Movies for the Rich and Impatient

I have this lurking concern that I’m falling for a belated April Fool’s Date gag, but it seems that the Hollywood cartel, recognizing that the cat has left the bag, is going to start selling movies online for download.

I’ve reported before about Movielink (owned by the Hollywood cartel), where you can rent movies online for a few dollars a piece. Once you download the movie, you have around a month to begin watching it and 24 hours after you start watching it to finish it. Although it takes forever to download a movie (and that assumes a broadband connection), this is a good way to put movies on your laptop or Tablet PC for airports and airplanes.

The four people who really want to watch movies over and over on their computers have complained that the download service is a drag because of the time limits on starting and stopping the movie.

So the Hollywood cartel is going to give them what they want.

Now instead of the few bucks you pay to rent newly released DVDs from Netflix, Movielink or your neighborhood video store, you can download them from the Hollywood cartel on the day the DVD is released. For a mere “$20 to $30.”

New release DVDs cost around $20 to $25 to buy. Plus, those DVDs can be played on stand-alone DVD players, watched on TVs and used to pacify kids during long car trips.

So the downloads cost around $5 more, even though they cost around $5 less to distribute via download.

But if you meet these requirements:

1) You have a lot of money and don’t mind wasting it;

2) You want to be the first on your block to watch a newly released DVD (waiting a few days is just not an option for you);

3) You want to watch the same movies over and over on your computer;

4) You are reasonably computer proficient; and

5) You have a broadband internet connection at home (no tying up company resources for this),

then the Hollywood cartel has a treat in store for you.

Warren N. Lieberfarb, the former president of Warner Home Video and now an entertainment technology consultant, hit the nail on the head:

They are giving the consumer less and charging more for it. To me this really stacks the deck against mass consumer adoption.

The Hollywood cartel and its cousin, the record label cartel, don’t give a hoot about the consumer. They are only concerned with extending the inevitable decline of their distribution monopolies by making the consumer overpay and/or pay multiple times.

This is just more smoke and mirrors designed to extract more revenue from the same product.

My prediction is that this is met with a collective yawn by the movie buying public.

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Camp Newsome

What a fun and busy weekend.

On Friday night, Cassidy’s entire Brownie Troop camped out in our yard. We had 15 Brownies, 6 Girl Scout helpers and 6 moms. The girls played games, sang songs, had a scavenger hunt and had a grand time.

Delaney and I went to the Astros exhibition game on Friday night with the Veldman boys (the girls were at the campout). Delaney loves the Astros, and it was a great chance for us to spend some Delaney/Daddy time.

On Saturday, Cassidy had a sleepover with a friend in Sugar Land, and today we had a cookout and soccer game with the Clarks. The girls (Cassidy, Delaney, Evie, Raina and Yvette) beat the boys (me, Greg and Aidan) 10-5. Afterwards the kids swam and had some blueberry pie for dessert.

Luke is too little to play soccer, but he did get in the pool for the first time today.

Big fun meant little blogging.

Work resumes tomorrow. Regular blogging resumes tomorrow night.

364 Days

Before April Fool’s Day rolls back around.

I like April Fool’s Day, but it just doesn’t translate well in the blogosphere. Lots of pranks were attempted, but the humor rate was pretty low.

Randy Morin did find one thing I thought was pretty funny.

Mike Arrington gets my award for the best April Fool’s related post. The reason his post fooled so many people is because it is so similar to stories about real Web 2.0 science projects.

Is It Safe? Kids and the New Internet

zellChristian Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: Yes, it’s safe, it’s very safe, it’s so safe you wouldn’t believe it.
Christian Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: No. It’s not safe, it’s… very dangerous, be careful.

-Marathon Man (1976)

One of the most effective and creepiest scenes in movie history is the one in Marathon Man in which Laurence Olivier asks Dustin Hoffman that question over and over. Parents ask themselves that question all the time to- about their kids and the internet.

The MySpace Problem

One of the most popular internet sites for young people is, of course, MySpace. For those few who don’t know what MySpace is, you can be sure your teenaged kids know all about it. Here’s the FAQ, but the very short answer is that MySpace is a hugely popular social networking site where users can share photos, journals and interests with their network of friends.

The problem, of course, is that kids often don’t realize the risks of putting too much information about themselves on the internet and the information they put on the internet can be accessed by just about anyone. Friend and predator alike.

The sad reality is that the thing that makes these sites so popular, the prospect of sharing information and making new friends, is the thing that makes them so risky for kids.

MySpace, which was purchased by News Corp, has announced that it is taking measures to make the site safer for teens. Among those measures are the deletion of 200,000 “objectionable” user profiles. The objectionable profiles contained primarily “hate speech” and material gently described by Ross Levinsohn, head of News Corp’s internet division, as “too risque.” Too risque, right. Sadly, our culture blew right past risque in the 70′s.

It’s Really an Internet Problem

Mr. Levinsohn made a good point, however, in the Financial Times article linked above when he said about objectionable content:

It’s a problem that’s endemic to the internet – not just MySpace.

Absolutely, that’s the case. Every parent I talk to struggles with a family internet policy that allows kids to use the internet for its many good uses while avoiding its many bad uses. My kids haven’t locked onto computers and the internet yet, but I have run into problems merely by allowing one of my kids to do a Google image search for cats or bunnies. When my kids start clamoring to use the internet, you can be sure I will have redundant filters and site blockers in place. Not because I think they’ll try to find the bad stuff, but because you can’t help but find the bad stuff because there’s so much of it.

Thank Goodness We Didn’t Have the Internet

Don’t get me wrong, had there been an internet when I was a kid, I would have gone to great measures to find exactly the sort of thing I now want to keep my kids away from. My friends and I collected quite a collection of impermissible contraband back in the day. But what was shocking in the 60′s and early 70′s is on primetime television now (which is why we watch exactly none of it in my house pre-bedtime). The indisputable fact is that there is a ton of stuff on the internet that most right thinking parents find totally unsuitable for their kids. All of this during a time when the internet is as much a part of most teenagers’ lives as the telephone was to ours. And all of this during a time when the internet is all about “social interaction.”

Is There a Solution?

What to do?

First, I believe we have to stop talking about teenagers as if they were in one group for internet purposes. There are many things that an 17, 18 or 19 year old can probably handle that should be completely off limits to a 13 or 14 year old. Nor, candidly, should we encourage 13 to 19 year olds to interact on the internet as social equals.

Additionally, kids learn a lot of stuff a lot faster today than we did back in the 60′s. An 11 or 12 year old today is easily as sophtisticated as a 13-14 year old was back then. The fact that there’s not a teen at the end of his or her age is not a compelling reason why he or she can’t do something like use the internet or chat with a friend.

We need to decide what sites are OK for young children and which sites are not. There must be more than just a single division of web sites. To apply a 19 year old standard to a 13 year old is to ignore the problem, if not promote it. Likewise, to apply a 13 year old standard to a 19 year old is a recipe for non-cooperation and avoidance.

So why aren’t these social networking sites being more proactive about this?

The crossroads comes, as it always does, at the intersection of money and morals.

Sadly, sin sells, both in the real world and the internet. Primetime television, music videos, even cartoons. For a company to do the right thing and prohibit marginal activities is to invite another operator to take that space. It’s an unworkable situation that can only result in a potentially dangerous environment mitigated only by half-hearted measures and lip service.

Which is what this latest MySpace clean-up looks like to me.

Even in Second Life, which I have written about favorably, these issues are a significant problem. Second Life attempts to deal with the “sin” issue by creating a mature filter which if applied is designed to keep users away from the most extreme (read highly sexual) content. I suppose it works a little, but a stroll through the “PG” rated portions of Second Life demonstrates conclusively that there is a very mature element at work. Dance clubs with sexy names and logos, casinos on every corner. Fine for adults, not OK for kids.

Not to mention that you have no way to know that the person who looks like and claims to be a similar-aged kid may in fact be an old man. That is reason enough to keep youngsters away, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.

MySpace, Mayberry Style

All of this leads me to two conclusions.

First, my kids won’t be allowed to use MySpace and its ilk, at least until they are in their late teens. Same for Second Life. They may not like it, but I don’t let them wander around any strange place by themselves. Not in first life and not in second.

Second, the social interaction space is screaming for a family-oriented social networking site. MySpace, Mayberry style. Second Life with the Cleavers. Such a site would be welcomed by parents all over the world. I’d write about it weekly.

It would have to be developed by the right person or persons. Not an organization with an agenda to promote. But by a non-denominational organization that wanted to create a safe place for kids and make a little money too. Not greater fool money, but corner market money.

My internet utopia would have 3 age-based zones, each separate and independent from the others. 10-13, 14-16 and 17-19. New users would have to be verified in some meaningful manner by their parents. Parents would also be verified and would serve as volunteer safety officers- with the ability to report violations and to exclude their own kids from activities, but not the ability to interact directly in the virtual community.

Perhaps there would be a way to create private invitation-only sub-communiti
es. I’d gladly set something like that up for my kids and their friends. Then I and the other parents could police it to keep order and make sure there are no interlopers.

Maybe something like that exists, but I’ve never heard of it.

As our kids get older and the internet gets more ingrained in our lives, it will become important to develop a family internet policy that allows our kids to enjoy the wonder of the internet while protecting them from it’s darker side.

I hope someone will be up to the challenge. I’ll certainly help any way I can.

Taking Some of the Hot Air Out of Web 2.0

I’m sitting here in my $400 a night room (and by room, I mean room, not big room and not suite) at the Hotel George in Washington, DC getting ready to give a lecture on ethics at Georgetown Law School. I’ve made my lecture notes and I have an hour or so to kill before I head over to the lecture hall and then rush to the airport to fly back home.

So I decided to read some of my feeds and see what’s going on in the blogosphere. And I came across a great article.

Paul Boutin has an article at Slate about Web 2.0. It does a yeoman’s job of explaining what Web 2.0 is, what it isn’t and why it means different things to different people.

Paul begins by looking to Tim O’Reilly for a definition of Web 2.0. What he gets is a bunch of technobabble that will confuse many, irritate some and enlighten none:

Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an “architecture of participation,” and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.

web20That’s a “pre-owned cars” take if ever there was one. Dude, just because you’re a smart guy with a big platform doesn’t mean you can’t use regular words. Answer the question in a way that a normal person can understand. No one I know would get past the second line before writing off Web 2.0 as either a creation of the media or a buzzword for the nerd set.

If I ever get asked by one of my real world friends what Web 2.0 is, the first thing I’ll do is faint. When I come to, I’ll say it’s a buzzword created by tech writers that refers to a new generation of online computer applications that generally promote social interaction via user-created content and user-supplied keywords that describe and organize that content. Some of these applications are core to that process and some are supportive by organizing the data into searchable lists and databases.

Paul goes on to describe other definitions of Web 2.0 used by other segments of the population.

Developers generally use Web 2.0 to refer to “gee-whiz features” of newly developed web sites, which are often based on Ajax, tag clouds, wikis and other collaborative tools. In general, these features are free (which is problem number one when someone tries to, say, sell one of them for $2B dollars), easy to master, and easy to interconnect.

And then comes the specter of Bubble 2.0:

A third definition gets thrown around in Silicon Valley. A “Web 2.0 play” is a bid to make money by funding a bring-your-own-content site. It’s a long-shot but low-risk investment that could become the next Google. Or at least the next thing Google buys.

Bingo. I’ve said it many times and like a street preacher I will keep saying it until the cops run me off: as long as these companies and their VC handlers don’t get desperate and start trying to take these science project turned companies public, that’s fine. But we’re starting to read more and more about IPO’s in the planning.

When that starts happening, we’ll know that Bubble 2.0 has reached a critical and dangerous stage.

Fortunately, Paul says that at least some writers and editors are hip to the salesmanship game that is sprouting up around some of these products:

Beyond that, publicists and self-promoters invoke Web 2.0 whenever they want to tag something as new, cool, and undiscovered- “This could be a big story for you, Paul!” That kind of hucksterism is what sends editors reaching for their red pens.

That’s a good thing, because many more Newsweek stories and Web 2.0 may become a momentum play for the non-geek retail investor. When that happens, the huffing and puffing will grow geometrically and all that will be left will be to watch the lesser fools get wealthy while the greater fools take another bath.

Paul goes on to argue that, at least as of now, Bubble 2.0 doesn’t look as dangerous as Bubble 1.0 was. I agree, for now. But you get Wall Street behind a few of these non-companies and let a couple of them make it out of the gate without a total disaster and you’ll see a race towards our pockets that would rival the last one.

Here’s to doing our part to keep that from happening, again.

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Finally, a Funding I Like

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Lotus founder Mitch Kapor joined Globespan Capital Partners and others in an $11M funding of Second Life. This funding follows an $8M funding in October, 2004.

Unlike most of the funding reports I read about, I get this one. It makes sense.

Second Life is in the process of winning the race for virtual reality mindshare. It’s cool. It’s popular. And it has an almost infinite list of potential revenue sources.

You can join Second Life and participate for free. But to own land and build things on that land, you have to have a premium membership. That creates revenue. Plus, there is a property tax equivalent that requires a user to pay a greater fee the more land he or she owns. For example, I own around 6,000 square meters of land in Second Life (this is a medium amount) and my “tax” is $40 per month. That creates revenue.

In addition to creating revenue, the property tax provides incentive not to let land lie vacant. You want to build something to make some money to offset the cost. It’s a perfectly accurate economic and land use policy.

You can build, rent or sell almost anything in Second Life. I can imagine well placed ads and billboards being sold in Second Life at some point (the narrow strips of land next to roads are “protected” and owned by the “government”). More revenue.

I can imagine deals with all sorts of real world vendors to open shops in Second Life. Music, movies, you name it. Even more revenue.

The developer is working on a program to allow people to buy the exclusive right to last names (presently, you have a limited list of last names to choose from). I picked Snickerdoodle, which it turns out is the name of a cookie. Selling names will generate more revenue.

And these are just the potential revenue sources that jump out at me. I bet the Second Life team has hundreds of other ideas.

I’m sold on Second Life as a compelling way to interact on the net. I was talking to a guy in Second Life the other night and it turns out we read each others’ blogs. Small world inside a small world.

I’m equally sold on Second Life as a business.

And that’s an all too rare combination these days.

4 Things, Revisited

Mike Miller tagged me for the 4 Things Meme. I really enjoy memes because they are a fun and easy way to find out about people. I enjoy Mark Cuban’s blog, but I disagree with him about memes. Those are some rock star-like statements from a guy I have always thought to be a (rich) man of the people.

Back to the meme. I answered these questions a few weeks ago, so tonight I asked Cassidy to answer them. Here are her answers:

Four Jobs I’ve Had

1) Secretary (for her 2nd grade class)
2) Tables (for her 2nd grade class)
3) Windows (for her 2nd grade class)
4) Pets (for her 2nd grade class)

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over Again

1) Twitches
2) High School Musical
3) Sky High
4) Kim Possible So the Drama

Four Places I’ve Lived

1) Texas

Four TV Shows I Love

1) Kim Possible
2) Lilo and Stitch
3) Tom and Jerry
4) Sponge Bob

Four Places I’ve Vacationed

1) Fort Worth
2) Galveston
3) Bandera, Texas
4) Florida

Four of My Favorite Dishes

1) Corn
2) Candy
3) Pickles
4) Popsicles

Four Blogs I Read Everyday

1) What’s a blog?

Four Places I’d Rather Be Right Now

1) With my friends
2) Fort Worth
3) Bandera
4) School