Reaching Out

Gnomedex is an annual conference with the aim of enabling communication between the various parties involved in the newest and most exciting internet ‘standards’. Or, if you prefer, it’s where people go to get the cool stuff done. This year saw major announcements regarding RSS implementation in Longhorn (the next version of Windows), as well as Audible cutting a deal to allow audio transcriptions of major newspapers, with automatic delivery via RSS.

What does this mean, really? It means that it comes to you. The latest news, your favourite radio shows, your girlfriend’s amazon wish list, your best friend’s most-played songs, the latest special offers at the supermarket, gamma-ray burst alerts – these will all be accessible to you in one place and, crucially, as simple as opening a website (actually most of this can be done already, but it’s the simplicity that’s the problem – I’ll get to that in a bit.) Not that you won’t go out looking for new entertainment – of course you will. But once you find something you enjoy, you need never forget about it, because you can ‘subscribe’ and not have to worry about missing anything.

I think Gnomedex is about inspiring people to get moving. I just listened to Adam Curry‘s keynote speech, which closed the conference, and it really was inspirational. I’d highly recommend you hear it if you’re in any way interested in the traditional media and the movement away from its ‘regulated gatekeepers’. Curry.com is apparently getting hammered and it’s down at the time of writing (he addresses this particular issue in the speech, actually: BitTorrent is the way to go), but I snagged the mp3 via the RSS feed, which is here. Update: direct link to the mp3.

Adam talks about how the media is becoming distributed. Professionals and amateurs now have access to exactly the same tools. If you want to record a hit record, you need a computer, a decent microphone and a software mixer. If you want to make a tv show, you need some lights, a mini-DV camera and a video-editing application. If you want to write a best-seller, you need an old computer, a copy of linux and openoffice.org (sure you can do it on paper, but it’ll need typing at some point!). The distribution mechanism is the internet, and that’s literally all you need. Adam came across a track by a band, played it on his podcast, and the band sold 200 albums in the next 24 hours. They had no record deal, so the profits went straight to them. Like Adam says – that’s rent money. And all without the help of the so-called ‘traditional media’.

All that’s needed for this to hit ‘the big time’ is ease of use. And podcasting isn’t there yet. Try explaining RSS subscriptions to somebody in less than a minute. We’re so used to the idea of the media as something that we’re privileged to have, that the idea of it actively coming to us is foreign and strange. It’s needs to be easier, though. Currently I find a podcast that sounds interesting, copy the RSS xml feed address and paste it into iPodder. That’s too much. It’s not that people are stupid, it’s that it’s too much of a fuss. It should be a matter of clicking the link on a website, and with that it’s all automatically set up and new episodes are ready to copy to the iPod next synchronization. And that’s actually all been figured out already, we just need the software implementations.

It’s exciting stuff. Once we have the bandwidth I think it’s inevitable that video will go the same way, and televisions will have to become internet clients. This presents huge challenges, not least in user-interface design, but the advantages far outweigh the problems. Imagine how kids growing up with an unregulated media will see the world. Perhaps they’ll realise that, as someone said recently, it’s not ‘us and them’, it just ‘a whole lot of us’. And when these kids start to run countries, imagine how things will change.

Yeah, it’s idealistic and far-reaching, but so what? When it’s already here, when all that it needs to become a reality is hard work from people who believe in the idea, why not try?

I was a little cross last night at the cynicism I’ve seen regarding Make Poverty History, and if you look through the gnomedex tag at Technorati there are a fair few posts in a similar vein. So here’s what I think: screw these people. It’s a cowardly, pathetic way to behave. There’s apparently a saying amongst lawyers that goes as follows: if you have the evidence on your side, pound the evidence; if you have the law on your side, pound the law; if you have neither, pound the table. That’s what these people are doing – they’re pounding the table in desperate attention-seeking attempts to feel superior. If you have a valid argument, make it. If you don’t, go learn something and come up with one.

Cynicism has always been worthless, and it always will be.

I’m only 22, but with the various jobs I’ve had and the industries I’ve been involved in I would guess that any walk of life is full of naysayers. I’m not talking about well-placed caution or skepticism – the world would collapse if it weren’t for the latter – but hindering progress for no valid reason and refusing to listen to argument. Pop-psychologically speaking, I’d say that fear of risk, fear of change and fear of getting left behind are the main impetuses behind such an attitude, but that’s just a hunch – I have no real idea 🙂

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a double-edged sword that hinders as much as it helps, I think. The space shuttle runs on ancient 486 computers, because they’ve been extremely reliable. Fair enough, but this is space exploration. If there’s one thing that should be on the cutting edge, surely that’s it? Don’t tell me that the engineers wouldn’t upgrade the whole thing if they could. If it ain’t broke, smile and build.