusted durable medium of the codex and hard-cover book (even if printed on cheap paper) to the electronic tablet (early versions, soon-to-be-obsolete operating systems, playing outdated versions), our content management expertise and digital asset curator skills should become more valuable as new technologies eveolve and media formats become obsolete and disposable and our culture is at-risk.

But our hands are tied.   Even to address the pressing concerns of eBooks and eReaders and tablets, archivists are left out in the cold.  We dare not say anything about the vendor lock-in regarding Kindle’s proprietary formats, because they are Amazon’s Intellectual Property.  We cannot say anything about vendor lock-out in regards to Apple’s iPad tablet not playing (hot) Flash videos (see Steve Jobs “Thoughts on Flash”), and causing problems when accessing Fedora through its Flash application.  We cannot even mention the fact that iPads do not have any support for portable SD card and USB 2.0 external drives.  In other words, if you want to get information on (or off) your iPad, you probably have to email or upload it. . .  😦

So what can we do?  Or, more clearly, what should a digital archivist know to catalog and describe when working with born-digital materials?!  Well, of course there’s so much (not everything entirely relevant though!), but at the very least, better format (not just medium, but format, and maybe codec) descriptions can create better strategies leading to better plans, processes and best practices.  And keep your damn books!

I’ll admit that I finally broke down and bought an eReader.  Since I was going to be travelling to Chicago for the SAA, there were many articles I wanted to read and think about in advance, so for the last few months I was searching for the right one.  Of course, I was quite wary of Kindles because of the proprietary format and wasn’t sure how well it would read PDFS (or if it could), but friends suggested the Digital Reader or Sony eReader, and at least one friend suggested checking out the Nook from Barnes and Noble.

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted, and I ddn’t really care that much.  Basically, anything that would let me read PDFs, most of which I would download from the internet or specifically, the Society of American Archivists‘ (SAA), American Archivist journal.  Of course, I also found some excellent reads on Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive (where, btw, they’re preserving physical books!).  I’m really interested in the e-ink technology, so that was one factor, and the other factor was that I didn’t want to pay more than $130.  (Another factor, on which I thought I would have to compromise was that I wanted an eReader with two screens that would open like a book.)

Well, as you might expect, my research was not leading me to any answers, and I had almost decided to just go with one or the other (whichever was cheapest), and know it would be a temporary solution, until I can afford to buy a nice tablet computer . . . . .But then one day, I got an email offer from Woot for a one-day only clearance sale of all 2-screen dualbook (eReader & Tablet) from Entourage Pocket Edge!!  So I picked that up and I love it. . .. (Yes, there’s problems, but for reading pdfs and drawing on a journal or annotating pdfs and surfing the web on the tablet side, and etc. )   Maybe I’ll write more on it later, but for now, I hope you’ll just give a long thought about what we’ll lose if we give up functional non-linearity in our published works! (and I don’t mean Digital Humanities people with their datamining techniques..)