Spotify & the Coming Cloud Culture

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Damn it.  I like it.  But I’m still beholden to CDs!

Spotify is a service that allows full access to songs, if not albums, to a listener.  On your home computer, you can listen to almost anything for free, as they have legal access to most of what is out there.  Sure, there are some annoying ads, but not nearly as annoying or as lengthy as what you would hear on the radio.  You can make your own playlist, sample new releases, or just explore the depth of its catalog. 

Okay, you don’t want to listen to songs while seated at your computer?  Pay for the subscription, and all the content is accessible on whatever portable player you might have.  This suits the needs of a great majority of the today’s population, whose understanding of music is that its intended to fill your head and mash out external sounds.  There are only a few relics like me who still enjoy high quality sound reproduction on honest-to-gosh speakers.  Still… nifty.

Spotify may or may not be the best service for this – we’ll see as time moves on – but the trend is clear.  Whether it’s Netflix for movies, Kindle or Nook for ebooks, or music from a subscription (not iTunes… do you really need to purchase a digital song if you can play any song with a subscription?), the concept of “ownership” is being challenged.  Do I need to physically have a book to enjoy it?  No.  Must I have a CD to enjoy music?  No.  A Bluray for a movie?  No!  It all takes up space and, giving consideration towards the shelf space and the dust accumulation after the initial purchase, it’s clear that there are not a whole lot of “touches” afterwards.  The enjoyment from owning these products is from the experience of the interaction, not the physical possession.  So why not an on-demand source?  Convert everything to bytes, and stream it from the Cloud when I want it, where I want it. 

It’s hard to argue against, and, as a single consumer, I can’t anyway.  If viewing the chronology of the 78 > LP > 8 Track > Cassette > CD > mp3 (flac or whatever other formats take over, as this evolution marches forward), it’s important to recognize that while the format of music has changed, it’s the benefits of the changes that are more important.  At each stage, quality has improved, in part due to the product on which music is recorded and in part to the equipment on which it is heard.  What can’t be denied is that it’s more consumer friendly at each step of development… and obsolete almost as fast.

I remain very interested in technology, but I’m also well rooted in the obsolete.  I like that I can loan a CD to a friend.  I like that I can borrow a DVD from someone.  And I like sharing books. 

I bought a Kindle.  Considering the absence of printing, transportation, storage, and retail markups associated with selling a book, I’m fairly vexed at a digital format being sold almost at the full retail price for “the real thing.”  It certainly doesn’t encourage a move to eAnything.   Less production costs should result in lower sales prices, while respecting the revenues that go elsewhere. 

That said, I found the experience enjoyable enough, despite a clear indication of how much further I had to read before I would get to the end of a Chapter.  Bigger font for easier reading, slim case, good legibility, ability to note or highlight passages…  heck, immediate access to a dictionary as I read the book.  Pretty cool.

One such experience was “The Mistborn Trilogy,” by Brandon Sanderson, who is becoming a favorite fantasy author.  After this speedy read, I say to myself, “Self,  you know what?  The wife would like to read this!”  …IMG_2237[1] but not on Kindle.  She likes real books.  And, hey! My daughter would like to read this, but she doesn’t have a Kindle.  Or an iPad… To loan a book, do I have to loan my Kindle?  So…

… right. I bought the books.  And they enjoyed them.  Mr. Sanderson is doubly blessed financially.

Sharing is an issue.  Kindle allows a 14 day limited “sharing” of a book to another Kindle.  Thanks, but I paid  retail, remember?  And, say, what happens if Amazon becomes a dry gulch?  Or Apple decides to spin it’s new Cloud storage service to another party that reinterprets its obligations and fees?  We’ve all seen the comings and goings of everything Tech. The weather changes; clouds, too, will come and go...  

A few years ago, Amazon realized that they had sold George Orwell’s 1984 as an ebook without the proper licensing.   What did they do?  They immediately deleted it from every Kindle.  But wait, hadn’t consumers already paid?  Sorry, Amazon.  You pay fines and let the consumer should keep what they purchased.

And that ultimately is my remaining doubt about the Cloud.  I know it’s coming. It’s inevitable, and it’s beneficial.  It’s perfect for backing up everything that I have that would benefit from off-site storage.  But, there are hackers who seek to steal or destroy everything deemed worthy of hiding behind a firewall.  Or even without. 

There are more legitimate companies who pay dearly (but not to me) for the rights, if not just the ability, to data-mine my virtual stuff and to directly market to me for related products.  And, of course, the eProviders can simply turn off the power without as much as a “Thanks for the memories and especially the cash.”  After which, I am promised and have access to abundant helpings of eNothing.

At work, I frequently click a button that says “OK.”  “OK” is my electronic signature saying I approve of whatever I have just input.  For iTunes or other services, you have a choice of accepting their terms and conditions by clicking the featured “I Accept” box, or… well, you do want their service right?

For the Cloud to succeed, it has to meet not just providers’ interests, but consumers’ as well.   eContent on so many things is subject to immediate erasure – sites that host submitted poems, discussion forum hosts, etc.  Here today and gone tomorrow. 

Sorry, but as more meaningful content, whether purchased on sourced from a user, is placed out there, the public should be provided basic access rights – a due process through which I have the opportunity to take my content and move it to another place, like my computer, if notified that a host Cloud is selling out, shutting down, being acquired… whatever.   And if the marketers want my data, I want to be directly rewarded from allowing them access to my data.  Otherwise, as the Rolling Stones might put it, “Hey, you, get off of my (backup redundant and eThreat secure) cloud!” 

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