Monday, August 27, 2007

Theatrical Release Movies on your iPhone

Not that I am endorsing this, but I can verify that it works (well)....

PirateBay + Azureus (or other BitTorrent client) + iSquint (video conversion software) + iTunes = new movies on your iPhone

DVD quality copies of DieHard 4, Knocked Up, Ocean's 13, Bourne Ultimatum and more in your pocket. Or you can go for handycam versions of newer movies like SuperBad.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Me, Myself & iPhone

Yeah, I broke down and got an iPhone. There are a couple of minor things that are a bit annoying - but that is to be expected. And yes... as everyone else has already reported, I too, would love it if it used the 3G network and that it supported Flash content. But in short I think it's great. I wasn't going to get one - I was going to sit on the fence until the second generation then decide. I didn't want to be the Apple fanboy that thinks any/everything that comes out of Cupertino is the best thing ever created. I even posted that I hoped the iPhone would be a total piece of crap and that it would fail. But alas... it is not. When I went back and looked at my old posts about what I have always wanted in the ultimate phone (wifi, MP3, video, large storage capacity, *relatively* fast data network) - I realized that I was in denial that the iPhone met all of these criteria. The one it didn't meet was that It doesn't support subscription music services - but see my post from yesterday as to why this criteria no mattered for me. But in lieu of support for Windows Media DRM, it even threw a spectacular UI and a qwerty keyboard that works pretty well even though it is virtual. Not as good as my old Blackberry's hardware keyboard but it works good enough for me.

As *many* people have posted about the overall usability and UI - I will share a personal experience that I think is very illuminating. If you hand the iPhone to an adult (particularly someone from my parent's generation) - the initial response is "wow"! This is because they have been trained and beaten down over years that technology (particularly cutting-edge tech) shouldn't be this easy.

On the flipside, when I handed the iPhone to my 3 year old daughter for the first time I got *no* reaction. That's because she didn't know any better - to her it worked like it was supposed to... completely intuitive.

So, after a few weeks with it - I've compiled the list of apps and websites that I have found to be the most indispensable for you other iPhoney's.

  1. Handbrake - rip a DVD then transfer it to your iPhone. Note: In Handbrake select the iPod settings but make sure that the output size is no larger than 640x480 (I had to go in and manually change this one parameter of the iPod setting). If you don't do that then the file won't sync.
  2. iPhone Remote (aka Telekinesis) - Not only can you use your iPhone as a remote control for you Mac (opening applications, etc.) but you can also stream content off of your Mac to your iPhone (music, videos, snapshots from your webcam). Works great over my LAN, but not sure if/how it will work outside the house since I don't have a static IP address. Still playing with it, but has *lots* of potential. Another option is Signal, but it does less and costs more ($29 vs. free).
  3. Facebook Mobile - If you love Facebook, then the iPhone optimized version of the site is a must-bookmark.
  4. Seeqpod for iPhone - MP3 search engine optimized for iPhone. Search for a free range MP3, and stream directly to your phone. Obviously better to try when on WiFi. Another great option is's iPhone interface.
  5. TinyBuddy IM - A web-based AIM application (built by folks at AOL) using the "standard" iPhone UI. The other option is Meebo which also works well.
  6. Netvibes - I actually just went through the pain of migrating all of my feeds from Pageflakes to Netvibes just so I could get the same content on my iPhone. It takes a long time to load over EDGE, but when on WiFi it works very well.
What are you guys using?

Now playing: Weezer & Soul Coughing - American Girl
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The King Has No Clothes (and is Dead). Long Live the King.

I have been on both sides of the subscription music business. I led the product group at AOL that acquired/relaunched AOL Music Now (unfortunately dealt away to Napster) - and I have subscribed to virtually all the competitors. I have been a big fan of the value proposition that subscription music business brings - in spite of itself and all the hoops it makes consumers jump through. If you haven't already, you should read some of my (ever-evolving) thoughts about the state of the market in some of my older posts.

But, as a consumer I have recently sworn off DRM (and Microsoft products/technologies in general to a large degree, but that's a different story) - after years of trying to convince myself and others that DRM is "no big deal". Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right? The turning point for me was the realization that people (like my wife) would have a portable player full of content (that I had to put on there for her) that would never play because all of the licenses were expired. With her being only a part-time computer user, the job would then fall on my shoulders to continually manage her player, download the tracks she wanted and keep it all working. Major pain in the ass.

And yes... Apple obviously uses/has used DRM for a long time too - but to their credit, they simplified the model so that you would never run into the issue of "dead" content on an iPod (since they don't do subscription they don't have to worry about renewing the licenses on a monthly basis).

I still give Rhapsody my $15/month - although I'm not sure for how long considering I broke down and got an iPhone (more on that later). Their issues (and those of the new "Rhapsody America") are the same as they have always been... subscription content doesn't play on an iPod/iPhone. And who in the marketplace doesn't want/have an iPod or iPhone? It's like the kids 30 years ago who's parents bought him a "Magnavox Odyssey2" video game system when the rest of the planet had an Atari 2600 (unfortunately, that was me).

I truly believe that a marketplace with ubiquitous high-speed IP access and multi-function mobile phones solves all of theses issues - but realistically that is still a couple of years off (keep an eye on Sprint... uh, I mean "Xohm"... and their 4G/WiMax rollout) for early adopters and probably 5+ years for the mass market.

So, until then my new digital music M.O. is iPhone + eMusic + DRMless MP3 purchases (some from iTunes even they are actually AAC files, some from gBox, some from Amazon) + free-range MP3 streaming and "acquisition" (SkreemR, Hype Machine, Seeqpod, etc.) + library sharing (via Simplify Media) + personalized streaming services (more on that soon). What the market really needs is a destination that aggregates all these options into a single place - there are a couple that are starting to do this now - and I'm sure more will follow (will it be Google?).

The two year AT&T contract that I had to sign for my iPhone will expire just as it is time to move back to an all-you-can eat subscription model....

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rhapsody mUrge-r Follow Up

More details came out late yesterday about the corporate and financial structure of the new "Rhapsody America". I've got to say that my hopes were that basically Urge subscribers would be rolled into Rhapsody and that Real's existing management team would run the business (similar to the way Napster acquired the AOL Music Now customers basically in exchange for a large ad-buy commitment). But, now I see that it is a true JV with new management team and it's own currency.

OK, I don't know Michael Bloom (announced as CEO of the JV) at all. He may be a genius and a hell of a guy that just got dealt a losing hand with Urge. But from afar, it seems odd to me that you take that guy that was running a failing service and make him the CEO instead of guys from the Real side who are running a (somewhat) successful business.

Is it just me?

And a parting thought.... what's up with that name?! I sincerely hope that is the name of the corporate entity and not the service's brand....

"Hey, did you get that new album on iTunes?"
"No, I got it on Rhapsody America!"


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rhapsody and Urge Merge

Big news. The subscription music consolidation continues with MTV rolling it's over-hyped under-delivering subscription service, Urge, in with Real's Rhapsody service - this follows Napster's acquisition last year of both Virgin Digital and AOL Music Now's subscribers.

Free Article - "In a bid to create a stronger competitor to Apple Inc.'s market-dominating iTunes Store, Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks is set to announce today that it is merging its online digital-music offerings into a joint venture with RealNetworks Inc., the company behind the Rhapsody subscription digital-music service, according to people familiar with the matter."

A couple of more moves are needed until Real has got a realistic shot a making a dent in Apple's marketshare.
  1. First, the market needs Napster (or at least their customers) to be acquired by Rhapsody too. Then, the market confusion will start to clear a little (iTunes needs one strong competitor, not a bunch of tiny ones) - then they can easily position A vs. B in their marketing messaging.
  2. Offer DRM-free a la carte tracks (which they are going to do) - word is that they will be really high bit-rate (upwards of 256kbps) MP3s. Sell them for $1 each.
  3. Introduce an ad-supported streaming service - with an upsell tier to ad-free listening.
  4. Partner with every "music 2.0" site out there and syndicate their free play web player - support *lots* of external communities, not just their own - cut affiliate relationships with them all.
Now they have a basic value proposition that the market can understand - "we are just like iTunes but instead of 30-second samples you can listen to the whole song". Songs you buy can be imported into iTunes and sync'd with an iPhone (iPod sync is supported by other players, but if you want to sync your contacts/calendar with your iPhone then currently can only do that with iTunes). You also have a great web-based streaming experience that doesn't require a fat media player client.

Over time they could move towards "package" download tiers (like eMusic where you can download x tracks/month). I would personally like that model, but I actually think they should refrain from offering that as it confuses the marketing message. Once people understand it is "just like iTunes only better", then they can move on and try some new models.

All that being said... there is nothing keeping Apple from doing all this themselves if/when the Rhapsody plan started getting some traction.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Plug-ins to Share iTunes Tracks

A few months ago I told you guys about the AIM plug-in that enables any/all of your buddies music libraries to show up in the "Shared" node of iTunes. Essentially tricking iTunes into thinking that these buddies are on the same subnet (local network). The result is a streaming-only experience that you are familiar with if you already use the shared library function of iTunes - no copying, no ripping. These ideas actually aren't all that new, but they are now resurfacing after several dormant years. The AIM one works pretty well (still basically alpha therefore buggy at times). But, now that a Mac is my primary machine I have switched to Adium for my IM client and therefore I'm now out of luck.

Well, in steps Simplify Media with their iTunes plug-in that does essentially the same thing (with claimed support for Winamp and Windows Media Player coming soon). It allows you to invite up to 30 friends to join your "Media List". Technically, the number of people that can stream simultaneously off or you machine is limited by your bandwidth (combined with the bitrate of your tunes). Realistically, probably only a couple/few at one time. The 30 person limitation seems to be little more than trying to get protection under Fair Use?

I am using Simplify Media to give my friends and family access to my music library. Set up is fast, and the software is integrated with Apple iTunes.
To play my music, download Simplify Media for Mac or PC from:

Once installed, click the 'invite' button and use my screen name: jherskowitz

It's simple, safe and free.

Currently I am trying it out to get access to my home library when I'm not on my LAN (also see my posts on Streampad, Orb/Winamp Remote and other remote access products). Anyone else out there using it? If so, hit me up so I can try it out.

Now playing: Okkervil River - Love To A Monster
via FoxyTunes

Friday, August 17, 2007

iTunes Annoyance of the Day

All I want is a simple "enqueue" function. I don't want to build a playlist... I just want to be able to find a song and either "play next" or "put at end of current queue". Winamp is great at this, but alas... I'm on a Mac and I'm not going to run Parallel's just for this purpose. I think Songbird probably does this, but I've got an iPhone and Apple has been smart/underhanded enough to use iTunes as the sync agent for not only your music but also as the conduit into you calendar and contacts.

So... yes, Apple has once again used a proprietary system to lock me into a sub-optimized experience in my opinion. Fool me twice...

Anyone know of any hacks or tricks to get iTunes to queue up songs?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hypothetical: Pay For One, But Take Another

I'm on a large listserv that is haunted by a wide range of professionals and artists that discuss many of the issues and opportunities that currently present themselves to the digital media market. I started a thread last week that simply posed the following hypothetical:

Someone pays a subscription music service for their "to-go" plan in perpetuity ($15/month for life) but instead of downloading any of the DRM'd content from that service they "acquire" DRMless MP3 versions of the same songs.

Is this deemed "illegal"? They are paying the labels their per month minimums which in turn are paid out to the rights holders (assuming the user is only acquiring content that is also licensed to the subscription provider they are paying) - and since they are paying in perpetuity then the issue of "owning" versus "renting" (and the 30-day licenses) is a non-issue.

The logic (albeit many see as flawed) being that if you pay the monthly subscription fees in perpetuity (basically "renting" it for life), than theoretically the artists and labels end up making far more than they do off a one-time sale of the track. Therefore, if someone pays Rhapsody their $15/month for the rest of their life for the right to listen to a track - but then go and "steal" those tracks from somewhere else - the net net is a positive for the labels and artists. This is the "music as a utility" (some say "tax") argument that the industry has yet to embrace, although their could be grassroots movement of consumers just paying these subscription services (using them as little more than a collection agency) then going off and "acquire" all the tracks they can find off of MP3 blogs, P2P networks, etc. with a clear conscience in knowing that the rights holders are still be remunerated.

The fact is, I know *many* people that discover and listen to new music from MP3 blogs and/or The Hype Machine that also happen to subscribe to services. They find the stuff on the blogs, they listen to it there. If they like it, their choice is to either:

A). Download it directly from there
B). Copy the artist/song info, go to the store of choice (potentially
launching a big heavy media player), log in and buy it. Perish the thought
that they find *lots* of songs they want to buy. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

The bottom line is that in the current digital music legal and business framework it is easier to steal than to buy legally.

This thread has been active for almost a week now and spun into a very lively debate that has started to cover much larger topics that I originally intended (which is great). But to boil it back down to the original question and the more relevant follow up of... Would you feel morally comfortable with this scenario?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Terrestrial Radio Worth Listening To in DC

In my opinion, D.C.-area terrestrial radio died the day WHFS went off the air a couple of years ago - at least in terms of music programming. I'm originally from the DC area (before leaving on my lap around the nation) and grew up on WHFS - or at least converted to it after discovering there was more music in the world than Pop. I can still remember going to one of the first 'HFStivals at Lake Fairfax Park - it was the first time I ever heard The Tragically Hip and have been a fan ever since. When all the other stations were playing hair metal or bubblegum pop in the mid- to late-80s, HFS was playing The Smiths, The Pixies and Jane's Addiction. Unfortunately, in their later years, HFS had morphed into an awful clone of DC101 - both seemingly playing all Linkin Park, all the time.

Well it appears that WHFS has been virtually reborn (although a bit older like the rest of us) as a new station in the D.C. area called 94.7 - The Globe. It brings back to long-time HFS DJ's in Weasel and Cerphe and plays "world class rock" - as I write this David Bowie is playing, before that I've heard 10,000 Maniacs, R.E.M, Cheap Trick, Edie Brickell, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, old U2 and even some Zeppelin.

If you guys live in San Francisco or Boston - it's like DC *finally* got our version of KFOG or WBOS. It's about friggin' time.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Universal Decides it is More Important to Screw Apple than their Customers

It has taken longer than I had hoped, but finally some more movement from the other majors on the DRMless front...

Universal To Set Its Music Free - "During its trial run, the Vivendi (other-otc: VIVEF - news - people ) subsidiary said it will make 'thousands' of its albums and songs available for download without so-called digital rights management, or DRM, restrictions, to observe consumer demand, price sensitivity and the impact on piracy. The songs will be sold in the MP3 format, which can be played on any handheld music player, including the market-leading iPod from Apple (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ), as well as on any cell phone that can play music.

The test run will begin Aug. 21 and will run through the end of January. Universal's move is significant on a number of different levels. As home to a sprawling roster of leading recording artists including Amy Winehouse, 50 Cent, Fall Out Boy, Prince, Elvis Costello and others, its U.S. unit sales last year that were roughly three times that of EMI Group, which began offering its catalog without DRM restrictions in April.

n addition, Universal is shutting out Apple's iTunes Store from its trial run. Why? Because it wants to use iTunes as a control group against which to compare its sale of DRM-free downloads elsewhere.

Among the online vendors participating in Universal's test run will be, Wal-Mart, Google, Best Buy, Rhapsody from RealNetworks, Trans World Entertainment, Passalong Networks and Puretracks.

A nice move all-around, the consumers get what they want (DRMless content that will still play on their iPod), Amazon can make their entrance into the market with a bang (something the labels desperately need is a strong iTunes competitor to give them more leverage with Apple) and Universal at least gets to *appear* like they are listening to their consumers.

The other piece of BIG news kind of slid into the story is the inclusion of Google as a partner that is going to sell these tracks. Is Google finally getting into the game to after years of rumors?! Check out some of my related thoughts on Google as the ultimate music mashup...

Time to fire up Winamp and wait from Amazon's or Google's store to go live - haven't we all been waiting long enough?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

How to Hack Together a Facebook Flash Widget

I don't read directions. Unfortunately, it appears to be a dominant gene trait that I have inherited from my father. So, with my limited ability to write any code (besides some basic markup) and my desire to hack together a Facebook widget - I wasn't too confident in my chances of success.

As it turns out, it's pretty damn easy now with the CodeBox Facebook application.

For my first foray into this, I started with the MyStrands Now Playing flash widget (imagine that). Here's all I did - if you're like me you'd much rather have a working example/walkthrough rather than reading the documentation:

  • Copied the code (which for me looked like):

  • Pasted that code into the CodeBox FBML box in Facebook - this application only accepts valid "FBML (FaceBook Markup Language)" which is a slightly different than standard HTML. To make the standard HTML code into FBML, it just required a couple of tweaks.
  • In this case, all I had to do was change the opening "embed src=" to "fb:swf swfsrc="
  • Since FaceBook doesn't like you have a Flash movie that starts without a user action, they generally require most flash apps to have some sort of placeholder graphic - to make mine I simply took a screenshot of the MyStrands widget, dumped it into a graphic editor, smudged out the data (so it didn't look like a stale widget) and then added a "click to view" button on top. So it looks like this:

  • I then posted this image to Flickr, copied the URL and made this the default image for the widget by simply adding the "imgsrc=(url of the posted photo)" to the code.
  • So, when all was said and done, my CodeBox FBML looked like this:

  • Save the final code (as above) in the CodeBox app and you are all done. You can check out the final product on my FaceBook profile. For those of you who have the mere thought of FaceBook cause you to "throw up a little in your mouth". Here is a harmless screenshot:

Enjoy and let me know if you guys make anything cool.

Dell Buys Zing?

I've written about Zing a number of times. They have pulled together a very nice device and ecosystem - unfortunately it has been confined to being offered by Sandisk and only works in conjunction with Yahoo Music. Now word appears that Dell may be buying Zing:

Dell Buys Wireless Access Expertise, Plans Zing Purchase — Digital Music News: "Ahead of that shift, Dell is now circling around wireless media specialists Zing, a company that recently teamed on a WiFi media player concept with SanDisk and Yahoo. 'In a move that reflects the renewed interest and energy being directed at its consumer business, Dell plans to use Zing and its capabilities to continue improving the entertainment experiences it provides its customers,' the company declared in a brief announcement Monday."

That's great news for Tim Bucher and his team - but unfortunate for us consumers. Dell has proven themselves fairly inept at selling MP3 players (and other consumer electronics I believe). I would hate to see such a nice product as the one the Zing guys have made wither on the vine....

Friday, August 03, 2007

MyStrands Wraps in More Industry Talent (and me)

Last week, Scott Kveton announced that he had joined MyStrands as their Open Technical Lead. Those of you that follow the Open Source and Open Identity movements are sure to know Scott's name.

Scott has worked at Amazon, and JanRain as well as founded the Open Source Lab at Oregon State University. Working closely with projects like Mozilla, Linux, Drupal and Apache led Scott down the identity path and to JanRain in mid-2006. Scott was named to Red Herring’s list of ‘25 Titans in waiting’ in early 2007 and ‘InformationWeek’s Change Agents’ in December 2005.

That was followed up a couple of days ago, when it was made public that both Scott Lehr and Gary Geller from Muze were also joining the MyStrands team. Gary spent 15 years at Muze and most recently served as SVP of Sales (in a previous life he also served as Tour Manager/Financial Director for such notable tours as The Sex Pistols' Tour of America and The Rolling Stones' "Steel Wheels" Tour). Scott spent 11 years at Muze and exited as VP of Corporate/Business Development.

The next shoe to drop involves yours truly... Today is my last day at AOL and I will be lucky enough to join Scott, Scott, Gary and the rest of the stellar team at MyStrands as Vice President of Consumer Products. In this role I will be focused on helping further evolve the existing products and services as well as creating new ones.

MyStrands mission is to help people discover new things and they have developed a unique and industry-leading social recommender engine and network over the past 3 years. They also recently raised a $25 million round of funding and are looking to expand the scope of that mission beyond just music.

I am extremely excited to be part of the team and look for more news to follow soon....

Thursday, August 02, 2007

FoxyTunes Update

FoxyTunes Blog: "Signatunes supports 10 additional platforms!
August 2nd, 2007

We received amazing feedback on Signatunes, with many people asking to add support for their favorite sites and services.

Today we are adding support for 10 more great services:

* Blogger
* Xanga
* AOL Blogs
* Windows Live Spaces
* Yahoo! 360
* Hi5
* Bebo
* Friendster
* TypePad
* Noteworthy mail

If you already have a FoxyTunes version with Signatunes, just go to FoxyTunes Configuration > Signatunes > Check for Updates and the new sites will be auto-magically supported."

Cool.... although in Blogger the URL doesn't automatically link (I did it manually below).

Now playing: Maria Taylor - Clean Getaway