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Further thoughts on rip-offs, and whatnot

In writing my double standard post earlier this week I tried my darndest to take a detached view of the SimpleBits/LogoMaid and Marclay/Apple situations and to keep ‘my side’ out of it: not to express an opinion, only to express bewilderment at John’s. He has a fairly solid rebuttal (spoiler: you say tomato) with some choice flames at Apple, so I’ll retract my “apologist” crack, but something occurred to me…

What is a weblog if not a digital platform for the overly-opinionated? I need to get back to my roots and cut the ‘detached’ crap.

Part the first: Apple needs to rein that shit in.

There’s a TV commercial airing over here at the moment for Rexona that makes use of a particularly-recognizable pianny sample for its soundtrack. Recognizable not because I know anything about jazz pianists, but because I have my greasy, computer-nerd finger on the pulse of youth culture and own a Lily Allen CD: the ad uses a Professor Longhair lick (pianists have licks, right?) that Allen sampled a year ago.

Anyone with the mental faculties of a third-grader can tell you Rexona’s marketing team doesn’t give two hoots about Professor Longhair, they’re just trying to sell their deodorant to people like you and me (y’know: finger, pulse, etc) and want to give us something to relate to. What better way to relate than with a top-forty single from a MySpace superstar? And what cheaper way to have a hit song in your ad than to mix your own from the same sources?

The problem is it doesn’t work, or at least not on everyone I know who has seen the commercial. People say “Is that that Lily Allen song? Wait, no, it’s not the real thing. It’s a muzak version or something. Lame.”

This is about where Apple walks into the picture. Somebody at TBWA\Chiat\Day had undoubtedly seen Christian Marclay’s Telephones and thought it was appropriate. Who wouldn’t? And while the rest of the details are murky (they approached him? for permission? to buy it? wha?) Marclay was reportedly unenthusiastic and Apple ended up with a Telephones clone. A more up-to-date, better-cut Telephones perhaps, but a clone nonetheless.

And everyone thought it was cool. It is cool! It’s a cool ad.

But later, when people found out it’s not “the real thing,” just like with Rexona and Lily Allen, their reaction is the same. “Apple couldn’t come up with something cool on their own? Aren’t they, like, all creative and shit? Lame.”

Part the second: LogoMaid aren’t criminals, they’re just sad

I don’t care much for LogoMaid. The whole SimpleBits thing notwithstanding, their entire business is founded on the premise that you don’t care enough about your corporate identity to do any more than buy an off-the-shelf logo for $29. Or $199 if you don’t want to share that logo with a dozen other LogoMaid customers. And when their home page says this, it just gets tragic:

Your logo is not just a fancy graphic adorning your website or stationary - it's a representation of your business philosophy, your overall direction, and your attitude towards your clients and your business. Your logo is the sum total of your corporate existence. It basically tells who you are.

I don’t have enough sics for that paragraph, but if “your attitude towards your clients and your business” is to go grab something cheap that looks moderately professional because you’re cheap and moderately professional, I'm bewildered by your lack of respect for your clients and your business.

Looking cheap is one thing. Punk rock has coasted for decades on looking cheap. But being cheap, and generic to boot… where’s your sense of pride? There are plenty of people in the world who just turn up to work and grind through the week, hoping it’ll magically get better some day. Evidently, some of the designers at LogoMaid have that exact attitude. But how do you ‘just turn up’ to your own business?

I guess I’m chastizing LogoMaid’s customers more than LogoMaid itself. They deserve it, even if they’ve already demonstrated by their actions that they just don’t care. And I suppose I feel the same way about prostitutes and their clientele. I can’t help but look at the hooker and think “Wow, you really know how to spot a business opportunity,” simultaneously shaking my head at the client, thinking “Damn, dude, there are plenty of easy women out there, and sleeping with them won’t make you look like a total sleazebag. Try harder!”

The wrap

We’re living in a post-Godin world. And when Apple’s story is that they don’t do what’s easy, or what’s cheap, but they do what’s good, they can’t get away with something that looks like plagiarism. Big corporations can’t get away with anything.

Smaller businesses, I guess, can and do get away with things that look like plagiarism. Routinely. But when a small group of nerdy vigilantes with weblogs decide to prove them wrong, such a shitstorm can be conjured up that they’ll probably be more careful in future. I’m happy to be part of such a shitstorm.


EMI ditches DRM, world applauds, and I can finally recommend iTunes to my parents

I honestly did not ever expect that to happen. And to think I’d been badmouthing those music industry jerkholes all this time. It turns out they aren’t complete idiots.

Still, I’m kind of backward when it comes to buying music. I like vinyl and CDs; I’m a hoarder. I trialed eMusic for a month, downloading two perfectly good, DRM-free albums with all the legal consent the artist had to offer, and I still felt like I had to buy the CDs. Physical media, I’m stuck on you.

But the world is full of people more reasonable than I, and this is good news for all of them.


Twitterwish

I know it’s passé to want more features out of Twitter because the added complexity would just ruin it, but this isn’t so much a feature wish list as a feature-adjustment wish list.

Markdown
Plaintext SMS, meet hypertext. Markdown offers the best of both worlds. Prettying up Twitter’s web/IM/RSS/JSON output with a tiny subset of Markdown’s span elements would make a world of difference. *Emphasis*, **strong emphasis**, and even [better looking links](http://example.com) would be worth the measly couple of characters spent using them. Images are obviously verboten, and block-level elements a waste of time in messages with a 140 character limit, but the inline elements fit the bill nicely. Heck, Twitter itself doesn’t even need to do this… Twitterrific & Co could already be doing this.
Reply Targeting
A recent Twitter addition has been the official embrace of the ‘reply’ message. That is, a message beginning with @Username is thought to address a particular user, albeit publicly viewable where a ‘direct’ (private) message would break the flow of conversation.
This has been happening a long time. It predates the web! But Twitter’s adoption of the convention as an official feature was as simple as adding a link to announce that Message X was in reply to User Y’s latest message. Sometimes this screws up, and the mile-a-minute action-packed adventure that is Twitter means you end up ‘replying’ to a message that isn’t relevant. Your link is stale and out of context. Something needs fixing.
A technologically-feasible solution would be to extend the @Reply convention to allow status IDs as well as user IDs, so @#16950751 would reply specifically to that ‘tweet’, and could be made minutes, hours, days from now. The reply would never be stale.
Unfortunately it’s not a workable solution without further tweaking. The numbers are ugly, and in places where the in-reply-to links aren’t visible (SMS, IM, Twitterrific) the whole scheme would be incomprehensible. Translate the @StatusID to an @Username in the message text, though, and the process is invisible.
It’s a power-nerd feature, true. But I don’t hesitate to say a lot of Twitter users are nerds already, and client apps like Twitterrific could easily make it accessible to Joe Blow. People who didn’t plan to exploit it would never have to work around it.
But I’ve just damned the feature by suggesting it isn’t worth the effort of implementing, since so few would use it. Maybe something lower-impact…
Permalinks in Context
Addressing the same problem in a way that doesn’t impact user input at all, permalink pages (like the one I linked above) could contain more of the conversation leading up to the moment of postage. A time-slice of a user’s friends list rather than a lonely, out-of-context tweet permalink. Not even the entire friends list need be sampled, just the last half-dozen tweets from any @Replied usernames, and suddenly just-missed-it link staleness goes out the door.
@Reply SMS Forwarding
I’ve disabled almost all of Twitter’s mobile features on my account. Sure, I still post from my phone when I’m on the go, but I got sick of receiving 200 SMSes per day pretty quickly and set it to forward only Direct messages to my mobile.
Direct messages are pretty rare, though. People tend only to use them for things that are actually private, in my experience, so the vast majority of inter-twitter communication is carried out with @Replies. It’d be nice if these were sent to my mobile, so I can participate in my own conversations when I’ve left my computer behind.
They’re a funny beast, these @Replies, which is maybe why the majority of this feature-tweaking wish list has focused on them. Half direct message, half public update, they straddle the line uncomfortably. Right now they lean more to the public update side of the fence… I’d like to see them behave more like direct messages that happen to be world-readable.

DRM-free, hardly a file sharer’s paradise

It occurred to me today, recalling the Hymn project and its position as the “anti-DRM but not pro-piracy” FairPlay remover, that even though the iTunes store will soon dispense music sans DRM protection there’ll still be one anti-sharing measure built in. Your Apple ID.

There hasn’t been any official word from Apple that this is the case, far as I know, but my speculation hat says Duh! Why wouldn’t they keep embedding your credentials into every purchase? Nobody said ‘unprotected’ meant ‘anonymous,’ and it’s a pretty clever way of keeping people honest, but my concern is that people won’t be told up front or it’ll be buried in pages and pages of unread legalese.

If your Aunt Ethel downloads a song and sends it to her friend Mildred thinking there’s no harm done (it’s like loaning her a book, right?). What happens the next day, when Mildred’s son Howard is sharing it with the whole world on LimeWire and the RIAA’s death squad arrives on Ethel’s doorstep?

A passive protection scheme means infringers be found and punished later, not sooner (if at all), and anybody who’s ever trained a puppy will tell you that don’t work.


Hit songs unsuccessfully translated to Christian rock by way of replacing the word ‘baby’ with ‘Jesus’

  1. Jesus One More Time
  2. Jesus Did A Bad Bad Thing
  3. Jesus Got Back
  4. Disco Inferno