Yesterday I was perusing my Amazon wishlist, looking up the books I have bookmarked there on Melvyl, the combined UC Libraries catalog. The cutting and pasting was getting a little tedious, until I realized that Greasemonkey could come to my rescue. So I whipped up a little user script that looks for links to books at Amazon, and adds links to look up those books on Melvyl. You can get it here.
Vh1 is compulsively watchable these days. Usually in a “car accident” sort of way (Daniel Baldwin and Biz Markie on Celebrity Fit Club) or a “watch Rome burn” sort of way (money porn like The Fabulous Life). But tonight it was in a “whoa, they’re marketing to my demographic” sort of way: ego trip’s Race-O-Rama.
Edgy stuff, for Vh1. Trash Viacom-owned “mass media” all you want, but their model of creating dozens and dozens of sometimes one-off shows, in a constantly mutating and recombining schedule, seems sort of well-suited for a converged media future–I can imagine it being delivered in a feed, easily consumed in bite-size chunks, with no narrative thread to worry about picking up, and an ironic hipster narrator, like Boing Boing or Fleshbot. I think this is a pretty good thing, especially if folks like Jon Stewart or ego trip can slip in some more subversive material on the way.
(And is that really Brother J doing voiceovers?)
I spent some time tonight playing around with Greasemonkey, and it pretty much blew my mind. What is it? Well, basically it is a platform for running scripts that inject new functionality into web interfaces. If you’re a UI designer, this might frighten you. What it means is that any kid with a bright idea and a knack for DHTML can create a new interface for your site, and it will probably be better than yours. (There’s a lot of bright kids out there in the world.) Why should you get paid when the bright kids will do your job better for free?
The key to survival will be going meta: design for the bright kids. Create a flexible, modular set of APIs and a well-documented example UI or two that shows how they are used. Learn from Amazon and release your grip on the end-user experience.
But developments like Greasemonkey disrupt more than just job descriptions: they disrupt business models too. For example, I will never see a Google AdSense ad again, thanks to a handy Greasemonkey script.
Will browser customizations like this play TiVo to to Google and Yahoo’s advertiser-supported businesses? Will Google and Yahoo respond like the entertainment industry did? Or will they beat the bright kids at their own game? Some predictions: some future version of a Google or Yahoo toolbar will re-inject any of their advertising that has been removed; uninstalling the toolbar will result in the loss of valuable functionality without which users of their services will be considerably impoverished; meanwhile the APIs for these services will grow ever more closely guarded.
I finally saw Uzumaki last night. Really great, better than I had expected. The plot concerns a small town where the idea of the spiral has infected the minds of its inhabitants. I love plots that involve mind viruses. Christopher Cherniak’s “The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution” has a particularly good one: students and researchers studying the brain and consciousness begin falling into comas when they encounter the equivalent of Godel’s incompleteness theorem for the human mind.
Closely related are plots involving ideas so sublime they destroy their receivers, or videos so pleasurable/horrible to watch they destroy their viewers. Both Infinite Jest and Ringu made use of the latter.
As a plot device, a thing which will spread inexorably by virtue of its intrinsic structural properties makes for a compelling story. I was always fascinated by the idea of ice-nine for that reason. Prions, too.
Joe Hall comments on the battle to manage perceptions in the MGM v. Grokster case. This is a worry I’ve had for a while about the pro-P2P forces. On the one hand you have P2P vendors in a race to the bottom for the slimiest advertising, which as David Post points out will likely come back to haunt them, while on the other you have crusaders like Downhill Battle pitching P2P as a weapon in the fight against the corruption of a “pure” creative economy by money (for example the T-shirt slogan “Peer to Peer Kills Pay-For-Play”).
This latter strategy perpetuates the fantasy that creative production is at its best when unsullied by capitalist concerns. See Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture for a nice evisceration of that notion. In fact, “payola” (pay-to-play) can be a powerful force for driving the development of new creative forms–see Cowen’s discussion of rock and roll and the payola scandals of the 1950s, engineered by record companies who feared the market power of the new music.
I suspect that successful P2P business models will rely heavily on various forms of “pay to play.” P2P advocates ought to be pushing the idea that the potential financial gains through new P2P-enabled business models are greater than the current ones, even without state-enforced IP monopolies, and thus provide better incentives for creative production, rather than suggesting creators don’t need incentives like icky money to create.