Metallica: Maybe the Web isn’t so bad

This is one for the irony file, right up there with the news that Napster is trying to remake itself (a third time) as a no-DRM download service, about half a decade too late. It seems that Metallica — the band that, more than any other, became known for its opposition to Napster and everything that the Web stood for — just launched a new site called Mission Metallica, which offers fans all kinds of special features, including the ability to hear tracks from the new album before it comes out. The site was developed by Ethan Kaplan, the head of technology at Warner Brothers Records, and his team there.

Ethan, as some of you may recall, was one of the “keynote conversations” at mesh 2008 a couple of weeks ago, where I talked with him about the future of music and the Web — and he talked about the idea that music is no longer primarily about selling an artifact (i.e., a plastic disc) but is more about the experience (if you want to read more about mesh, including Ethan’s keynote, check the links here and also this post). Not long after leaving Toronto, Ethan said he was working on the launch of a really major site and a few days later the record company launched Mission Metallica, and Ethan posted a message to Twitter saying:

For those that read my keynote coverage: Mission Metallica is one of the things along the lines of “experience” vs. “artifact”

Fans who sign up for Mission Metallica (and presumably are added to some sort of mailing list) get access to a host of special features, including video of the band writing and recording the band’s ninth album — which is due out in the fall — as well as what are described as “riffs and excerpts” from the album, new and archived photos of the band in the studio, “unique live tracks,” commentary from the band members and the chance to win tickets and passes to every show. All of this is free, according to the release. As the band describes it in a post at Metallica.com, it is:

“our way to bring you in and share with you not only the writing and recording process that’s been taking place in the last 18 months, but also what’s ahead between now and when the record is in your hands. And instead of waiting and releasing some “making of the record” additional DVD in a bullshit deluxe package when the album comes out, we figured why not let you be part of it up front?”

If you sign up for the Platinum level membership, you get: early access to the album on midnight of the release date, with a CD or vinyl album, along with high-quality (320kbps) mp3 files of every track, as well as the ability to download video clips of entire live shows, contests and so on. The high-quality downloads can be bought for $11.99, the CD plus the downloads is $19.99, the downloads plus the Platinum package is $24.99 and the CD plus the downloads plus the Platinum features is $32.99. If that’s still not enough, you can get a limited-edition package of five LPs, along with the CD, the high-quality downloads, a special lithograph and the Platinum features — all for just $124.99.

This tiered approach is similar to that taken by Nine Inch Nails frontman and mastermind Trent Reznor, who offered his recent Ghosts I-IV album as a series of downloads-plus-CD packages, along with a deluxe boxed set that included a Blu-Ray DVD, a CD, autographed items and other features for $300. Reznor later said that he sold 2,500 of the special sets, pulling in about $750,000 — almost half of the total $1.6-million he made on the album. Take that, Radiohead.

Hey Scoble — you’re killing Twitter

So Twitter has been up and down more than a (insert not-safe-for-work metaphor here) over the past few months, senior technology managers have suddenly departed, and fingers of blame have been pointed at the service’s architecture, including the use of Ruby on Rails. But the real problem, it seems, is Robert Scoble. Well, maybe not Scoble specifically, but “super users” like him who have tens of thousands of followers and follow tens of thousands of people (Leo Laporte of This Week in Tech is another one). On the Twitter development blog, Alex Payne says:

“The events that hit our system the hardest are generally when “popular” users – that is, users with large numbers of followers and people they’re following – perform a number of actions in rapid succession.”

The Scobleizer isn’t taking all this well, however. On FriendFeed (which seems to be his new social network of choice), he says that Twitter blaming him is “bulls**t,” and that the service was having problems long before he came along with his thousands of friends:

FriendFeed is 1000 times more reliable. Twitter was going down before I even got popular on the service. Their architecture has always sucked and everyone knows it. They’ve never been able to get a handle on the quality of their service and now it looks like they are blaming their top users.

To be fair, the comments from Alex Payne don’t seem to be pointing the finger of blame. It sounds like a simple explanation of why the system goes down so much. Although he says Ruby isn’t to blame, it seems fairly obvious that the service’s architecture has had “scaling” problems, where handling hundreds of thousands of events ties it in knots. As MG Siegler notes in the VentureBeat post, Twitter has to effectively rebuild its system while it is still running — something that other companies have described as “repairing an airplane in mid-air.”

Maybe the $15-million that the company is said to have raised from Spark Capital and other venture funds will help with that task. So should Twitter limit the number of friends you can have, the way Facebook does? Some people seem to think they should.

Do comments qualify as “content”?

There seems to be a theme developing around the topic of comments, whether they appear on a blog or on FriendFeed. It sort of started with a conversation about the ongoing issue of fragmentation — in which comments appear on blog posts but then also appear at FriendFeed (and in multiple places on FriendFeed, as commenters on my post noted). Then Hank Williams (no, not that Hank Williams) wrote a post about how comments might even be considered copyrightable content, and Josh Catone wrote one at Read/Write Web about comment ownership — at which point, Steven “Winextra” Hodson launched into one of his trademark rants about how comments are not content.

I’m going to have to disagree with Steven on this one, however, at least from a legal standpoint (although I am not a lawyer, and don’t even play one on TV). As some of the commenters on his post at FriendFeed note, comments on blogs meet many of the tests that would likely be required to qualify as copyrighted content. Whether anyone would be dumb enough — or stubborn enough — to actually pursue such a claim is a separate question, of course. Still, as Mark Trapp points out, most mainstream media sites have a “terms of use” policy that says you effectively allow the site to use your comments, which they wouldn’t have to do if they weren’t legally required to.

I think Steven’s point was more that comments shouldn’t be thought of as copyrighted content, and that they should function more like a conversation in a bar or on a street corner — and I would agree. Legally though, I’m pretty sure they would be considered published content, and are therefore “owned” by their creator, unless he or she gives up that right to the blog or service that hosts them. So could Robert Scoble sue Rob La Gesse for deleting his from FriendFeed?

Update:

Michael Beck points out (on FriendFeed) that these questions have come up before, and points to a discussion here, and also here and here. Meanwhile, Daniel Ha of Disqus — the comment aggregation system I use here — has drawn up a prototype for a “commenters’ bill of rights.”

MediaDefender becomes MediaAttacker

We’ve all heard of some boneheaded moves on the part of the record industry when it comes to dealing with the rampant downloading of music. Take the Sony rootkit, for example, not to mention suing 12-year-olds and then wondering why the PR outcome is less than desirable. But I have to say that this incident really takes the cake. According to Jim Louderback of Revision3, the TV arm of the Digg empire, the company’s BitTorrent server was taken down by what amounts to a denial-of-service attack — an attack that appears to have come from MediaDefender, an “anti-piracy” company whose major clients are the global record companies, TV networks and Hollywood movie studios.

It’s actually even more devious than just that, however. According to a couple of execs at MediaDefender, the flood of SYN requests that overloaded the server came about because the anti-piracy group’s network was actually trying to reconnect to Torrent files that it had stored on the Revision3 server — without the company’s permission or knowledge. According to MediaDefender, the company was only trying to re-establish contact with its own files, which Revision3 had shut off access to. As Louderback describes it:

It’s as if McGruff the Crime Dog snuck into our basement, enlisted an army of cellar rats to eat up all of our cheese, and then burned the house down when we finally locked him out – instead of just knocking on the front door to tell us the window was open.

I know I said that this particular idiotic move takes the cake, but there’s plenty of cake to go around where MediaDefender is concerned. There’s the whole debacle involving Miivi, for example — a file-sharing network that was set up by MediaDefender as a kind of honey trap for P2P users, whose user info was then turned over to the RIAA and others. And speaking of turning data over to the authorities, Louderback says that the FBI is looking into MediaDefender’s use of what amounts to a DOS attack, something that is illegal in most states.

Help a Little Geek get a PC

Nicholas Negroponte has the One Laptop Per Child effort, which is trying to give children in developing countries a stripped-down laptop to help improve literacy and access to technology (and according to some isn’t doing all that well). Toronto has its own version: a non-profit effort called Little Geeks. It is a charitable foundation aimed at getting refurbished computers (and in some cases donated Internet access) into the hands of kids in Toronto. According to Ben Lucier, who has been spearheading the campaign, on June 12th Little Geeks will be delivering 100 computers — loaded with Windows 2000 and Microsoft Office — to families with underprivileged children, and hopes to expand the program throughout Canada and even into other countries in the future. Props to Ben and the Little Geeks Foundation.