We are the kazaa generation

Does a Free Download Equal a Lost Sale? Nope, says two MBA profs from Harvard and UNC.

They found that Eminem’s “8 Mile” soundtrack was the second most popular among albums sold, and that his song, “Lose Yourself,” was the most popular among file sharers. It seems that downloading was more a symptom of an artist’s popularity in the record stores than a barrier to it. “Our best guess is that peer-to-peer networks in 2002 had no effect whatsoever on sales,” Professor Oberholzer-Gee said.

They concluded that maybe every 10 downloads equals 1 or 2 lost CD sales. Why? Because most people who downloaded for free wouldn’t have trudged into Best Buy for the $20 CD it was on anyway.

A barrister and a solicitor walk into a bar

My manager got called to the bar this week (read: he is now officially a lawyer) at the Upper Canada Law Society. He said it was interesting seeing the reactions of the common people as he walked around in public in his barrister’s robes. Half of them looked at him like he was some crazy homeless person dressed as a pilgrim, and the other half properly recognized what the garb signified and cowered appropriately.

The ceremony was held in a space in Osgoode Hall that is usually occupied by a four-star restaurant. Pretty good veal panini – but what do you expect from a venue that has to deal with judges and lawyers? Possibly the best restaurant I’ve been to that requires its patrons to submit to a metal detector (at Osgoode’s front entrance).

Open source studies

Analysts are paid to be objective. Admittedly, they have an abstract, from-orbit type of view on the industry, and most don’t even have technical backgrounds, but they do their best work when making fair judgement calls, above all else.

At ITAC Ontario’s seminar entitled “Open Source & Total Cost of Ownership”, Laura Koetzle of Forrester Research presented a well-balanced if comical view of her March 2004 study called “Is Linux more secure than Windows?” Self-deprecating at times, she listed several flaws the study had. For example, when pointing out that Windows received an eyebrow-raising security score of “100.00%”, she tacitly admitted that it is MS policy to say nothing about a security exploit until a patch – or a virus – appears.

“Feel free to throw muffins at me,” she jokingly said to the mostly IT administrator audience.

While there is great controversy in the methodology (read RedHat, SUSE, Debian and Mandrake’s counterpoints), her data rings true. She pointedly told IT staffers everywhere, regardless of what OS they have on their plate, to “eat your security vegetables”.

I maintained an open mind when Laura Didio, Yankee Group analyst, took the stand to present her TCO study discussed here on Quantified earlier. Sadly, she chose her time to lavish us with snippets of gossip on various executive clients, and how they supposedly confided her with their tales of Linux migration woe.

She even brought up Ballmer’s infamous Singapore strong-arming where he claimed a study concluded Linux violated hundreds of patents, an assertion that has been soundly debunked by the study’s author, Dan Ravicher.

I called her on the fact she curiously neglected to tell the audience that the surveys were distributed by Sunbelt Software, a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner, to its Windows customers. I was puzzled by this methodology, since it seemed like it was like walking into the Grand Ol’ Opry and asking who there liked to listen to the Bangles.

I tried to press on with questions, but the host got up and amicably suggested we continue the discussion in coffee break. We both smiled and nodded.

As Ms. Didio sat down, an IBM executive that was sitting behind me whispered, “Thank you for that!” and added, “She was incredibly biased.”

Two minutes later, I saw Ms. Didio walking out the door. Pity.

Analysts are paid to be objective. They do their best work when making fair judgement calls, above all else. When they stop becoming objective, they become useless.

Blanking branding

Wired Magazine remarks that branding isn’t what it used to be. Thanks to better informed buyers (yet another second-order effect thanks to the Internet), “brands have little or no value independent of what a company actually does”. Consumers will extoll or punish a brand for the quality of their current offerings, not out of blind devotion for what they supposedly stand for. (Outside of fanboyism, anyway.)

Cory Doctorow writes that trademarks became less for our benefit and more for brandishing, well, branding. Trademarks were initially intended to protect the consumer from counterfeit knockoffs, but are nowadays increasingly used by their owners as a legal weapon to crush competitors and consumer dissidence.

Hugh MacLeod remarks that “branding is dead” and that it is a “EGOlogy, not an ecology”. Godfrey Parkin retorts in the comments that it’s the fact it is an EGOlogy for the company, rather than catering to the consumer, that is the problem.

Fringe, front and centre

Wired points out a new economic model heralded by the Internet – the rise in exposure and revenue from the non-mainstream blockbuster product. Thanks to the “infinite shelfspace” of online retailers like Amazon and iTunes, niche markets known as the “long tail” in distribution charts, are getting more popular and profitable than the Top 10 megahits. The 80-20 rule doesn’t apply on the Internet.

Long tail dynamics is good news for the counter culturalists – it means more choice and variety, rather than the often predicted pureeing of culture into a MTV-Walmart-McDonalds mass of blah and generica.

The Internet has always been the long tail of information. Whether its obscure sexual fetishes or dissertative dissections of sci-fi films, it’s probably in there in the form of websites, discussion boards or weblogs.

VentureBlog points out that e-retailers must understand that there’s massive opportunities in niche markets online. Take eBay, for instance. It’s all about catering to the long tail – the rare, the discontinued, the single quantity.

Jim McGee adds another facet to the phenomenon. The long tail shakes the old concepts of organizational control from its foundations, including leadership roles. “In a mass market world or organization there is room for only one message and, frequently, only one messenger,” McGee decries. “From this industrial perspective, attention management looms as a grave threat.”

They’re waiting for you, Gordon

The third gaming juggernaut of Fall 2004, Half-Life 2 (PC), has landed. The first two are, of course, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2) and Halo 2 (Xbox).

doom3 and hl2.gif

My local Futureshop ordered in 200 retail copies, and all but twenty was sold out when I went in at 5pm. All the ones with the main hero, theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, on the cover were gone. Three Collector’s Edition boxes were left. I went with the regular copy with the female protagonist Alyx on the cover.

Vivendi QA issues: A nice employee was opening up all my retail box for me to check for CD rot. Sure enough, one of mine had a delaminated Disc 4. I had it replaced on the spot.

For a a game of this magnitude, there has been little talk of it on the net. Maybe GameSpy’s Daily Victim was right, you would never hear about the perfect game, because everyone would be doing nothing but playing it.

Boil the ocean with a grain of salt

BBC Radio 4’s John Humphrys laments the mutilation of the English language into “management speak” filled with rhetoric and cliches. When this is perpetuated by the world’s political leaders, Humphrys asserts that their slick, hyperbolic way with words can have sinister implications:

Humphrys notes [British PM Tony Blair]’s apparent fear of verbs and mocks his speeches, which are peppered with verbless phrases like “new challenges, new ideas,” or “for our young people, a brighter future” and “the age of achievement, at home and abroad”.

By using this technique, Humphrys says, Blair is simply evading responsibility. “The point about verbs is that they commit the speaker,” he writes. “Verbs cement sentences to their meaning so it’s not surprising that politicians tend to mistrust them.”

Martin Geddes of Telepocalypse once wrote, “The words you use control the thoughts you have.” Personally, I’m trying to ban the words “productivize” and “incentivize” from my local workspace.

The cow that roared

In Ontario, the dairy farmers have a little contest where if you buy a single-serving carton of milk that makes a moo-ing sound when you open it, you are eligible for a variety of prizes.

This week, fellow DSLR member donoreo was the lucky recipient of a mooing carton. And in typical Internet panache, documents his experience with pictures of the apparatus and even a digital recording of the moo.

Halo effect

Jason Jones of Bungie Studios humbly suggested that “Halo 2 is a lot like Halo 1, only it’s Halo 1 on fire, going 130 miles per hour through a hospital zone, being chased by helicopters and ninjas … And, the ninjas are all on fire, too.”

Sandy of TechStuff.ca humourously muses on the Top 10 ways the Canadian version of Halo 2 differs from the US version. Nathan Walpole, Lead Animator at Bungie and a London, Ontario native has let on that the Canadians on staff have secretly hid maple leafs and other hoser easter eggs in the game’s multiplayer maps.

The funny thing is, as FPS games go the first Halo was above average, but certainly not the Best Game Since Time Began. However, it did sell 5 million copies, singlehandedly vindicated the Xbox’s existence. Halo 2 is poised to do even better – analysts expect 3.5 million copies sold by New Year’s Eve.

Some bitterness remains for PC and Mac gamers, however; when Microsoft bought Bungie in 2000, they made Halo an Xbox exclusive, only belatedly offering PC and Mac versions in 2003. Halo 2 will also be Xbox only for the forseeable future.

In any case, the videogame industry is big. Halo 2 is on a two-page spread of Entertainment Weekly. In the UK, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has, in its two days of launch, surpassed the opening weekend movie box office record as set by Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. When an M-rated gangsta’s paradise en virtuel outsells a PG-rated family flick, one has to wonder how it is possible.

To me, it’s a no brainer. A videogame is an immersive experience that can last over a hundred hours. A theatre movie is less than two hours of content and ten minutes of advertising with your feet on a sticky floor.

In the PlayStation 2: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. To call it “that game where you beat up hookers” does not do it justice. You can eat, dance, buy clothing, get a haircut, exercise, go on dates, race cars, gamble, go for a swim, OR beat up your local citizens. You can travel the miles and miles of countryside by car, van, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, plane, helicopter, boat, or even by street sweeper. The strategy guide is over 270 pages; pundits estimate over 80 hours of gameplay.

And don’t forget the sticky rice

Nick Denton asks, “And you thought the US was the land of consumer convenience?” According to this fascinating Globe and Mail article, there are 10 things the Chinese do well…very well. Here’s a taste:

By any standard you can think of — coverage, price, ubiquity — China’s cellphone practices beat ours. You can use them in elevators, subways and parking garages. They work in Tibet, at the Great Wall, in remotest rural China, which is more than you can say for Ontario cottage country.

My parents were presented with a similar kind of pleasant culture shiznit at a hotel in South Korea. Not only was the room so techno that you could control the blinds with a remote control, but the housekeeper cleverly noted the Wall Street Journal lying around that my mom brought from the plane, and automatically delivered a complimentary copy of the WSJ for the remainder of their stay.

There was also the time my dad was cajoled by a tailor in Hong Kong to buy a pair of dress pants for $10 Canadian. When my dad told the man he was flying out the next day, the tailor eagerly hemmed the pants and delivered them to my dad’s hotel room that very night.

One thing the Chinese aren’t good at: putting fires out.