News Technology

Wolverine leaks on to the web

Wolverine Piracy

A decent work print of Wolverine has been leaked and is now doing the rounds on various file sharing sites.

For those not familiar with the film, it is a prequel to the X-Men trilogy, focusing on the mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), is directed by Gavin Hood and due for worldwide release on May 1st.

Part of me thought that this was some kind of April Fool’s Joke but if you go to one of the most (in)famous torrent sites – you know, the one from Sweden – then you will see that the most popular torrent is indeed the new X-Men prequel.

Here is a screen grab of what happens when you do a search:


Drew McWeeny at Hitfix reports:

20th Century Fox is about to have an interesting practical test on one of their biggest summer films. 

 “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” leaked online today in what appears to be a near-finished DVD quality rip, marred only by a few unfinished FX shots. 

As soon as files go up, they’re coming right back down as Fox legal chases pirates around the web, but that toothpaste is out of the tube, gentlemen.   

He also got this statement from 20th Century Fox:

“Last night, a stolen, incomplete and early version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was posted illegally on a website.

It was without many effects, had missing and unedited scenes and temporary sound and music.

We immediately contacted the appropriate legal authorities and had it removed.

We forensically mark our content so we can identify sources that make it available or download it.

The source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – the courts have handed down significant criminal sentences for such acts in the past.

The FBI and the MPAA also are actively investigating this crime.

We are encouraged by the support of fansites condemning this illegal posting and pointing out that such theft undermines the enormous efforts of the filmmakers and actors, and above all, hurts the fans of the film.”

There is no doubt that this is a big deal. 

Although there have been leaks before on films like Hostel 2 and Sicko, whilst those films opened at cinemas, I can’t really remember a summer blockbuster leaking like this online. 

One can only assume that it came from someone who had access to a digital copy of the whole film.

Someone at an organisation involved in post production? Maybe a disgruntled employee somewhere in the production food chain? Perhaps a superhacker who got access to a secure FTP site?

Given the high profile nature of the production I imagine Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos will be paying a lot of time and money to get to the bottom of it.

Obviously, it is an embarrassing security issue for a major studio on a tent-pole production but they will also be concerned about how it impacts the opening box office.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think it will have as much of an impact as some think.

For a film like this, with millions spent on marketing before it opens on thousands of screens around the globe, a big opening is essentially guarenteed.

DVD screeners of Oscar season movies have been pirated for several years now and the box office impact of that is debatable.

However, this episode certainly gives Fox a good excuse if Wolverine doesn’t have a good opening.

But what if it doesn’t? What exactly does a high profile torrent leak actually mean in practical terms? And can we really reach a conclusion based on one film? 

My gut feeling is that torrent sites are a bit too fiddly and complicated for the mass online audience. 

But then again, maybe it will have an impact.

Time will tell.

> Wolverine at the IMDb
> More about filesharing and the X-Men series at Wikipedia
> A wacky conspiracy theory over at Hollywood Elsewhere

Interesting Technology

Ed Ulbrich on the special effects in Benjamin Button

A fascinating TED video in which Ed Ulbrich of Digital Domain explains how the remarkable visual effects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were achieved.

Interesting Technology

The Visual Effects for Dr Manhattan in Watchmen

A short featurette explaining how the visual effects for Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) were achieved in Watchmen.

Interesting Technology

Evan Williams talks about Twitter at TED

For all those who still ‘don’t get’ Twitter, check out this recent talk by its founder Evan Williams at TED.

Amusing Directors Interesting Technology

David Lynch is on Twitter

Yes, that is the real David Lynch on Twitter.

Or, as he puts it, ‘the Twitter page’.

News Technology video

Download videos on YouTube

Interesting things are happening on YouTube, as you can now officially download selected videos from the site.

One such video is President-Elect Obama’s recent weekly address:

The above is an embed but if you view the video on the actual site you will see more options.

Obama address on YouTube regular

For example you can also view it in HD:

Obama address in HD

But on the bottom left of the video you will see a link saying ‘click to download’:

Obama address on YouTube download linkIf you click on it then you can download the video as an MP4 video file to your computer. 

[Link via Lessig]

News Technology

YouTube goes widescreen

You may have noticed recently that YouTube videos have switched to a widescreen ratio

Or to be technical about it, they have changed the aspect ratio of their video player from 4:3 to 16:9.

This appears to apply to all videos, so the 4:3 videos are screened in a pillarbox format.

They also now offer some of its videos in true HD format, with a resolution of 1280×720 pixels.

Videos uploaded with 720 pixel resolution can be viewed in this format by adding &fmt=22 to the web address.

The changes were announced yesterday via their blog:

“We’re expanding the width of the page to 960 pixels to better reflect the quality of the videos you create and the screens that you use to watch them.

This new, wider player is in a widescreen aspect ratio which we hope will provide you with a cleaner, more powerful viewing experience.”

This is an eager user describing the benefits of widescreen:

(Here is a playlist of BBC videos that look nice in the widescreen format)

What this development suggests is that they are getting ready for streaming movies and TV shows via their site in order to directly compete with Hulu and Vimeo.

CNET have a theory with regard to the former:

YouTube parent Google may be trying to duplicate the success of competitor Hulu, which has become the top outlet for watching full-length films and TV shows on the Web, and is reportedly generating as many ad dollars in its first year in business as YouTube, which will mark its fourth birthday in February.

They recently signed a deal with MGM to stream films and I would be surprised if they didn’t have plans with other studios in the pipeline.

Warner Bros and Sony would seem the likely candidates given that Fox and Universal are joint partners on Hulu, Paramount are owned by a company (Viacom) that are currently trying to sue Google, whilst Disney appear happy to go down the iTunes route.

is it possible that all of them may partner with the video sharing site in the future if it can help them?

Reuters recently reported that the UK production company FremantleMedia (behind numerous reality shows, game shows and other entertainment) have plans to produce shows exclusively for YouTube for an undisclosed revenue split.

But what about Google?

Despite owning the most successful video site on the web, YouTube remains something of a conundrum for it’s corporate parent.

Although massively popular and possessing a great brand name, how do they monetise it effectively?

Google are still gushing money but there are still question marks over the copyright issues that have infuriated the likes of Viacom and how advertising will fit in to the general ethos of the site without making it suck.

According to a Fortune article back in March delivering free video wasn’t cheap:

YouTube sends a staggering 1,000 gigabytes of data every second, or nearly 300 billion GBs each month.

Several industry insiders estimate that YouTube spends roughly $1 million a day just to pay for the bandwidth to host the videos.

By that number, YouTube downloads would account for roughly 3% of Google’s $11.5 billion operating costs for 2007. 

Here is a video from June of CEO Eric Schmidt talking to Ken Auletta about the future of YouTube (go to 6.20):

My guess is that they will start showing more premium content alongside the user generated videos but somehow find a way of importing their lucrative text-based Adsense model into video.

Is the shift to widescreen a move in that direction?

> YouTube blog post announcing the move to widescreen
> A playlist of widescreen YouTube videos from the BBC
> CNET on the story
> Find out more about Widescreen at Wikipedia

Interesting Technology

Slate on AXXo and BitTorrent

Josh Levin of Slate has written an interesting article on movie piracy and the web’s most famous BitTorrent filesharer aXXo.

> Read the full article at Slate
> Find out more about how BitTorrent works at Wikipedia
> Read two conflicting PDF reports about movie piracy from the MPAA and the IPI

Interesting Technology

Wired on the technology predicted by Minority Report

Wired magazine have an interesting feature on six real gadgets that Minority Report predicted correctly.

The 2002 sci-fi thriller stars Tom Cruise as a Washington cop in a special unit called ‘Precrime’ that apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics termed ‘precogs‘.

Set in 2054, it features all kinds of interesting technology, partly because in pre-production director Steven Spielberg convened a think-tank to brainstom details of what a future reality might look like.

They included: Long Now Foundation president Stewart Brand, author Douglas Coupland, Cybergold founder Nat Goldhaber, biomedical researcher Shaun Jones and virtual reality expert Jaron Lanier.

The Wired article points out that the film suggested the following developments:

  1. Gesture-based Computer Interfaces
  2. Flexible Displays
  3. 3-D Holograms
  4. Identity-Detecting Advertisement Cameras
  5. Robot Scouts
  6. Predicting Mistakes
I remember seeing the film in June 2002 (if I remember correctly Frank Skinner and Graham Linehan were also there) and the tech aspect that struck me most was the multi-touch hologram display Cruise’s character manipulates in order to view images.

Were Apple’s engineers influenced by this when the created the iPhone multi-touch interface?

This video points out that the sound on an iPhone appears to be some reference to the film.

UPDATE 14/11/08: Engadget have a video of the interface developed by one of the science advisors from the film (along with a team of other visionaries).

Dubbed g-speak, the OS combines “gestural i/o, recombinant networking, and real-world pixels,” to deliver what the creators call “the first major step in [a] computer interface since 1984.”.

g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

> Read the full article at Wired
> Minority Report at the IMDb

Interesting News Technology

W. Mashup Contest

Lionsgate and YouTube have partnered for a W. mashup contest in which users can create and submit their own videos based on the upcoming Oliver Stone film about the 43rd US president.

The director himself explains the contest in this video:

Submissions close on October 17th and you can find out more at the film’s official YouTube channel.

W. opens in the US on October 17th and in the UK on November 7th

> Official site for W.
> Oliver Stone discusses the movie with GQ
> Check out images and on set footage from W.

Interesting Technology

BFI YouTube Channel

I’ve only just come across the official YouTube channel for the British Film Institute (BFI).

If you aren’t aware of their good work, Wikipedia defines them as ‘a charitable organisation’ established by Royal Charter to:

  • Encourage the development of the arts of film, television and the moving image throughout the United Kingdom
  • To promote their use as a record of contemporary life and manners
  • To promote education about film, television and the moving image generally, and their impact on society
  • To promote access to and appreciation of the widest possible range of British and world cinema
  • To establish, care for and develop collections reflecting the moving image history and heritage of the United Kingdom.

If you live in the UK or London you may have been to see a film at the NFT or IMAX cinemas which are both run by the BFI.

Their YouTube channel now has a lot of videos from their extensive vault, which (according to them) is the world’s largest and most diverse film and TV archive.

There is some very interesting footage from a football match in 1901 between Newcastle United and Liverpool:

A short film called ‘Springtime in an English Village’ which offers a snapshot of rural life in wartime:

You can also explore their videos in Google Earth and if you are in London you can view 1000 complete films and TV programmes from the archive for free at the new Mediatheque at the BFI Southbank.

[Link via Speechification]

> BFI YouTube channel
> Find out more about the BFI at Wikipedia

Documentaries Interesting Technology

No End In Sight to screen on YouTube

The Oscar-nominated documentary No End In Sight will screen in full on YouTube from this Monday (September 1st).

The New York Times report:

The Oscar-nominated documentary “No End in Sight,” which chronicles the early months of the American occupation of Iraq, will be available on YouTube starting Monday and continuing through the presidential election on Nov. 4.

Charles Ferguson, the director of the film, which won the Documentary Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, said in a statement that he had underwritten its screening on YouTube because “I wanted to make the film, and the facts about the occupation of Iraq, accessible to a larger group of people.”

He added, “My hope is that this will contribute to the process of making better foreign policy decisions moving forward in Iraq and elsewhere.”

This is a very smart move – not only will it boost audiences and awareness for the film but I also think that it could actually help future DVD sales.

Although this might sound strange, think of those who have never heard of it but watch it on YouTube and then reccommend it to a friend, who in turn buys the DVD because they prefer that format.

Whatever happens, the publicity generated by being the first feature to officially (i.e. legally) screen on YouTube will give the film a timely boost ahead of the US presidential election.

> YouTube channel for No End In Sight
> No End In Sight at the IMDb
> Find out more about the film at Wikipedia and check out some reviews at Metacritic

Interesting Technology

Bullitt car chase with GPS-style tracking

Someone has done a clever mashup of the iconic car chase from Bullitt and tracked GPS-style it in Google Maps.

Note that because of the way it was shot in different San Francisco locations, some of the chases cut from one place to another.

[Link via London Film Geek]

> Find out more about Bullitt at Wikipedia
> IMDb entry for the film
> More about the San Francisco locations for the Bullitt chase
> An in depth article about the Bullitt car chase from 1987
> IGN’s Top 10 car chases on film (note the interesting bit of trivia about their offices)

Random Technology Thoughts

Ten Things Movies Told Us About Technology This Summer

Hollywood has long had an interesting relationship with technology from classic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to nonsense like The Net (1995).

Since the rise of the PC over 15 years ago, computers haven’t always always been portrayed accurately in films.

For example in real life when you download something on your computer, the screen looks something like this:

But in a movie it often looks more like this:

But how about this summer’s crop of movies?

Here is a list of what we learned about technology on the big screen this summer:


If you are a billionaire industrialist trying to make a robotic suit that will turn you into a superhero, you still face the same dilemma as millions of computer users: do you use Mac or PC?

In order to become Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) appeared to use both.

In this summer’s first blockbuster, I caught a glimpse of a heavy duty Dell workstation and some Mac Pros – maybe he uses the Dells to crunch some stats and the Macs for the sleek design? Or maybe the two companies paid Marvel a ton of money to feature both.


One of the most startling scientific revelations from this summer’s movie season was that Indiana Jones could survive a nuclear explosion by hiding …in a lead lined fridge.

It even led to a term being coined: “Nuking the Fridge“, which is supposed to be some kind of follow up to ‘Jump the Shark‘.

This video explains the terms:

Nuke The Fridge

One commentator suggested that:

The problem is that, even if he didn’t get flattened, horribly burned or suffocated (kids, don’t hide in refrigerators), Indy almost certainly would have gotten a lethal dose of radiation from the fallout.

Will the next Indy movie be called Indiana Jones and the Fallout from the Lead Lined Fridge?


The cutest futuristic robot since Silent Running charmed audiences worldwide with his impressive devotion to cleaning up planet Earth and love of old musicals.

But where do the MPAA stand on his flagrant disregard of copyright law? Not only does he illegally record ‘Hello Dolly!‘ but there is no compensation for the artists involved.

However, given that the film takes place hundreds of years into the future, I think we can safely assume the 20th Century Fox musical will by then be in the public domain. Unless News Corp and Fox owner Rupert Murdoch lives forever (which shouldn’t be ruled out…)


If you were a fan of HBO‘s Sex and the City you will have noticed that Carrie Bradshaw wrote everything on her MacBook Pro.

However, in the movie version of the show she can’t seem to handle the iPhone.

When she needs a phone at her wedding in order to get in touch with her husband-to-be (Mr. Big) she is dismayed at the iPhone’s touch interface, saying ‘I can’t work this’.

Maybe some brushing up is needed for the next film?


In contrast to Carrie, Batman (Christian Bale) in The Dark Knight has a surer grasp on mobile phone technology.

Not only does he have a brilliant CEO named Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who supplies him with all the gadgets a night time vigilante needs, but he also has an intimate knowledge of Gotham’s phone network.

However, in a move that will give Steve Jobs pause for thought, Bruce is introduced to the new Nokia ‘iPhone killer’ by Lucius on a trip to Hong Kong and it proves invaluable in extraditing a criminal.

Despite official denials from Nokia that the phone doesn’t exist, it looks like it could be the prototype for the Nokia 5200 – which is nicknamed ‘The Tube’.

Reports of a red version in a glass case, that lights up every time someone calls, were sketchy as this article went to press…


When you are the demonic spawn of a Nazi experiment gone wrong – that now secretly works for the US government as secret agent – anonymity is tough. Especially when you are Hellboy, who is bright red with horns and a tail.

In the first Hellboy he just about covered his tracks but in this summer’s sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, he couldn’t escape the attentions of citizen journalists in the Web 2.0 era, prompting his boss Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) to snarl: “God, I HATE YouTube”.

The same sentiments could apply to Viacom’s lawyers.


Like some internet refuseniks (mainly older guys working in the newspaper industry) the aliens in the unfunny Eddie Murphy comedy Meet Dave are tickled pink that humans search and store information in places called Google and Yahoo.

Believe it or not, this was actually one of the funnier jokes in this dull Eddie Murphy vehicle which saw an alien spaceship (Eddie Murphy) land on Earth piloted by lots of little aliens led by a Captain (Eddie Murphy). Confused? Google it.


When you are the victim of a radiation experiment that periodically turns you into a large green monster, what do you do when hiding out in Brazil from the clutches of the US government?

If you are Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) in The Incredible Hulk, you use a creaky old laptop and what appears to be an encrypted IRC program (remember those?) to communicate with a fellow scientist about a possible cure.

Would Skype not have been a better option, especially given its appropriately green icons?


Whilst Tony Stark seems happy to multitask on both, it seems Mariah Carey is a Mac devotee. In the Adam Sandler comedy You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Mariah appears as herself in a cameo and in one scene her assistants are asked what she prefers: Macs or PCs?

Given that the film was funded by Sony, I was fully expecting them to say ‘PC’ and that (like James Bond) she is a huge fan of the Sony Vaio laptop. But no, they look at one another – as if to say ‘what a silly question!’ – and eagerly report she loves Macs.

High fives all round at Cupertino.


Many people find that that DVRs like the TiVo has changed their TV viewing habits, but in the new Ben Stiller comedy Tropic Thunder we find that it has more uses.

But given that the film hasn’t opened yet I don’t want to spoil why…

Can you think of any other memorable tech moments in the movies this summer?

> 2008 in film at Wikipedia
> The Inquirer’s Top 10 Technology Films
> The uses of computers in movies at

Interesting Technology The Daily Video

The Daily Video: Francis Ford Coppola on Technology

Aside from creating films like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola has always been passionate about technology and film preservation, as this clip from the TV documentary Memory and Imagination (1990) shows:

> Francis Ford Coppola at Wikipedia
> Memory and Imagination at the IMDb
> Michael Lawrence Films at YouTube

News Technology

The Simpsons wins Best Movie Website at the Webbys

The Webby Awards are kind of the Oscars for the web presented by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. They recognise excellence on the Internet, including websites, interactive advertising and online film and video.

The winner for the Best Movie website this year was The Simpsons Movie, created by 65 Media.

Not only was it well designed but it managed to preserve the unique flavour of the TV show.

Some of the functions proved popular, especially the ability to create a Simpsons avatar which spread like wildfire when people used them for their Facebook profiles.

At the Webby ceremony in New York the winners were only allowed speeches of 5 words and here are some of the highlights:

> Official site for the Webbys with video and photo coverage
> The Simpsons Movie site
> Listen to our interview with Matt Groening and Al Jean about the Simpons movie

News Technology

iPhone 3G advert

It seems Robert Downey Jr is a busy man – not only is he appearing in Iron Man and The Incredbile Hulk, but he is also the voice for the new iPhone 3G ad:

Apart from higher download speeds due to being 3G, the other key features of the new iPhone are:
  • Thinner edges
  • Plastic back
  • Flush headphone jack,
  • iPhone 2.0 firmware
  • Runs 3rd party apps
  • Cheaper (8GB is $199, 16GB is $299)
  • Better battery life
  • GPS
The phone goes on sale in the US and the 22 biggest markets (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK) on July 11th.

UPDATE: Here is the keynote announcement from Steve Jobs:

On a more lighthearted note here is the 60 second version:
> Check out more details about the new iPhone at Engadget
> Official page for the iPhone 3G
Technology Thoughts

Steve Ballmer on the future of advertising

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years and months about the death of the film critic, the wider future of journalism and how advertising will work as print declines and publications go even further down the online route.

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft recently spoke to the Washington Post about the future of media and advertsing online and made some key points.

Microsoft is the 10th biggest advertiser in the United States

For a software company (albeit the biggest in history) this isn’t bad.

On the media he predicts a fundamental shift:

In the next 10 years, the whole world of media, communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down – my opinion.

…there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network.

There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.

This I believe is correct – in fact, it could be even sooner than ten years. But the key point here is that there is no going back.

Check out the video:

He also discusses if TV shows will be free with ads or paid for by fees and subscriptions:

I think there will be some things people subscribe to on the Internet, but I think that’s going be more the exception than the rule.

My favorite TV program, ‘Lost’, I watch on the Internet now. I don’t DVR it, I just watch it on the Internet.

Maybe Windows 7 could be renamed The Dharma Initiative?

[Link via Buzzmachine]


Twitter in Plain English

I didn’t really get Twitter the first time I used it – only second time around did I realise how useful it was.

This video does a good job of explaining why it is such a good web app:

Twitter in Plain English from leelefever on Vimeo.

> Subscribe to my Twitter feed
> Find out more about Twitter at Wikipedia
> Official site
> Jeff Jarvis on the benefits of Twitter and how it can help newsgathering

Interesting News Technology

Rupert Murdoch at All Things Digital

Rupert Murdoch was interviewed at the All Things Digital conference yesterday by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

The News Corporation boss made some revealing comments about technology, the media and US politics.

Here is the video and some key quotes:

On movies and the future of distribution:

I would love to see all windows closed …but there are lots of people’s interest to consider.

The theater owners are powerful, but we will try and move to close that gap as much as possible.

On whether newspapers have a future in a digital world:

I’m totally technically neutral – I don’t care what platform our news appears on, if it’s on printed paper, or the web or mobile or whatever.

If you look at the last 6 months, the average newspaper is down 10 to 30 per cent in advertising revenue.

They [newspapers] are going to deteriorate tremendously

On the change that is needed at the Wall Street Journal:

Every story at the moment [in the WSJ] is worked on by 8.3 people [on average]. That is ridiculous.

On MySpace:

We came to [the Internet] late. We’d been asleep.

We found they [MySpace] were like 3 days away from being bought by Viacom, so we said ‘what does it cost for you to lock yourself in a room with us for the weekend?’.

They said ‘an extra $50 million’ and …we came out with a company.

Facebook came in an did a brilliant job – went past us all.

On Google:

Google is so good. They’ve established the best search engine by far.

It’s gushing money and you can see exactly why Microsoft is worried.

You’ve got all these bright people at Google with unlimited ambition.

On Yahoo:

There was a possibility at one stage that we’d add to the portal.

Here is the second part:

On Hulu:

It is changing every week. We are putting more and more [content] on each week.

As far as we were concerned we want to control our own copyrights and we thought this was the way to do it.

On choosing not to sue YouTube like Viacom have done:

We had mixed feelings about it. We felt it was doing more to promote our shows than it was to hurt them.

On Fox News:

People laugh when I say fair and balanced. All it does is give both sides, which the others (media) haven’t done in the past.

On Barack Obama:

I think you’ve probably got the making of a complete phenomenon in this country.

Politicians in Washington …are despised by 80% of the public.

You’ve got a candidate who has put himself above that and said he’s not the average politician.

And he’s become a rock star – its fantastic.

On John McCain:

He’s been in Congress a long time and you’ve got to make too many compromises.

What does he really stand for?

He’s a very decent guy. I say this sympathetically [but] I think he’s got a lot of problems.

On Apple:

They are brilliant marketers and beautiful designers.

On the recession:

The average family is [being] squeezed to death.

On the energy crisis:

I’d let people drill off the west coast. We didn’t buy Alaska to save a couple of elk.

You can read more detailed notes on the interview at the AllThingsD website here.

> All Things Digital conference
> Find out more about Rupert Murdoch at Wikipedia

Interesting Technology


YouTomb is some kind of research project by the folks at MIT Free Culture that shows videos taken down from YouTube for alleged copyright violation.

If you look at the stats section you can see which companies are asking for their clips to be taken down from the world’s biggest video sharing site.

How long before this actual site gets taken down?

Or will it be an interesting test case of the limits of fair use?

> YouTomb
> More on Fair Use at Wikipedia

Cannes Festivals Interesting Technology

Steven Spielberg on Seesmic with Jemima Kiss of The Guardian

Yesterday, The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss managed to ask Steven Spielberg and cast members of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (including Harrison Ford and Karen Allen) a bunch of questions via the new video site Seesmic.

She explains:

Seesmic, the video discussion site, has gone wild this morning as Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, George Lucas and more big names from Indiana Jones 4 join a Q&A session on the site.

It’s a simple enough idea but incredibly exciting; I just posted a few direct questions to Spielberg and Karen Allen (Marian was always one of my favourite heroines) and it’s quite a buzz watching them reply directly to your own questions.

Seesmic is quite intimate too – like most people, I just use my webcam and was still wearing my pyjamas when I recorded. But hey, pyjamas have a good internet heritage.

Here is Jemima asking him about his plans for the small screen and the interactivity of the web:

And Spielberg then replied:

Jemima also asked Steven how the Indy films fit into his wider body of work:


Harrison Ford talks about the first day on the set of the latest movie:

Karen Allen discusses the return of her character, Marion Ravenwood:


Great work from Jemima and it is good to see a major studio like Paramount and A-listers like Spielberg embracing this kind of technology.

As someone who has done my fair share of interviews with actors and filmmakers this looks like a really exciting development.

> The full interviews over at the Guardian’s PDA blog
> Jemima’s blog
> Official site for Seesmic
> Loic Le Meur blog with more details on how the interviews worked
> Techcrunch on Seesmic


RSS Awareness Day

May 1st was RSS Awareness Day, so I’m coming to this a couple of days late, but given that only 5.4% of the Internet uses RSS it is worth plugging this video that explains why it is the best way to read websites:

In future, how about an RSS Awareness week?

> RSS Awareness Day
> Try out an RSS reader like Google Reader or Netvibes
> Find out more about RSS at Wikipedia

In Production Interesting Technology

James Cameron discusses 3-D with Variety

David S. Cohen of Variety has conducted a lengthy interview with James Cameron.

The director of The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic and the forthcoming Avatar talks about a number of different things related to making films in 3-D, including the power of scenes shot in the medium:

When you see a scene in 3-D, that sense of reality is supercharged. The visual cortex is being cued, at a subliminal but pervasive level, that what is being seen is real.

All the films I’ve done previously could absolutely have benefited from 3-D. So creatively, I see 3-D as a natural extension of my cinematic craft.

The renaissance of the new wave of 3-D films:

The new 3-D, this stereo renaissance, not only solves all the old problems of bad projection, eyestrain, etc., but it is being used on first-class movies that are on people’s must-see lists.

These are fundamental changes from what happened with the flash-in-the-pan 3-D craze of the ’50s. 3-D is also a chance to rewrite the rules, to raise ticket prices for a tangible reason, for demonstrable value-added.

The state of 3-D in the home video market:

The only limitation to having stereo viewing in the home is the number of titles currently available. When there is more product, the consumer electronics companies will make monitors and players.

The technology exists and is straightforward. Samsung has already shipped 2 million plasma widescreens which can decode an excellent stereo image. There’s just no player to hook up to it right now.

Filming his latest project in 3-D:

On “Avatar,” I have not consciously composed my shots differently for 3-D. I am just using the same style I always do.

In fact, after the first couple of weeks, I stopped looking at the shots in 3-D while I was working, even though the digital cameras allow real-time stereo viewing.

Check out the full interview here.

> James Cameron at the IMDb
> Find out more about 3-D filmmaking at Wikipedia
> Cameron fansite

News Technology

Video on Flickr

The photo sharing behemoth Flickr has introduced video to their site.

On their blog they announce the arrival of moving images, with the 90 second limit being the eye opener:

Video! Video! Video! The rumours are true and “soon” is now. We’re thrilled to introduce video on Flickr.

If you’re a pro member, you can now share videos up to 90 glorious seconds in your photostream.

90 seconds? While this might seem like an arbitrary limit, we thought long and hard about how video would complement the flickrverse.

If you’ve memorized the Community Guidelines, you know that Flickr is all about sharing photos that you yourself have taken.

Video will be no different and so what quickly bubbled up was the idea of “long photos,” of capturing slices of life to share.

This is an example of a video:

> Check out the Flickr blog for more announcements
> TechCrunch announcing the arrival of Flickr video

Random Technology

Twitter updates

TwitterI’ve added a Twitter sidebar to the site.

I want to log every film I see with a quick update, plus its also there for things that are a bit too short for regular blog posts.

Plus, if you are a Twitter user you can also follow the feed here.

Let me know what you think.

> The FILMdetail Twitter feed
> Find out more about Twitter at Wikipedia

News Technology

Martin Scorcese on MySpace

Martin Scorcese now has a MySpace page:

Interesting Technology

Stephen Fry on Web 2.0

Stephen Fry with some thoughts on Web 2.0 courtesy of VideoJug:

VideoJug: Stephen Fry: Web 2.0

Interesting News Technology

VooZoo – Paramount comes to Facebook

VooZoo is a new Facebook application that could turn out to be an interesting experiment in marketing movies, even if it has a silly Web 2.0 name.

VooZoo app for Facebook

Paramount have teamed up with a new company named FanRocket in order to provide clips for it.

The AP report:

Paramount Pictures will become the first major studio to make clips from thousands of its movies available for use on the Internet.

The unit of Viacom Inc. is teaming with Los Angeles-based developer FanRocket to launch the VooZoo application Monday on Facebook.

The service gives Facebook users access to footage from thousands of movies, ranging from “The Ten Commandments” to “Forrest Gump,” to send to others on the popular social networking site.

“The short clips for a movie that you’ve already seen before helps you relive the moment,” Paramount senior vice president of entertainment Derek Broes said.

The clips last from a few seconds to several minutes and cover the gamut from Eddie Murphy’s guffaw in “Beverly Hills Cop” to Audrey Hepburn’s pleas over her “no-name slob” cat in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The studio will market DVDs of the movies through a button that appears after each clip is played. It eventually wants to use the application to virally market upcoming releases.

FanRocket founder Danny Kastner said he is aiming to get a few hundred thousand users within two months and added that the company is in talks with other Hollywood studios to package their titles on VooZoo.

That could take time, however, since Paramount staffers needed more than a year to select clips from the archive and tag them with search terms.

If you are on Facebook, you add it as an application and you can select a film clip from the Paramount back catalogue.

And then? Well, that’s where an interesting idea gets a little murky.

My VooZoo 1 - So far, so good?

It looks like you buy “VooHoo” points (not VooZoo – which is already confusing) via PayPal and then you can send a limited amount of clips to your Facebook friends.

Now, part of this is a good idea. As one of the big studios, Paramount have an amazing library of film and TV titles (including The Godfather, The Ten Commandments, Saturday Night Fever, Airplane!, Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Star Trek franchise) and making snippets available on a huge social network is undoubtedly a positive move.

But are people really going to pay just to send clips to one another? Aren’t they already emailing or posting YouTube videos anyway? Maybe it will make Paramount some money, but why don’t they let users download clips and get creative with them?

When you look at some of the best trailer mash ups and fake posters on the web there is a lot of creativity and passion out there. If say, a bunch of Beverly Hills Cop fans made mash ups from the film, they are more likely to spread the word about the film and buy the DVD.

So why all the confusing stuff about VooHoo points and PayPal? Surely the money is in the content (i.e. the movies) that people want to buy? I’ll say the jury is out on this one.

But one thing Paramount did do recently that piqued my interest was send out invites to a free Iron Man preview next month via Facebook. I saw that a couple of friends had RSVPd so I joined up too.

Iron Man Facebook screening invite

Although it is screening a couple of days before it opens in early May, it should be a great word of mouth tool. It will inform all the users, who will see it in countless news feeds and on their friends’ profiles over the next few weeks.

So at least in one respect, Paramount are headed in the right direction.

> The AP story on VooZoo
> Facebook’s Mark Zukerberg is interviewed at SXSW – an event which got a lot of people Twittering
> Brush up on the history of Paramount at Wikipedia
> Mashable report on the deal Paramount signed with Joost back in September

Interesting Technology

Wired article on the Netflix prize

Netflix article in WiredWired magazine have a interesting – if geeky – article on the $1 million prize Netflix offered to whoever could create a movie-recommending algorithm 10 percent better than its own.

They write:

In October 2006, Netflix announced it would give a cool seven figures to whoever created a movie-recommending algorithm 10 percent better than its own.

Within two weeks, the DVD rental company had received 169 submissions, including three that were slightly superior to Cinematch, Netflix’s recommendation software. After a month, more than a thousand programs had been entered, and the top scorers were almost halfway to the goal.

It seems there might be an unlikely contender:

His name is Gavin Potter. He’s a 48-year-old Englishman, a retired management consultant with an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s in operations research.

He has worked for Shell, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and IBM. In 2006, he left his job at IBM to explore the idea of starting a PhD in machine learning, a field in which he has no formal training.

When he read about the Netflix Prize, he decided to give it a shot — what better way to find out just how serious about the topic he really was?

You can read the full article over at Wired.

> Check out the rules at Netflix
> Find out more about algorithms at Wikipedia

Interesting News Technology

WSJ on Barack Obama and Trent Reznor

Obama and Reznor in WSJI never thought I’d see the day when the Wall Street Journal would feature an article about Barack Obama and Trent Reznor, but they have just written a piece on their clever internet strategies.

On Reznor:

Proving again that he’s willing to experiment with new ways of marketing his music – last summer Reznor hid USB drives with an unreleased song in the bathrooms at his concerts – he personally loaded some of his new songs onto an underground filing-trading service.

On Obama:

The Obama campaign has made available its database of supporters to anyone who wants access to the information. While some bad seeds have misused the information, it’s also empowered local volunteers to make calls on their own, greatly expanding the number of people working for the campaign.

Surely media and film companies can learn something from these guys?

> Barack Obama’s official site
> CNN on Obama’s use of the web
> Download Trent Reznor’s new album for free

DVD & Blu-ray News Technology

Toshiba to quit HD-DVD

DVD format war overThe hi-def DVD format war looks like it is officially over.

The writing was on the wall when Warner Bros went exclusively with Blu-Ray and key retailers like Netflix, Best Buy and Wal-Mart followed suit.

But now Reuters are reporting that Toshiba – the originator of HD-DVD – are ready to surrender:

Toshiba Corp is planning to give up on its HD-DVD format for high-definition video, conceding defeat to the competing Blu-Ray technology backed by Sony Corp, a company source said on Saturday.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK had earlier reported that Toshiba would suffer losses in the tens of billions of yen (hundreds of millions of dollars) as it scrapped production of HD DVD players and recorders and took other steps to exit the business.

The company source told Reuters that Toshiba was in the final stages of planning to exit the HD DVD business and that an official decision would be made soon.

Now that this fight seems over, will we now see a wider battle between downloads and optical discs?

Or will consumers keep resisting hi-def and stick with regular DVDs for the foreseeable future?

UPDATE 19/02/08: Toshiba themselves have now officially confirmed the inevitable.

They will phase out production of HD DVD players and recorders and will shut the business by the end of March.

BBC News quote Toshiba president Atsutoshi Nishida as saying:

“It was an agonising decision for me, but I thought if we kept running this business it would have grave ramifications for the management of our company. We made a quick decision, judging that there is no way of winning the competition.”

They also have an article on why Blu-ray won which can be boiled down to three salient points:

  1. Blu-ray drives in PS3 consoles: This meant that there were about 10.5 million players in homes worldwide before you count in stand alone players. Compared this to sales of 1 million HD DVD stand alone players – plus the need for an external drive for Xbox consoles – and you can see why Sony had the edge.
  2. Sony had crucial Hollywood leverage: Sony own one of the major film studios and used that to their advantage by recruiting Disney and Fox early on. When Warner Bros switched sides from the HD-DVD camp, the writing was on the wall. Toshiba were willing to offer studios short term cash incentives, but in the long run getting the winning format was always going to be the key factor for the studios.
  3. The painful lesson of Betamax: Sony had already lost a format war in the 80s with Betamax being defeated by the inferior but cheaper VHS, so it was determined this time around not to repeat the same mistakes.

> Deadline Hollywood Daily with more details on the end of the format war
> Comparison of HD-VD and Blu-ray formats
> The Downfall of HD-DVD – the funny viral video which used scenes from the WW2 film Downfall to comment on Warners leaving HD-DVD
> Variety report on the end of the format war
> Official press release from Toshiba
> Yuri Kageyama of the AP in Tokyo on the news
> BBC News on why Blu-ray won

Interesting Technology Useful Links

vTap – Mobile video website

vTapHave you ever wanted to watch videos on your mobile phone?

If you are lucky enough to have an iPhone then you will probably have been impressed by their impressive YouTube application, but what about other phones and video sites?

One site I came across recently was vTap – which allows you to search different video sites and then watch them on your mobile.

Previously I’d used the mobile version of YouTube but it was a little frustrating as it only featured a limited amount of videos.

After trying vTap on my Nokia 6120 Classic I was very impressed – not only did it work but you have (as far as I could tell) the full library of YouTube and other video sites.

Not only do you have access to more videos, but on a 3G connection the download time is quick and playback is pretty smooth.

Another nice feature is that you can select the download speed depending on your connection and even just get the audio of the video, if you so wish.

Check out their website for a list of compatible phones or just punch into your mobile browser to check out the site.

The company behind vTap is called Veveo and here is a video of co-founder and CEO Murali Aravamudan explaining the idea behind the site:

It is worth noting that video on your mobile can be expensive if you don’t have an unlimited data plan (which I do), so make sure you check this before giving the site some heavy use.

> Official vTap site
> Om Malick writes about Veveo (the company behind VTap) at NewTeeVee
> Find out more about the vTap application for the iPhone

Events London Film Festival Technology Thoughts

London Film Festival 2007: Is the Internet Killing the Film Critic?

Internet Debate at the BFI Southbank

Last night at the festival I went to one of the Time Out debates entitled Is the Internet Killing the Film Critic?

I was a little apprehensive about the actual premise. Was this just going to be another old media versus new media debate? Haven’t they already been exhausted?

It was officially billed in this way:

The internet is credited with globalisation and the democratisation of information, enabling anyone and everyone with access to a computer can share their views on an unending number of subjects.

Films seem to attract an especially large amount of public review in the way of forums, blogs and ratings via a variety of online platforms.

With this surfeit of popular opinion does the critic’s voice get lost in the crowd? This panel discusses whether the internet revolution has spurred a crisis in criticism and if so, for better or worse?

So, an old debate if you’ve been reading sites like Buzz Machine by Jeff Jarvis or even newspapers like The Guardian. But perhaps some new ideas and perspectives would be raised in the course of the discussion.

Given that I have a foot in the old and new media camps I went along intrigued as to what would be raised. The panel consisted of three journalists from traditional media and and two from new media.

It was chaired by Leslie Felperin, who currently reviews films for Variety and numerous other outlets including the Radio Times, Heat and Sight and Sound.

The panellists were:

Peter Bradshaw – Film Critic for The Guardian since 1999.

James Christopher – Chief Film Critic for The Times since 2002.

Steve Hornby – Senior Producer for BBC Movies, the film review and listings service on digital TV, web and mobile.

James Fabricant – Director of Entertainment and Head of Video, Europe, for MySpace.

Leslie started off by asking the panel for their views and then the debate went over to the audience. She was mentioned notable “movie bloggers” like David Poland and Jeffrey Wells – and generally seemed to be more clued up than the others about film writing online.

She correctly noted about how Variety’s website used to be terrible but has improved greatly. There was a brief mention of the subscription wall coming down before it shifted to the others on the panel. Overall Leslie was a good chair – clearly knowledgeable, fair and keen for contributions from the floor.

Peter started off by saying he’s been to a lot of these kind of debates and was refreshingly open about the possibilities the internet offered in changing the nature of film criticism.

He mentioned his recent piece about the 100 Movies Mashup on YouTube and how that kind of thing is being produced by the public rather than mainstream media. The Guardian could be doing stuff like that he said, but although it has the manpower it is often the case that great ideas come from unlikely sources.

I think he was being a little hard on his newspaper here. They have been by far the most innovative national newspaper (in the UK at least) in putting their content online, in a variety of different ways. Their role isn’t necessarily one of a producer but a filter of what’s good and bad. For example, I like the way they put their more traditional features and reviews alongside things like The Clip Joint.

He clearly understands and gets the online/blog world but at the same time seemed unsure of how it fitted in with his ‘traditional’ role as the film critic for a national newspaper. My feeling here is that there is a clearly a role for traditional critics if they are good enough and open to writing online.

The audience isn’t just there to be told what’s good and bad but can often be a tool in making you smarter and aware of things that you didn’t know existed. I like the comment sections on Guardian Unlimited as they often contain some very useful links to other sites and often open up another debate. Whilst there will always be trolls and mischief makers, the hassle is worth it if your audience is more engaged and part of the conversation.

One point he raised later on is that now critics are now being criticised, which is a shift from the old days of newspapers. But it seemed part of him enjoyed that aspect of what he does now and that it is only fair that critics be subject to the same scrutiny they themselves apply to films. He also seemed genuinely curious as to what sites the audience used.

Which brings us on to James Christopher, who seemed to be comically dismissive with film writing online. He started of by saying that the web guys at The Times had set up an email address for him so that readers could contact him. Apparently he has around 7,000 unanswered emails (!), which is some sort of record over at Wapping.

I don’t know whether this was a joke but it seemed odd that he wouldn’t want to engage with his readers. Whilst it’s true that you will always get some cranky emails surely it is a good idea to engage with your audience. After all they are the ones who are actually taking time to read your paper or visit your website. He seemed totally lost even when Bradshaw was bringing up basic things like YouTube and how to check out interesting videos online.

When the conversation shifted to social networking sites and the importance of users telling their friends about films they liked he seemed very dubious. I think he missed the point here as it isn’t as though reactions on MySpace or Facebook will necessarily replace traditional reviews – surely it is just another outlet for people to communicate.

Steve Hornby from BBC Movies responded by saying that the user was actually very important for them. The trend now is to try to emphasise their role in reviews. This makes sense for them, as they have a licence fee funded duty to involve their audience but also because it will make it a better site overall. It certainly seemed to chime in with what director general Mark Thompson has said in the past about Web 2.0 and interactivity.

James Fabricant from MySpace also echoed these thoughts about the importance of the user and what people can actually do online now. It is more than just reading text – which I guess was a reference to things like posting video reviews and then having people reply with their own videos.

James Christopher also mentioned his background as a theatre critic and compared it to film criticism. The key difference he noted was that a review of a film is of much less consequence to the industry as everyone has already been paid. In theatre and the live performing arts like opera and ballet, productions and jobs can depend on reviews.

By the end of the debate he seemed more open about film writing online (maybe his earlier comments were meant to be jovially provocative) and he acknowledged that technology is changing his role. He also remarked on how The Guardian has raised the bar for other newspapers and has led the way in putting their content online.

When the talk shifted to the floor it was interesting to see that one person recorded it on their mobile and one guy in front of me was checking out sites that were mentioned on his Mac (thanks to the BFI Southbank wi-fi).

There was actually quite a lot of people there and I sensed that a lot of different people came to it with different expectations. Maybe the nature of the debate was such that it went off into different tangents – at one point some one even brought up the very nature of criticism itself.

One guy seemed a little irate at James Christopher’s dismissal of social network users as reviewers and put forward his take on the wisdom of crowds argument. He said that he would always trust “10 people in a room” over 1 critic. I think this line of thinking has its good and bad points. On the one hand, I would always favour sites like Metacritic over a single reviewer, but at the same time just because you disagree with a critic doesn’t make his take on a film redundant.

Someone like Anthony Lane of The New Yorker isn’t someone I usually agree with – mainly because his reviews often seem like elaborately constructed jokes revealing his distaste for cinema – but reading him gives you another angle on a film that is different from Roger Ebert, Kenneth Turan or Harry Knowles. Surely the beauty of the web is the ability to gauge as many opinions as you like?

One audience member who worked for a film distributor I think – Marie Foulston from Soda Pictures – said that certain sites were useful in how they wrote around movies with comments on posters and trailers, which I thought was a sound point. The site she mentioned was Solace in Cinema (the guy with the Mac then immediately surfed to it) and it is a good example of a blog that provides a lot of commentary about the film going experience – checking out trailers, clips posters and feelings about upcoming releases.

For distributors I guess these sites are valuable because they are more reflective of what a lot of film fans think. The national newspaper critics have a very different experience, often seeing weekly releases back to back every Monday and Tuesday with a review that then goes out on the Thursday or Friday. Just by virtue of the fact that they are paid to see – rather than paying to see – films gives them a different perspective.

Peter Bradshaw conceded this point and said that it doesn’t really matter if people see films before him. One audience member then shot back by asking how could the general public (or even people who wrote online outside the media loop of mainstream critics) see films before the release date? I then chipped in by saying that preview screenings for online outlets were held for 300 and that maybe in future they would do more of this, depending on the film and what demographic they are chasing.

Leslie asked what sites people use to find out about films and reviews. A guy behind me said Green Cine Daily was good and one girl on the front row said that she always checks out the message boards of the IMDb. Another said Rotten Tomatoes and the guy with the Mac mentioned his website (I cant remember the title or URL) and how his community of friends/associates on it are important even if its not a massive amount of users.

James Christopher asked how do people find out about these sites and Leslie said that often the links on the sidebar direct you to other sites. But I guess for some that is a bit of a chicken and egg situation because if you don’t know about the good sites to begin with then it could be a little difficult. I would humbly suggest looking at my old post about useful film websites and checking the links on my sidebar.

One person then asked what qualifications were needed to be a film critic – which provoked an interesting reaction from panel. They mused on how most film writers have possibly done film studies but unlike other reporters there is no ‘practical experience’ of film writers. Is this a good or bad thing? Bradshaw then mentioned that he did all sorts of reporting before writing about film.

He also made the point that it was interesting that the debate about online film writing seemed louder and bigger than say online music writing – which surprised him given that the music industry is experiencing much greater upheavals than the film industry. Leslie seemed to think that film was a more open and popular meduim which more people have an opinion about. I suppose that film has less subsections than music – you basically have popular and arthouse cinema whereas music has all sorts of subgenres (e.g. Pop, Rock, Jazz, Classical etc), but that could probably be another debate itself.

A Greek girl in the audience said that when she used to find out who was the top critic in the top paper but when she came to England she didn’t know who the top English critics were so now she just Googles stuff online.

Overall, it was an interesting session with some solid contributions but I think the premise should have been more about how the web is changing criticism rather than killing it. There will always be critics but I guess the question is who will they be and how will people be reading and engaging with them?

Post your thoughts below or if you were at the debate you can even leave a comment on the LFF event page.

N.B. I would have recorded it but the PA system wasn’t the best and it wouldn’t pick up well enough to put up here as an MP3. I did see a mixing desk there, so if anyone has a link to the recording then do leave it in the comments section or email me.

*UPDATE*: Thanks to Marie from Soda Pictures for getting in touch and identifying herself! (If anyone else who I didn’t mention by name was there, just let me know.)

> Find out more at the official London Film Festival site
> Check out Time Out’s blog of the festvial
> An old post by me last year about bloggers and critics
> Variety’s Peter Bart trying to define the movie blogosphere back in May
> Anne Thompson of Variety on how blogs have reshaped film coverage
> A list of film blogs at

Interesting Technology

iPod Touch

The line between music and movies and how we watch them gets blurrier today with the launch of the iPod Touch – which is the new widescreen iPod.

iPod Touch

 Engadget have all the latest details:

Well, what do you know. Turns out the iPod Touch is a reality after all. While we initially assumed that Mr. Jobs wouldn’t be so kind as to bless us all with two new full-fledged iPods in a single day, we’re elated that he had other ideas.

The new flagship iPod has “the same size screen as the iPhone, but it’s even thinner” (eight-millimeters, for those taking notes), and it also touts the “same multi-touch interface” found on the the firm’s handset. Additionally, it boasts a 3.5-inch widescreen display, the ability to “flick through your photos,” and you even get the “slide to unlock” feature, too.

And yes, this thing actually has WiFi. Of note, the built-in wireless antenna (shown after the jump along with a few other pics) isn’t exactly attractive, but if it means that we can surf the web on our iPod, we suppose it may be an acceptable flaw.

It is amazing to conisder what this device has done for Apple since the low key beginnings in 2001. iTunes and the iPod have reshaped the music industry and are making major headways into TV and the movies (despite the dumb move by NBC last week).

Films will still be watched primarily on a cinema screen and on TVs for a good few years to come but Steve Jobs and his Cupertino cohorts will continue to have a profound affect on how we buy and watch entertaiment if they keep up this level of innovation.

> Check out the latest at the Apple Store
> Gizmodo have their take
> See what the Wikipedia entry for the iPod Touch is looking like

Technology Thoughts

Thoughts on RSS Feeds

RSS IconNeville Hobson hits the nail on the head with this post about RSS Feeds:

If you offer an RSS feed from your website or blog that isn’t the full content, here’s something for you to think about.

Like many people, I’m an RSS creative-consumer. That means I read almost everything of interest to me via RSS as well as publish content that you can get via RSS. I don’t visit many websites including blogs unless I’m googling in search mode or if I want to leave a comment.

I read my content of interest on different devices, from desktop PCs to laptops to mobile phones, whatever is to hand and wherever I happen to be.

If I find a site of interest, I’ll subscribe to its RSS feed. If it doesn’t offer a feed, I usually leave it there. And if it offers a feed that first leads you to a login firewall – bad mainstream media tactic – that usually gets deleted unless the content on offer is unmissably compelling (very few of those).

I no longer subscribe to any site that only offers subscriptions to RSS feeds that contain partial content, not the Full Monty.

It made me stop and think how I have actually read my daily diet of websites down the years.

I first started using the Internet regularly at college back in 1996 and I bookmarked sites of interest in Netscape Navigator or just browsed by keywords in different search engines.

Despite all the changes in the web over the years I still tended to use bookmarks (either on Netscape or Internet Explorer) when I surfed at home or at work. The advent of Google made searching a lot easier but it still surprises me that this basic method of web browsing lasted for so long until the advent of RSS feeds.

Over the last two years I’ve used Netvibes and Google Reader to subscribe to and read sites. I also check out BlogsNow and Popurls to get new stories from outside my regular haunts and have a link bar in Firefox of sites I regularly visit (Google, BBC News, Facebook, Amazon and – of course – the IMDb).

RSS feeds make reading sites a lot easier – I can access my bookmarks/subscriptions across multiple computers and devices now but I can also get through my digest of daily stories much more quickly.

But as Neville points out some media companies and organisations don’t seem to get this. In fact you could argue that some want to limit their readers ability to access their content. Why? Usually as a smart-but-actually-dumb way of making it seem exclusive and worth paying for.

But if sites gave up their obsession with making us click through to the actual page and just measured the subscribers to their feed, it would just make it easier for the reader. Plus, we might actually spend more time on their site.

I don’t mind ads in the feed (as long as they’re not annoying or intrusive) so it is not really a question of that. It is simply about making things easier for me, the reader – because if you don’t, then sooner or later I’ll be going elsewhere.

How do you read your websites? Post any thoughts below.

[Original link via James Cridland’s blog]

> History of RSS Feeds at Wikipedia
> Google Reader
> Netvibes

News Technology

BBC iPlayer bandwidth concerns

BBC iPlayer LogoThe amount of bandwidth consumed by the BBC iPlayer is causing alarm at UK Internet service providers according to an article in yesterday’s Independent by Andrew Murray-Watson:

Some of the largest broadband providers in the UK are threatening to “pull the plug” from the BBC’s new iPlayer unless the corporation contributes to the cost of streaming its videos over the internet.

The likes of Tiscali, BT and Carphone Warehouse are all growing concerned that the impact of hundreds of thousands of consumers watching BBC programmes on its iPlayer – which allows viewers to watch shows over the internet – will place an intolerable strain on their networks.

Some of the companies involved have told the BBC that they will consider limiting the bandwidth available to iPlayer – a process known as traffic shaping. The measure would limit the number of consumers who could access the iPlayer at any one time.

A spokeswoman for Tiscali said: “The potential for iPlayer to suck up capacity is a concern and we need a better dialogue with the BBC about that.”

A senior insider at BT added: “It is certainly a live debate between ISPs [internet service providers] and the BBC. If the BBC gets the numbers it wants for iPlayer then network capacity could become an issue.”

Company representatives have expressed their concerns to Ashley Highfield, the director of new media and technology at the BBC.

Read the rest of the article here.

Technology Thoughts

First thoughts on the BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer Logo About three weeks ago I got an invitation to test out the Beta version of the BBC iPlayer, which is their proposed Video On Demand service.

I was eager to see what it looked like and how it worked, so here are some thoughts and screenshots on what the initial experience was like for me.

1. The Sign In: Firstly, I got to the home page and had to login twice – once to a BBC account and then to an iPlayer account, which seemed a little unnecessary.

BBC iPlayer 1 - Home Page

Maybe this was just part of the trial, but it was a little off putting.

2. Software Requirements: Unfortunately you have to use Internet Explorer, which is not good. Why on earth has the BBC made IE mandatory for the iPlayer? It is clunky, slow and although it has the biggest market share, surely the BBC should open to other browsers like Firefox?

BBC iplayer 2 - software requirements

I guess it is a DRM issue but shouldn’t BBC be building a more open system where alternative browsers can work?

And what about Mac users?

3. Windows Media Player: Having to upgrade to a newer version of Windows Media Player is another pain. Like IE7 this is clunky piece of software. Surely you should be able to use other media players?

BBC iPlayer - wmp requirements

Does everything really have to be tied to these two pieces of software?

4. The Interface: It is fairly easy and intuitive to navigate but the search should be bigger and more prominent. I don’t want to trawl through categories or dates – just beef up the search.

I know the service is still in Beta but it should be more focused on what the user wants to get rather than having the highlights plastered on the main page. It makes sense to push popular shows, but it was hard to find the more interesting stuff when you searched for it.

BBC Youtube channel

The BBC YouTube channel (see above) is actually much easier to use if you compare the two interfaces. I guess it is early days, but is there any chance they could integrate the two?

Perhaps, other Web 2.0 sites like Flickr and Facebook could also be compatible to make it a truly cross platform multi-media service. In fact given Facebook’s explosive rise in popularity at the Beeb (and in the rest of the UK) why not have an iPlayer app built for Facebookers?

There would be some serious hoops to jump through here but it would be a way to seed the BBC content outside the walls of the iPlayer. Plus, it would chime in with director general Mark Thompson’s ideas about user generated content.

5. The Download Times: I know these will improve the more users the iPlayer has (as its built on P2P technology) but it was frustrating when I downloaded an episode of Newsnight.

BBC iPlayer - newsnight download

It took too long and with broadband speeds being what they now are, it was frustrating compared to other types of big files I’ve downloaded in the past. Plus, the image quality wasn’t that great.

I know it is probably a trade off as the better the image, the longer the download time, but if you are used to watching DVDs on your computer then you are going to be a little disappointed.

6. Podcasts: The BBC Podcast trial has been fantastic with lots of great shows being made available. I find it hard to fault, but at the moment I get them all through iTunes.

BBC Podcasts and Downloads

Couldn’t the iPlayer also integrate these alongside the TV content in the way iTunes works? It would be a great way of storing all my BBC content in one BBC account.

7. Integrating the iPlayer: Speaking of which, couldn’t the iPlayer be integrated into an online account (like Google Accounts) where the user (or licence payer) does all his BBC stuff online?

In an ideal world I want to be able to watch and listen to BBC content, pay my licence fee, check listings and read BBC websites whilst logged on as a BBC user.

One BBC image

Basically I want my BBC life under one online umbrella (or as former director general Greg Dyke would put it – “One BBC”). Or is this a idea a bit too retro?

8. Other Thoughts: I’ve been eagerly awaiting the iPlayer but I was overall I was disappointed by the Beta test. In the time its taken to get through all the regulatory hurdles and actually develop it as a piece of software, YouTube and other online video sites have matured really quickly.

I appreciate the BBC has restrictions and must fulfil certain obligations, but it should be better than this. Despite that, it could still be fantastic value for the BBC user if it becomes a service that reaches out beyond just downloading programmes.

If the rights issues are sorted, new features added and it becomes easier to use, then the iPlayer could be crucial to the very future of the BBC.

> Official site for the BBC iPlayer
> Media Guardian article on the iPlayer’s troubled history
> Another review of the iPlayer trial from Diamond Geezer
> Official Message Board for the iPlayer (you have to register)
> Wikipedia entry for the BBC iPlayer

News Technology

YouTube Remixer

YouTube RemixerYouTube have added what could be a very useful application – the ability to edit your videos online.

It is called YouTube Remixer and the official blurb says:

Sometimes, instant gratification video is just the thing you need. If you’ve ever uploaded from your cell phone, wished for an easy way to add titles and transitions, or just wanted to remix your own videos, Remixer is a great place to play.

It lets you assemble your new video in an easy drag-and-drop timeline, and then publish it right back to YouTube. Your original videos will stay exactly the same.

TechCrunch have their doubts:

This isn’t an offering that is going to be embraced by serious content creators but it is ideal for casual YouTube uploaders. The interface is fairly simple if perhaps a little bit dull and boring.

Creating a one stop shop for all things video at YouTube is a natural progression path that gives prosumers another reason to spend more time on the site; it’s just that it’s grey, uninspiring and so very not Google.

But this could be the start of something very interesting at YouTube.

Who knows, may be the Adobe powered editor could become a very popular online application. If it is easy to use then I can only see it growing and taking off in interesting ways.

YouTube Remixer Logo

Plus, the key thing here is that people are more likely to get hooked in to the site and even develop their editing skills if it takes off.

Another smart move from the the GooTubers.

> Official YouTube Remix section of the site
> Check out the lengthy and interesting Wikipedia entry on YouTube

Interesting Technology

Stephen Fry on The Internet

Video Jug has a straightforward but interesting interview with Stephen Fry and his thoughts on the web.

VideoJug: Stephen Fry: The Internet

Check them out in 5 parts by clicking on the following links:

> Technology

> The Internet

> Learning 

> Web 2.0

> His Heroes 

It is great to see someone outside geekdom or the computer industry speak so lucidly about how and why the web is important to our lives.

> Official website for Stephen Fry
> Ben Balbo with an article on VideoJug