Category: TV

Duplicate Windows 7 Commercials Show Why Software Patents are a Bad Idea

Part of Microsoft's aggressive Windows 7 TV advertising campaign revolves pairing feature ideas with tongue-in-cheek-reenactments of how those ideas occurred to "real" users. The "real" user retells how and where they came up with the concept and then demonstrates that, hey, Microsoft thought it was a good idea too and hey, look at that its now in Windows 7! Clearly Microsoft is finally listening to its users (as opposed to Windows Vista).

Anyway, these faux testimonials-reenactments never struck me as particularly sincere and after being subjected to one just a couple of minutes ago, I realized that I had seen basically same commercial with another actor claiming to have thought of the same feature. So I went and double checked on YouTube, and indeed, there are two commercials with two totally different men (with different names) claiming to have thought of the "Aero Snap" feature in Windows 7. The former one is the original US one, and the latter one is the UK version.

So, who came up with the idea? For the sake of the argument, let's interpret it in the most generous way possible: two independent, real people named Jake and Ramin came up with the same idea and Microsoft chose to implement it. How cool.

But wait, wouldn't Microsoft probably own a patent on the Aero Snap feature? Sure enough, they do. Its actually a lot more broad and powerful than simply snapping windows, but Microsoft applied for and received the patent in 2005.

And now they have two commercials with two people claiming to have come up with the same idea by themselves. Just imagine if one of those users didn't submit the idea to Microsoft, but merged into a free software project at the same time? (It turns out that KDE, a free software window manager has long had such a feature).

In this generous interpretation Microsoft has implicitly created an argument against patents: independent and simultaneous discovery of inventions. Who do you give the patent to, Jake or Ramin? This is actually a hugely interesting area of contemporary research, and there's been lots of work done to demonstrate that new ideas are almost never new. Kevin Kelly has a good post about it here.

Unfortunately, there's a more likely and cynical explanation for the duplicate commercials: someone at Microsoft "discovered" the concept (here's a MS blog post discussing its development and effectively taking credit for it), and then they did two or more sets of commercials with different demographically-appealing actors claiming credit for the features.

Remixing Political Speech

A lot of people have said nice things about John McCain's concession speech. It was heart felt, and he appeared compelling for a brief moment, but this doesn't mean we can forgive him for the campaign he and Sarah Palin ran.

Nonsense fear mongering, race baiting, and irresponsible partisan loyalty will forever define a poorly run campaign that ultimately brought itself down.

Never forget, as they say. Thus, here is a Cracked remix of John McCain's concession speech of what he should have actually said, given the overall tone and strategy of his campaign over the last couple of months:

At the minimum, this demonstrates the exact reason why political video should not be constrained by copyright. There is the obvious argument that this is a fair use of the original copyrighted video since it is clearly a parody, but there's also no compelling reason why the original video of the McCain speech should be restricted by copyright in the first place.

What is nice is that the McCain campaign actually agrees with me here.

MTVM and the Battle of Participatory and Passive Media

After my first gee-whiz-I-love-nostalgia post, I had some further thoughts on MTV's new music video archive site.

First, these kind of sites are are a bittersweet evolution, and in a sense, a compromise. While it is fantastic to see MTV pushing the music industry forward to a point where they're offering content openly and gratis, the features of MTVM are simply not robust enough to sustain the long term health of our media environment.

MTV will still remain the gatekeeper of culture as they did as a television station -- there's no ability to upload your own videos to their network and the most interaction users have with the community is to add comments. There's no ability to download the videos for remix (they're also encumbered by Adobe flash) and the site seems to be generally lacking in the read-write attitude embraced by YouTube and other video platforms.

The web is a conversation, and with the success of sites like Seesmic, its clear that video can be as well.

The massive popular acceptance of sites like MTVM and Hulu, is compromising the natural interactive nature of the web for the sake of ease and passive consumerism. Where I like to think of the projects I'm involved in as breaking down the definition between consumer and producer, there's a very real chance that popular culture will not want to put out the effort to create their own culture and simply continue to passively consume the work of others.

We've seen participatory lose out to passive before. When public access television was initially conceived and implemented, a lot of media scholars spoke to potential of the cheap and easy nature of video to bring down the gatekeepers of traditional media conglomerates.

Almost 30 years later, Public Access Television is pretty much a farm league for amateurs looking to get a start in the traditional television market. It is, not, as its early advocates predicted, a utopia of participatory culture that competes and challenges mainstream media.

Now, however, participatory media has achieved a significant lead on the web. YouTube has massively popular stars that created their own fame and content from their bedroom, and Wikipedia has reached an extraordinary level of cultural significance. Indeed, most of the big sites on the web are participatory -- eBay, Craigslist, Google, or any blog platform. But we risk abdicating this leadership position by not challenging MTVM and NBC to open their network and content even further. In other words, keep the pressure on. Ask why the MTVM videos aren't available for download, and then, why aren't they Creative Commons licensed?

To some extent we've asked for this problem. Throughout the decade old debate over file sharing, a popular proposed solution to the lawsuits was for the content owners to simply offer free (or cheap) useful versions of the content fans were already sharing. They could compete with free and unauthorized (p2p) simply by offering easy and authorized. AmazonMP3, iTunes, and now Hulu all demonstrate that this solution works to some extent.

But I don't think we can be satisfied with simply watching TV on the web, and we should do all that we can to keep the tables tilted in favor of participatory media rather than passive.

Second, can someone please make a "Be Your Own VJ" drag n' drop playlist app with MTV's API that will allow me to create an 1 hour of non-stop awesomeness? I'd love to have a little standalone page that just recreates the heyday of MTV minus the VJs. Basically, just MuxTape for videos. I'm going to start hacking a version of OpenTape to work with MTV's API, but I'd love it if someone could beat me to the punch.

Third, does anyone think that the title "MTV Music" is ridiculously redundant? Music Television Music. Riiight.

Every Music Video Ever From MTV

Obviously Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" is the #1 viewed on MTV's Music site:

Will this (obviously scientific) graph hold true for music videos?

song chart memes

Possibly, though I think there is probably more awesomeness here than standard TV. In some ways TV was not meant for short form video art with music in the background. Whether MTV continues to call itself Music Television should be up for debate, but I don't think anyone is going to argue that the web isn't suited for short-form video art with music in the background.

I think MTV may be cool again.

The Modern Conscientiousness of Mad Men

I've become a big fan of Mad Men. Its style and writing has captivated me in a way I haven't been since I started watching The Wire or The O.C.

But Mad Men is arguably much darker than both shows. Sexist, racist, and socially imprisoned characters play out plot after plot of sexy deceit against stylish yet drab modernist office spaces and claustrophobic suburban vignettes. It can start to grate on you, but in a way, these components create the substance of the conflict of the show.

Mad Men's characters and plots are set against the strict constraints of early 1960s upper-middle class white society. Our pleasure in watching the show derives predominantly from anticipating the brief flashes of modern conscientiousness in characters, or at the least, observing their reckless treatment of situations and other characters in contrast to how we would have handled it today.

These are mores that American culture has since shed and evolved from, and it now gives us pleasure to reminisce about them in a removed way. We take pleasure in fictionally distancing ourselves not only from others, but our past, and the substance of Mad Men hinges directly on this desire.

That's not to say that other shows haven't tried or succeed in similar conceit before. It's just to say that our pleasure in Mad Men is not merely nostalgic nor viciously voyeuristic, but both, at once, and that is precisely why it is such a good show.