Monday, September 27, 2004

BEyONdTV - Why plug-in’s are important – the philosophy of technology

The idea of plug-ins is really important, as the idea is to mix “open source” and “closed source” applications in a single product. The copy-left nature of the core code means that we cannot sell/restrict/control the content that people consume. This is on the one hand a problem, and on the other a virtue – I think the problem comes first and the virtue only follows if we manage to overcome the problem. In this a little guile is needed to sidestep the problem and slide into the virtue.

The user/developer experiences will be one of “open development” and “open content” with the option of accepting restrictions if they want closed development/content. There then follows a market (and technological) battle to see which is the more attractive from a user/developer point of view. It is a “free market” of development/production/consumption in the sense of level to access/distribute rather than free as in free beer (money/resources).

If we are “pure” in our openness we face too major and connected problems, firstly the “tragedy of the commons” that is any space that is open will be trashed. An example of this is the current problem we are having with the ecological balances of our environment. Secondly, and connectedly, is the issue of quality; communication by audio/visual means is both a long tradition and a creative art in this sense, as there needs to be a basic level of training and skill used in the production of content that is both watchable and communicates. In alt-media the is a huge amount of content – but probably less that 5% will keep some ones attention and communicate what it sets out to in a meaningful and engaging way to an audience outside the people apearing on the screen. For a medium that sets out to start a dialog with the world, it is key to talk in a common language and in an engaging and attention keeping form.

This project attempts solutions to both of these problems by implementing “plug-ins” which both restrict and shape the media broadcast. This would in no way affect “free speech” - you can install a plugin that is “open publishing” with no quality control or direction if you wish, or you can install a plug-in that is Hollywood movies and Disney cartoons – if one is available - and you can pay for it. The revolution, and it is a subtle one, is that the Disney channel and the alt-media news will have equality of transmission, and thus it is up to the user to choose which one they want. This is a key and fundamental change from the current state of media transmission, which gives deafening voices to global corporations who have no responsibility to there audience but there submission to consuming meaning draining basest materialist and emotional messages, repeated and repeated and repeated till they become real enough to bind our disintegrating communities to keep consuming. In comparison the tiny voices of the ghetto transmissions of the alternative are unheard, and even if people could hear them, mostly incomprehensible.

This subtle process of levelling the hierarchy of transmission will challenge our world views, leaving some to take different paths than the current one. The media will become a “true” debating/agitating/questioning/joining force in our lives, rather than the banging of the background drum of advertising creating inadequacy that consumes us and our planet. We can hear “positive”, “creative”, real voices and negatively we can see and more importantly “feel” the social/environmental devastation surrounding us.

The plugins have a subtle but important role of allowing every side to have a say, especially theirs. It is then up to the producers/consumers to make their informed/inspired choices. Without the “closed” plugins this project cannot reach out to the mainstream in media/society; it will simply become another tool for the circling which is the progressive/revolutionary ghetto. As Russo said at the start of the mass media revolution “man is born free but everywhere he in chains”. Let us wake up the freedom by rattling the chains so that they are visible. It will take a bigger collective will, which is beyond the horizon of this project, to remove them.

Technology of plugins
Plugins from a technical point of view – the project is “stupidly simple” TM because it is made up of mature separate applications. In this it is key to development that each has many developing capabilities which can be imagined into future versions. In this each is already a plugin. The torrent backend could be replace by a different P2P application, the media player replaced to accommodate new codecs and subtitling technology, a streaming media plugin could be added to bring in real-time news segments. A radio metaphor is an obvious addition, combining P2P downloads and streaming segments. A online “newspaper” news aggregator is a less obvious but perhaps interesting addition; so you have 3 icons on your desktop – a TV, radio and a newspaper, all sharing a common “channel” metaphor and robust P2P delivery.

Medium metaphors are a key party of the project
Thus the user/producer can consume in the “old familiar way” a TV, a radio channel or a morning newspaper, or in new way: watch video on demand, mix and match radio, RSS news feeds etc. Both are built into the project, widening possibilities of production/consumption to “established habits” and the creation of new web ways of working/creating and most importantly interacting.

INTERACTING IS THE KEY - BEyONdTV – DIY media is part of the solution.

1 comment:

Mr. Demeanour said...

DRM and pluginsWhat exactly is a plugin?
It seems that the purpose of a plugin is to permit a publisher to distribute closed-format content via BeyondTV. That might mean content encoded using a codec for whose use a licence is required; or encrypted content, which cannot be reproduced without a key.

Well, codecs are one thing, and DRM clients are another. I'm not aware of any DRM scheme that is integrated with a special codec. So I'll ignore codecs for now, and concentrate on DRM.

The irony here is that the various companies that distribute digital media are all using different DRM schemes, that each requires some proprietary client-side component. And they are guarding their schemes jealously, with Apple suing Real using copyright legislation to actually prevent them becoming compatible with iPod. What that means for plugins isn't clear; but I can't see Apple or Real, for example, making available a BeyondTV plugin.

Of course, if you need a different proprietary player for each distributor's content, take-up is likely to be a bit restricted! There are dozens of schemes, each requiring a different player, and nobody is going to install all of them!

General problem with DRM integration: by definition, BeyondTV (as currently envisaged) distributes exactly the same material to all recipients. That is implicit in the use of a standard BitTorrent client to effect distribution. But as far as I'm aware, all DRM schemes involve encryption, combined with the provision of a key to the licensee. It may be that there are schemes that allow a single encrypted object to be decrypted using a multitude of keys; such a scheme could be conceivably be plugged-in to BeyondTV, but the keys would have to be delivered by some other mechanism.