Over the weekend I listened to the ITConversations podcast of Barry Diller's appearance at Web 2.0. He's a thoughtful and articulate guy and I recommend the entire interview, but here's the crucial quote from the soundbite I bookmarked1:
There's not that much talent in the world, and talent almost always outs. There's very few people, in very few closets, that are really talented and can't find their way out. Somehow they get out.
Then I read Doc Searls' gloomy assessment of the DRM landscape in response this comment by Lloyd Shepherd:
At some level, there has to be an appropriate level of control over content to make it economically feasible for people to produce it at anything like an industrial level. And on the other side of things, it's clear that the people who make the consumer technology that ordinary people actually use -- the Microsofts and Apples of the world -- have already accepted and embraced this. The argument has already moved on. [Lloyd Shepherd: How can DRM be good?]Doc's not yet willing to concede, and neither am I, but it wasn't until I heard Diller's remarkable statement that I finally got to the crux of the issue. Is talent scarce or abundant? If you believe that talent is scarce, as Diller does, then it's going to have to be metered, and we're headed down the DRM path for sure. If you believe that talent is relatively abundant, as Doc and I do, then you imagine a very different future where technology favors use over control.
The scarcity argument can't be dismissed out of hand. Maybe Diller's right. But what if he's wrong? If the DRM train has already left the station, we'll never do the experiment and we'll never know the answer.
Content owners should be able to protect their property. But outside that realm of scarcity our technologies should support and encourage the abundance experiment.
Update: This question of control versus use is not, by the way, merely a DRM issue. Another audio program I listened to over the weekend, on a long hike, was a talk by Marsh McCall, a classics professor at Stanford. It's at itunes.stanford.edu, an Apple/Stanford joint project that's making selected talks available for download.
I'd like to link you directly to that freely-available talk, and also provide a link-addressable soundbite, but I can't. These audio programs aren't part of the web, they belong to a parallel mini-universe in which the only acceptable client is iTunes and the only acceptable player device is the iPod.
I recalled Tim Bray's foray into that universe, and I took a crack at navigating XML-over-ITMS (i.e., the iTunes Music Store HTTP-based protocol) as though it were XML-over-HTTP, but no joy. It seems that all paths lead even more inexorably into the closed world of iTunes than was true when Tim Bray ran his experiment almost two years ago.
The closure doesn't stop there. You're also expected to listen to these talks on an iPod. Well I've got one of those, but I also use a non-Apple gizmo. It plays MP3s (and WMAs) but not M4As. There are M4A-to-MP3 converters, of course, but finding and using them isn't something that most people will be able or willing to do.
The availability of these Stanford talks is precisely the kind of thing I advocate for here. And it's true that the iTunes/iPod combo is a majority platform at the moment, which makes it sensible to target this offering at that platform. So kudos to Apple and Stanford.
That said, it feels wrong not to be be able to form links to individual talks, cite them in blog entries, categorize them on shared bookmarking services, remix them on webjay, and quote soundbites from them. Stanford clearly intends to engage with the outside world, and that's fantastic. But because the design center for Apple's service is scarcity, not abundance, it doesn't do nearly as much as it could to facilitate that engagement.
Further update: Speaking of Webjay, this just in: Yahoo acquires Webjay. Updating the chart from here gives us:
1 I noticed two problems with my collection of soundbites. First, a lot of the older ITConversations links have gone stale. Fair enough, Doug Kaye warned us not to depend on them, but in general I would like to encourage the cool URLs don't change ethic for media URLs too. Second, I found and fixed a bug that broke the service when URLs are both parameterized and redirected. If you run into a problem I'd like to hear about it. To form a soundbite URL, use this pattern: http:\//udell.infoworld.com:8003/?url=URL-OF-MP3&beg=mm:ss&end=mm:ss.
Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2006/01/09.html#a1366