Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Is the death of DRM the indicator of real change in the publishing business?

I have been thinking about the future of publishing. It seems to me that above all else DRM represents the old, traditional mindset of publishing. In this mindset it is all about the content. And if content is the asset, it makes perfect sense to protect it with DRM. Let's turn this around, if content is not the asset but something else is instead, then it makes no sense to protect the content with DRM right? By DRM here I mean everything from a simple license enforcing copyright to multi-layered encryption. Rights protection in its broadest sense.

The new mindset is that it is all about what the content does or what it allows you to do. It is about delivering the content in multiple ways, at different times to all sorts of people. It is about embedding content in devices that do something. In other words, the asset is in the use of the content. No DRM needed here.

My theory would indicate that as publishers move from the old to the new mindset, DRM should disappear. At the very least we should see a struggle around DRM as the old guard and the new wave fight it out.

There is perhaps some evidence for this theory. Apple will remove DRM on iTunes on April 7th. There was a huge row recently over the Kindle text-to-voice capability .

Does anyone have more evidence? Examples of publishers moving away from DRM, easing the rights protection, choosing creative commons over copyright? Please let me know.

So what is holding back publishers you might ask? Well I suspect most of them have simply been unable to build products that would allow them to release control over their content. Workflow solutions is the buzzword I hear most often and everyone claims to be doing it. I have seen very few examples from any publisher though.

My gut feeling is that Apple are showing us the way. They have shown us how important the device is. As Chris Arkenberg noted today: "Apple has fundamentally rewritten this paradigm by dematerializing the content - music & movies - and connected it directly with the player".

My top tip for today is to watch any publisher that is partnering with device providers or any publisher that is experimenting with i-apps. I think this is the future.

Good design makes you happy

I love the TED talks. This video of Don Norman's talk is fantastic. He is entertaining and insightful on the subject of design. Design that makes people happy. Design that engages the user in different ways. I recommend it highly. If you do watch it then please let me know what you think of it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Does my bum look big in this?

I love the Wii Fit. I smile every time I power it up. I get up extra early every morning to use it. In just a few weeks it has become an unmissable part of my life. And here's the weird thing: I am beginning to treat it like a real person! How can this be?

The Wii Fit has a Body Test function that measures your body's performance including your weight. If (perish the thought!) your weight has increased since your last Test, the Wii asks you to give a reason for the gain. It then gives some helpful advice on how to keep your weight under control.

So the other day I was in a great restaurant having a wonderful meal and drinking some lovely wine (and not in moderation) when....

....I caught myself thinking "what am I going to tell the Wii?" How was I going to explain my inevitable weight gain?

So what on earth is going on here? Why do I care what a piece software thinks of me? Can a Wii have a personality?

I think there is something very, very special about the user interface of the Wii. It is not simply the accelerometer-based Wii remote that you use to interact with the games. That's pretty cool and revolutionary I agree. It's the personality that really intrigues me. Let's investigate why.

My first clue is the way that the Wii Balance Board and the Wii Remote sense and respond to my body movements. If I start to wobble during yoga or let my arm drop during a fitness exercise, the Wii lets me know and gives me encouragement: "don't give up", or "your leg is unsteady". If I am doing well it praises me: "your balance is terrific". Of course the voice is pre-recorded but it is the timing that is so perfect and makes it so effective. Even though I know this is a machine, I feel good when am praised and I try harder when I am encouraged. It is AS IF the machine can see me.

When you first set up the Wii Fit, you choose a personal trainer, either an athletic woman or a muscular man. The trainers are reasonably lifelike, unlike the bobblehead-like Mii characters that are used in the other Nintendo games. When they speak they use arm gestures. They address you directly. They talk you through the exercises and it is their voice that praises or encourages you. The combination of the sensors and the avatars makes the interaction even more PERSONAL.

The Wii is UNPREDICTABLE. Every so often, the trainer changes. "Sorry", they say, "your usual trainer isn't available so I'll be doing your training today. Hope you don't mind". Occasionally the trainer yawns and admits they had a late night last night. I have tried to detect a pattern but I cannot. Either these actions are truly random or the algorithm is based on some non-obvious variables.

And then there's the FUN details. When you power up and stand on the Balance Board, it gives a sort of surprised squeal. It's an unnecessary feature but it never fails to make me smile. Your Mii character on the start-up screens matches your Body Mass Index; being (a little!) overweight, my Mii is decidedly podgy which makes my kids laugh every time they see it.There are all the usual PERSONALIZATION features you would expect too. It also has a many-layered reward structure that unlocks new exercises and levels. Body Performance is measured by your Wii Fit Age, much like Brain Age.

A dictionary definition of personality reads: "the complex of all the attributes--behavioral, temperamental, emotional and mental--that characterize a unique individual".

I think the personality of the Wii Fit comes from the complex of interactions with me the user. There is a physical interaction as it responds to my movements. There is an emotional interaction as it praises or encourages me at exactly the moment I need it. There is a mental interaction as you try to improve your scores in the exercises. The unpredictable and fun elements make it seem almost temperamental.

In short, the combination of hardware and software engages me in a complex way using multiple senses. It responds to me.

I think the Wii and the Wii Fit can teach us a lot about how to engage the user, in particular the way that the hardware and software both contribute to the user experience. I suspect that in a few years time we will look back and see the Wii and the accelerometer that makes it possible as a huge milestone in human-computer interaction.

And finally I hear that the new version of the Wii Fit will give you fashion advice based on your body shape...does my bum look big in this?

Sleeping Ugly

The Sleeping Beauty was awoken with a kiss after a 100 year nap. This blog has been awoken after just a year of sleep (!) by multiple kicks to my ego. So with renewed energy I embark on Jonathan's Wheelbarrow Full of Surprises V2