Friday, 22 May 2009

Students! What the hell is wrong with WebCT?

Currently we are looking to solicit the ideas of students with regards to how we can improve our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), aka WebCT Vista/SunSpace. This is part a review process instigated on behalf of the Faculty's Student Experience Committee.

So, if there are positives or negatives about the service, we need to hear them. You can leave comments either on this blog (in the comment box below) or you can post them to the Journalism&PR site maintained in the department. You can even leave messages for us over on Twitter. Make sure you send messages with this phrase in the title: @mediacentre

Go on, let it all out! This is your chance to be heard and improve your online module experience. I want to hear all perspectives so that we can go back to the Committee and tell them how to change it!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Format exclusive DLC flip-flops

It seems like good fiscal sense has finally won out in the battle of format exclusive DLC, well, at least in relation to Bethesda's Fallout 3. C&VG are carrying a news story stating that the once Xbox/PC exclusive content is finally going to make it's way to the PS3. At long last, I will be able to spend my £30 on buying extensions to one of my favourite games of the last 12 months. The Bethesda post is here.

I got a little angry last month when the third batch of DLC was announced, Broken Steel, for Microsoft friendly environments. Hopefully, Bethesda will learn from their mistakes and ensure that when they release the new material for the PS3 that it will be functional and not broken again. One can only hope. If they do, I will even forgive them for messing with the chronology of the gaming narrative as outlined by Michael Abbott on the Brainy Gamer site.

A minor point of umbrage is that future DLC will still be staggered behind the Microsoft release, but what the heck. I'm pacified for now. I hope they updated the radio station with more classics from the wasteland...

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

No. 10 reacts to anti-Phorm petition

Today, I received an automated response from Number 10 reacting to a petition against the deployment by ISPs of Phorm technology to snoop on Internet users and their behaviour. The original petition can be found here. I wasn't altogether convinced by the wording of the petition, but I was interested to see how the government would respond to public pressure on the issue.

In total, 21,403 people signed the petition - a substantial number concerned about the privacy of their browsing habits, which could be translated into marketable data for advertisers. The government's response can be found here. The upshot is that the government claims that only BT have conducted trials using Phorm's technology. They claim that "advertisers and ISPs need to ensure that they comply with all relevant data protection and privacy laws." However, these trials were already undertaken without the knowledge of BT's customers. This seems to go against the government's response that they are "committed to ensuring that people’s privacy is fully protected."

The government response seems to sidestep the issue by deferring to legislation (pdf) enforced by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). They are closely monitoring all progress on this issue.

Copyright/wrong 5

I'm expecting this to be the final post in this series, given that my Labour MEP Steven Hughes has responded to my objections to the extension to the copyright term. This is what he had to say:
Further to your email of 18th April 2009, I attach for your information details of the final agreement reached in the European Parliament on this important matter.

I am sure that you will not be happy with this result, based on your email, but it still represented a compromise in regard to the Commission's original position.

I did consider your views on this matter and wish to thank you for taking the time to contact me.
Quite a brief response, coupled with a press release available from here. Quite a succinct response and no real indication as to which which he voted on the issue.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Copyright/wrong 4

I recently wrote to my MEPs, asking them to vote the copyright extension term down. I have since heard back from my Conservative MEP, Martin Callanan. What he had to say is reproduced below. This came after he wrote me back on a completely different issue that I didn't raise with him - not exactly confidence inspiring:
Thank you for your email regarding the proposals for the copyright term extension directive.

Issues surrounding copyright extension and the level of copyright are controversial and are matters that have been of importance to policymakers over the last decade. The Conservatives in the European Parliament have actively followed and been involved in the debate and are of the opinion that Copyright is extremely important because it is the way artists are rewarded, businesses make their money and invest in
the future.

We need a copyright framework that is flexible, accessible and fair. The Commission proposal (as modified by the Parliament) is not perfect, but it does meet many of these requirements. In the digital age, music is readily available online and copyright provisions need to take account of market changes. Extending the term of copyright is important if we expect performers and the music industry to carry on investing,
innovating and creating and it is only right that they are given greater protection for their investments.

Countries such as the USA and India have already instituted terms of copyright for 95 years and in the interests of competitiveness the Conservatives feel that it is important to support an extension. At a time when creative industries based on intellectual property are generating an increasing percentage of GDP in the EU, the current disparity between the terms of protection clearly puts British record
companies and performers at a competitive disadvantage.

I supported the compromise proposal that would give artists a 70 year term of copyright protection which was successfully passed in Strasbourg. This will bring a greater level of uniformity to those involved in the music industry but also recognises concerns that lengthening the term of copyright to 95 years was for too long a period.
The proposal also recognises the longer life expectancy of artists.

The extended term will have a positive impact on consumer choice and cultural diversity. This extension will benefit cultural diversity by ensuring the availability of resources to fund and develop new talent. In the short to medium-term, a term extension will provide record companies with an incentive to digitise and market their back catalogue of old recordings. It is already clear that internet distribution offers unique opportunities to market an unprecedented quantity of sound recordings.

The UK has a very strong music industry and safeguards must be put in place if we are to maintain our position in today's marketplace. The copyright extension is the first step in this direction.
I'm not convinced by the argument that extending the copyright term will encourage record companies to digitise older content. Surely, if there was market demand for music from the 1950-1960s then that material would have already been digitised? After all, the push for digitising music has been one which has spanned three decades now. Any content from that era that has not been digitised by the record companies is unlikely to be commercially significant for them to do so now. If it hasn't sold significantly in the last 50 years, why would it do so for the next 20? Plenty material from that era does already exist, especially the stuff that is well known like Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Eddie Cochrane, etc. But what about the music from that period which isn't commercially viable yet could have been released into the public domain to enrich culture and feature in contemporary mash-up/remix projects?

I'm also unconvinced by the claim that the USA and India have already extended the terms of copyright, therefore it is implicit that we do so too. Where America leads, we follow? I seem to recall being led to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction... I'm not sure that there are many British record companies from the 1940s or 1950s that are currently still around. I was under the impression that the big four major labels of the present era were global entities.

I take the point that artists are living longer, but I'm not convinced that the length of time someone should be remunerated for their work is something which extends to 50 yeas never mind 70. You can't even get a builder to guarantee your house will be around for half that length of time! Why should Cliff Richard be rewarded for something he did 50 years ago? Has he not learned new skills or saved for his pension like most people have to do?

Monday, 4 May 2009

What Spotify could do with...

I am of the humble opinion that Spotify is a great service. Decent quality streamable music on demand with adequate range of artists to please most people. An extra 43,000 tracks were added this week). It has a very simple service with clean and easy controls that ape the ubiquitous iTunes interface making it an attractive piece of software for newcomers. It's also got a range of price points from free to £9.99 per month to have the ad-free service.

However, it is far from perfect and needs to do more in order to convince this user that it can justify the premium price. One of the things that Spotify does very well is its playlist sharing feature. You can do in Spotify what users of iTunes have been doing for years - creating the perfect mix of tunes for a given mood or situation - but it improves on the Apple service in that it lets you take that playlist and share it with friends. Now you can legally share tunes with your friends online in such a way that alleviates any guilt associated with piracy.

Creating the perfect playlist can be a time consuming experience: finding the right compositional balance of tunes, sequencing the music appropriately, working with self-imposed 'rules'*, etc. It is very easy to get sidetracked whilst you plough through your music catalogue.

Using iTunes to create playlists is pretty hassle free. Using Spotify to create playlists is also hassle free. I've made iTunes playlists for several years now and have a quite a few that I'd like to share but that isn't really practical with iTunes. Sure, you can create an iMix but that involves your friends having to buy tunes to hear your creation. Plus, if Apple doesn't have all the artists in their store then your playlist can be decimated. Along comes Spotify to fix this problem. Except it doesn't.

If you want to share that playlist that you've created in iTunes, you have to manually search, find, drag and drop all the tunes you want in Spotify. As we've already established, this can be time-consuming, and not something you want to repeat after having already done that same process in another peice of software. One thing Spotify could do to improve the overall experience would be to add an import playlist feature. iTunes does enable you to export your playlist to a text file. If only Spotify could import that file and save you the hassle of having to do it manually.

I'm not sure that this one minor improvement would convince me to pay for the premium Spotify service but it would certainly help eat into my iTunes loyalty. The video below shows you how to create and share a playlist with your friends. If you haven't already done this then give it a go. It's free and easy. It just might not be fast.

How to create and share playlists from Spotify on Vimeo.

* I have an irrational tendency to enforce a strict 'one track per artist only' rule. This causes me many problems - all of my own making.