The Value of Competition

April 28, 2009

As I’ve talked about previously here, I’ve had some trouble with my cable company. One of the reasons I think that Cablevision is able to treat its customers in the way that it does is that it has a monopoly in cable service.

While you might argue that satellite TV and DSL are viable alternative, the most important service that the cable company provides to me is fast Internet service and on those terms there is no real competition. Today even more evidence of the problem with this situation presents itself.

Cablevision is offering Docsis 3, a new system using existing cable lines to put move data more quickly up and down the system, to its customers. The interesting thing about this change over is that they are planning to put this offering on a more expensive tier of service. The New York Times puts the cost of implementing this plan at $97 a customer, less than the cost of one month of the actual service, which is $99.

The United States is behind many countries in the world in terms of broadband integration, and I would argue that the cable monopolies are a major factor behind this. Since there aren’t readily available and affordable broadband plans, people simply go without and miss out on how technology at the highest speeds can improve their life and their ability to produce and communicate their ideas.

In a previous Times article, the paper breaks down this idea of competition further with a comparison to the Japanese broadband marketplace. It is quite surprising to see how much lower costs could be in an environment where competition is allowed to flourish.

The one beacon of hope in favor of competition is the fact that Verizon’s FIOS service is starting to enter sections of New York, which may bring competition to the broadband landscape. Until this happens though, we may continue to live in a relative wasteland of broadband usage.


The Susan Boyle Phenomenon

April 19, 2009

On the off chance you’ve gotten to this website (which means you must be on the Internet) and you haven’t heard of Susan Boyle, here’s the synopsis.

47-year-old Susan Boyle of Blackburn, West Lothlian, Scotland came to a reality show called Britain’s Got Talent, a program not unlike NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Before performing she has a somewhat awkward exchange with the judges and the audience seems ready to start heckling her. Then, she begins her performance and the audience and judges are stunned by its quality.

You can watch it yourself here, as has been done over 30 million times already.

There are a couple of interesting things at work here, but I’m mainly going to focus on the viral nature of this video. I originally found out about it myself using an interesting function on Twitter’s search website. One of the elements here is trending topics. This is a list of items that have been tweeted about most. Oftentimes, the items here are not very interesting or useful, but sometimes developing news stories will become trends, and these are sometimes worth checking out.

Anyway, one of the trends was Susan Boyle, not knowing who she was I clicked on it and saw many people tweeting on the merits of her performance on Britain’s Got Talent. Incorrectly in retrospect, I had assumed she was some new starlet that I didn’t particularly care about. Since I’m not a fan of reality TV performance competitions, I dismissed the whole thing and went on my way. Later, however, I saw a bit of her performance on the CBS Early Show, which led to significant discussion at my workplace, not the least of which was her considerably-not-starlet-like appearance.

At this point, I actually watched the video myself and saw what my colleagues were all talking about. It is a masterful production from a technical standpoint. The viewer is really set-up to believe that this will be a William Hung type moment, but it turns out to be something completly different. Her story has really resonated, though, as she has appeared on all of the major network morning shows and there seems to be a lot of momentum for following the rest of her competition on the program.

The interesting part of the viral nature of this video is that the inevitable result of news reports on Susan Boyle is that people who search on the Internet to see the entire video. This causes folks to end up on the Youtube version of the performance, as opposed to the inferior version on the Britain’s Got Talent website. The video has been uploaded by a user called BritainsSoTalented, so it’s hard to tell conclusively if this is an official release or an unauthorized upload. In any case, it goes to show how difficult it is to now control where content is going to go after it has been created.

So when you go to watch this video, think back to how you originally found out about, and how different that process is then even a few years ago.


A Bald Woman Yells at a Broken Flute!?

April 11, 2009

My entries have been a little serious lately, so I wanted to let you know about a neat little game site that I’ve recently been having a blast using.

It’s BrokenPictureTelephone.com. The basic idea is so simple that it is completely brilliant. You may remember the party game telephone where someone starts with a sentence and whispers¬† it to the person next to them. The person that heard it whispers it to the next person and so on around the room. The last person says what was told to him and then it is compared with the original sentence and much hilarity ensues.

Well, that game has now been taken on to the internet in picture form. This works by having someone start with a sentence or phrase of words. The next person then draws a picture using some basic drawing tools on their screen. The next person than has to describe in words what they see. This pattern repeats and hilarity ensues.

In one of my recent games, I had to draw the title of this post and given my lack of artistic skill I think I did a pretty nice job. The person after me wrote “Girl in brown dress shouting at flying pickles.” That’s not bad given the absurdity of what I was asked to draw.

As of yet though, I haven’t received much credit for my drawing. The scoring system is a little obtuse, and I suspect that it is still in development, but users can award points to other drawers based on a¬† variety of categories based on famous artists. For example, there is a Picasso rating for abstract drawings and a DaVinci rating for extreme exactness. It’s all in fun, but my one criticism of the site is this scoring system.

However, the real point in the site is to have fun laughing at other people’s drawings and wild interpretations of them, and for that it is really top notch. I recommend you check them out and draw a couple of things yourself.


Twitter Can’t Contain Us

April 5, 2009

As I’ve discussed before, (here and here in an exciting two-part series) I’m a bit conflicted about the microblogging service Twitter. On the one hand, such a small amount of content is allowed, that it is hard to make any coherent point. Yet, on the other hand the constant dripping of information as a whole does seem to have some sort of value. What the value is, however, is harder to quantify. As I start to consider this more, I hope to be able to offer better answers to this issue.

With this post, I want to let you know about an interesting Twitter tool that will help you get a little more content into your Tweets.

(By the way, I’ve created a Get Satisfaction post about the grammar of Twitter, which I would encourage you to get involved in, if such things interest you. Get Satisfaction is a new forum/customer service tool that many websites are starting to use, and may justify a later post on its own.)

This tool is called 140it at 140it.com. (It’s too bad they weren’t able to get the Italian domain 140.it.) It is actually pretty simple. You input the text you wish to shorten to 140 characters. It churns through it taking out vowels and using numbers for particular sounds until you get something that is 140 characters.

This is a test to see how much I can get into this silly thing before my tweet becomes to long. Then it will really be ridiculous because it will be represented a lot more characters.

Becomes

This is a tst 2 see how mch I can get in2 ths slly thng b4 my twt bcms 2 lng. Then it’ll rly be rdcls bc it’ll be rprsntd a lot mr chrctrs.

And

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Becomes

4 scr & 7 yrs ago our fthrs brght frth on ths cntnnt, a new ntn, cncvd in Liberty, & ddctd 2 the proposition that all men are created equal.

It is actually very impressive to see how relatively readable these statements are with out vowels. Continent, conceived and more do get the short shrift on this kind of shortening. Of course, you are only going to save about 40-50 characters at the most by using this, so you can’t put the whole Gettysburg Address in there as I tried to do the first time. The amount of additional content that 40-50 characters can give you is not insignificant, if you know your readers will puzzle it out.

There is something to be said for correct spelling, so multiple tweets may be best. Or you could do what I did…start your own blog.