A couple of weeks ago, Matthew Cashmore of backstage.bbc.co.uk published a very interesting interview with Anthony Rose, head of Digital Media Technology at the BBC.
I was impressed by Rose, generally. He seems to be pretty clued up about what's possible with the technology, which I suppose is no great surprise given his background at Kazaa. I'll get into some of the contradictions I see in what he says in another post, but first there is one comment he made that particularly grates.
He says, just over 2 minutes in (emphasis mine):
The good news is, as you move to streaming, at this time, there's no requirement for DRM.
We put quite complex back-end controls to make sure that our rights-holders' rights are still protected. In other words the content is only available in the UK, and we make it hard to nick the stream.
I'm very pleased that the BBC have made a version of their catch-up service, iPlayer, that isn't tied to Windows and Internet Explorer.
There are a few good things, programmes are addressable at the episode/programme level, not just the series. That's a great thing, and as I've said before, the BBC's new Programme Support is a fantastic step forward for Tv metadata.
The quality is fairly good, but variable. It's obviously worse than television, and quite a bit worse than recordings people distribute amongst themselves using BitTorrent or Usenet. HIGNFY S34E09 was pretty watchable, full-screen on a 21 inch monitor, from across the room. Last week's Film 2007 was unwatchably blocky, for me. The BBC (and their Trust, and the rightsholders) should recognise that that is what they are competing with, and if the normal distribution mechanisms are worse, we'll get good, shiny, socially acceptable alternatives built by the crazy people.
The Mac has a lovely command,
open, which you can point at a file or URL and it will do the Right Thing.
Here's a little script that lets you Google from the command line. You can also use it with Gnome by calling
gnome-open instead of
open at the end of the script.
Posted at 06:24 EST, 11th December 2007.
A long time ago, I wrote gallery.future-i.com, and I was particularly exercised about using clean URLs (and still am).
One place I feel I did a really nice job was in making the search URLs pretty nice, e.g. a search for 'mary' lives at:
I did that in the middle of 2001, and I expect plenty of others did similar things by then, too. For me, the tricky bit is all done by Apache's mod_rewrite, which takes incoming requests to your web site, and let's you rejig it to pass parameters to scripts without exposing all that grunge to the outside world. It isn't the only way to do it, but it is powerful and effective.
My annoyance now is that Amazon have a patent on a very similar technique, covering URLs for search results of the form
http://somedomain/flibble, filed in 2004.
I was impressed by Amazon's A9 when it launched, principally for the clean URLs for search.
That doesn't mean they own the idea, which is plainly in play before that. And don't get me started on parallel invention, making it all the sillier.
I hope the patent boils away in a sea of prior art.
[Via Buzz Out Loud #589, Slashdot coverage]
The BBC have a great new Web site – BBC Programme Support (more info from Tom Scott of the BBC). This is especially good for Web nerds like me, but it will help make link-centric television work for Real Human Beings, too.
There are a few quirks in how things are listed right now but I'm sure they'll shake out in due course. What's great about this service is that the Beeb is committing to long-term, stable URIs for their programmes, with a single, clear link for each show, irrespective of how and when it is shown or repeated.
Oh no, hang on, it doesn't.
iTunes slipped up and put the wrong episode of Stargate Atlantis on their store. It was the first filmed, but the fourth episode of the season. It is wrapped in the usual tasty DRM wrapper and it hasn't aired anywhere yet. Strangely, though, the video has made it onto the usual torrent sites.
So much for the notion that DRM keeps content off the ad-hoc networks.
(Sorry for the long gap in posts here – things have been pretty busy since August. I've either been away, working hard or both for quite a while. Things are settling down now, and I've lots of nearly finished articles coming soon.)
So, Google are shutting down their DRM-backed video sales and rental service. Instead of giving customers the video they 'bought' or a proper refund Google are giving them a "bonus" voucher to spend through Google Checkout, which rusts in 60 days.
Back in the day, we understood the simple cases of:
- you have bought this
- you have borrowed this
- and, you have rented this
DRM intends to make the middle case go away, and skew the first to be a wierd and different thing. If we choose to build technology that breaks these norms, we're going to need much clearer language than 'download-to-own' and 'buy' to cover all of the new possibilities for worse-than-before media.
Chris pointed at a piece in the NYT where they say:
Streaming video, unlike downloads, never resides on a viewer's computer. It usually cannot be replayed as a downloaded file can be, which is another reason that content creators like it.
Pay attention, especially any lawyers hanging around at the back.
Here's the important difference between streaming and downloading:
- when you download something you are sent a bag of bits in any old order
- when you stream something you are sent a bag of bits and can start watching them before they've all arrived
That makes streaming harder to do, as a server, and theoretically nicer for the end user. The down-side is that once you have that harder performance problem of sending enough bits quickly enough it gets tricky. You can buy yourself better performance by distributing some (or all) of the information from a central server, but that gets expensive.
The next thing you can do is just to use fewer bits, that makes it both cheaper, and the technical problem gets easier. The consequence is to make the quality suck, to the point of being unwatchable for me. Content owners are well placed to compete on quality, right now they're losing to the ad-hoc torrent people.
Following Chris' lead, here's a gaggle of films that Mary & I are going to later this month in Edinburgh.
I'm also excited to be going to the Un-Festival, organised by Ian Forrester, catching some decent comedy and generally being up in such a lovely city, even while it is wearing a clown suit.
I'm unsurprised at recent developments at Oxford as over-zealous proctors fine students for misbehaviour using evidence from Facebook.
I think there's some real trouble with people understanding quite what they're publishing, and to whom.
Worse than that, I think people have a false sense of security when they tag their updates as 'friends only' on sites like Twitter, Facebook and so forth.
I'm a Harry Potter fan. I like the books, and I really don't want spoiling about the last book. According to Torrent Freak, poor quality scans of the book are already kicking about over BitTorrent.
Now I'm not surprised, but I think – in this case at least – the publisher is winning.
Update at 12:42 EDT, 19th July 2007 – Tracing leaker via EXIF metadata
Television has long lived in a world where viewers watch television just as it is transmitted, just where they live.
That's a fantasy world, and becomes less and less realistic every day. Technology for time- and place-shifting content around has got pretty good in the last thirty-odd years.
Watersheds on television are thoroughly hooked on the idea that the people who can watch something that was broadcast in the evening are responsible & mature. Anyone who is technically savvy, and thus most likely any enterprising kid with access to the internet, can fetch practically any programme, from anywhere in the world.
It's a depressing thought. There's a site you love, you have poured heart and soul and energy into it.
More and more frequently, I find myself fighting the corner of not doing "search engine optimisation".
Chris Anderson (of Long Tail fame) has an apology for an ad that Wired ran on "practically every page" of their Web site that accidentally stood on top of the content you might reasonably want to read.
It makes me think about what makes an ad irritating – or entertaining – and I think getting in the way of what you're watching/reading/doing is the main point.
Tagged: Web, Media
Posted at 03:59 EDT, 13th June 2007.
Now I'm a bit of a pedant, so I do get quite exercised about definitions and terminology.
To me this site isn't a blog. There's a bloggish part to it, and the word is certainly all over the code that underpins it. It just isn't that important to me that it's seen as a blog. If that's a helpful crutch for people, they might call it that. I won't.
Tagged: Web, Rants
Posted at 11:15 EDT, 11th June 2007.
So Joost have signed up some more advertisers.
While having some more big names advertising is good for Joost, I'm a little troubled. All the ads I've seen so far on Joost have been short logo & tagline affairs, placed between programmes. A return to 30 second ads, even in very short breaks, in the middle of programming is going to feel much more annoying.
I've been using pogdesign's Calendar for TV for some time. It covers many series I watch, and makes it easy to remember what I should be recording or borrowing from a friend.
It used to be full of swanky, fragile Web 2.0 AJAX goodness. Thankfully, they've just overhauled things. It's now a staunch database-backed site, storing a user's information in a database, not their cookies.
I was a fan before, despite the technology choices. I'm a much bigger fan now.
And with the new iCal feed of what you want to watch, I'll be able to automate more of the recordings, which is fab.
While using my Halifax Visa card online recently, I bumped into the Verified by Visa programme.
It's a nice idea, in theory, but the implementation I saw was woeful. It was depressingly similar to a phishing attack, warmly assuring me about security by chatting about it in the Web page, while hiding the parts of my browser that can tell me that more sensibly.
Like most geeks, I try and educate my less geeky family and friends about how to behave safely with technology. Things like this make that job harder.
Update at 17:51 EDT, 21st April 2007 – Follow-up: Guardian coverage
I've been stuck in a few conversations recently about Web accessibility, which has led me to think a little more about what the proper balance is between shinyness and usefulness.
In short, I don't want to poke people in the eye – they usually don't deserve it.
The Congestion Charge extended past my home & work this morning, and I'm quite happy.
Every road I've crossed today I crossed without breaking stride. It made for a much more pleasant journey in.
Posted at 14:07 EST, 19th February 2007.
The FT has a slippery grasp of DRM. In a story titled 'Apple sparks battle over copyright', they opened with:
Apple's demand that record companies do away with copyright protection for songs they sell online has set up a bitter battle between the two camps as they prepare for broad-ranging contract negotiations.
Now, that's just plain wrong.
2006 was a very good year. I finished my thesis, and started on a research project that takes some of those ideas on much further.
On the family side, there have been a lot of good things. Life at home is better than ever; my brother and his wife had a beautiful baby girl in January; and a few other things have gone well.
Tagged: Upbeat, Family
Posted at 03:31 EST, 2nd January 2007.