Name a golf course

Even the world’s oldest golf course is getting in on the fan-creativity action:

Golf fans around the world will have a chance to carve their name in history next month when St Andrews Links Trust runs a competition through its website to find a name for its seventh course which is under construction. (from St Andrews News)

Again, it’d be cooler if golf fans got to vote instead of its going to committee, but you can’t ask for everything at once now can you? After all, this is the sport that still thinks its cool to ban women from their clubs.
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Universal drops suit against ABBAMAIL

Some of you may recall that the ABBA fan site ABBAMAIL was being sued by Universal Music for selling unauthorized boots through their site. After much rallying from ABBA fans, Universal has decided merely to keep a close eye on their activities rather than going through with a law suit. Read all about it here:

We have received written advice from MIPI that Universal Music do not plan any further action against ABBAMAIL.

Our lawyers rang to advise us that the matter is now closed. Universal Music & MIPI have backed down on their original demands including wanting names, addresses etc. of fans who have purchased goods from ABBAMAIL’s webshop. They have also backed down from their demand to be given 20-30 year old audio and video cassettes from Graeme Read’s personal ABBA collection.

Above is a portion of the letter containing the relevant advice that Universal Music are not taking any further action. Now that we have this in writing and have published it on our website, we can begin to move on from this horrible and unnecessary situation and look towards the future for ABBAMAIL.

Like all letters received from MIPI, the language is tough but this is, in fact, a significant backdown from both Universal Music and MIPI. It only seems to have come about since the protest campaign that flooded Universal & Mono Music with emails from fans around the world angry about the situation. The feature article on the Sydney Morning Herald website, Australia’s most reputable newspaper, also seems to have had an impact.

ABBAMAIL did supply MIPI with raw sales numbers over the last few years and no doubt despite the aggressive wording of their letter, both Universal Music and MIPI realised that they were – after all – dealing with a fan organisation selling to hard core fans – not a major international piracy ring.

As the sitemasters note, however, the threat of suit was not without personal and financial cost to those involved.

I’m glad to see this, but stand by my position that it’s one thing for fans to distribute unreleased stuff amongst themselves for free and quite another to sell it (they have now pulled almost all of the boots they were selling). If you need money to fund your site, ask for donations like Murmurs.com does.

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Two Gallants and fan journalism

By now everyone who pays attention has heard about Saddle Creek band Two Gallants‘ violent and disturbing run-in with Houston police at their show there the other week (if you haven’t, google this for summaries). Aside from issues about the enthusiasm with which some law officers whip out their tasers, it’s interesting because of the role of fan communication in its aftermath, as addressed in this Minnesota Daily editorial:

News coverage of the event has been scattered and varied from sources ranging from the Houston Chronicle and Rolling Stone to MySpace and community journalism efforts, such as first person accounts and digital videos posted online. These efforts had a huge impact on spreading news of the incident and gaining more media attention.

Some MySpace pages about the incident seem to have mysteriously disappeared, though the Two Gallants page seems to be working just fine.

I follow political blogs pretty closely (well, some of them anyway) and one thing that has become a recurring motif is the fear that strikes the hearts of politicians when they realize that YouTube can be used to put up videos of all the stupid things they say and do off the record that are captured by anyone who happens to catch it with their camcorder. The moments they turn their back on the mothers of soldiers, cuss people out, and otherwise act very unpolitic get posted and the blog networks make it viral, ensuring that anyone paying close attention gets to see it. It’s an amazing transformation in control, because reports from those present are one thing, but videos have an impact that’s hard to beat, and now that every digital camera (and many mobile phones) record video and YouTube makes their mass distribution easy, every moment that isn’t poised is fair fodder for your destruction.

What we see in the Two Gallants incident is the same thing, only this time it’s the police (or the band, depending on where you stand) instead of politicians, and it’s music fans instead of political junkies. Nearly 500,000 people have watched this video of the incident. It’s given rise to a lot of discussion about the limits of police power, what to do in incidents like this, and, of course, lots and lots of flame wars. Not the highest level of civic discourse, but still a lot more than there would have been had there been no cameras or YouTube.

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Scott Adams’ excellent blog

The blogosphere is abuzz with Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adam’s truly amazing and inspiring blog post about how he was able to regain his ability to speak despite a condition that has apparently never been recovered from before. It’s well worth reading just because it’s such a powerful story and post. But it’s also worth reading because it’s a great example of how an artist uses a blog to build meaningful personal relationships with fans. Look through his earlier posts, he’s got hundreds of responses to every entry. He’s doing it right.

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Last.fm’s next incarnation

Having railed against last.fm’s communication screw up on their last beta where there were a gazillion excellent design comments met with “we don’t want design comments,” I’ll give them credit for making the point explicit up front this round. Plus it looks like there are some nice changes afoot, including some design ones.

They have developed an algorithmic “taste-o-meter” so that when you check out someone else’s profile, you see a low-medium-high-super ranking of how many artists you share in common (weighted somewhat depending on how much you listen). I got a shout from a user there wondering whether I thought this would change who friended whom — would people use the ranking instead of their own perceptions and with what consequences? Another ‘friend’ on there commented he finds it offensive “as though last.fm is telling us who we can associate with.” There is already grumbling about the algorithm (aren’t there always in each and every service on the net that uses algorithms?), and the staff agree it needs tweaking. Given that some of my self-chosen friends are “super” matches, while my closest “neighbors” (those who the system thinks have taste closest to my own) are only “medium” matches, I’d say it might be the neighbor algorithm that needs tweaking. My own feeling on it: when I look at user pages, it’s the first thing I look at. If I’m a sample of one, my guess is that it will have an impact on how people perceive one anothers’ profiles. How it will affect friending is an open question. I have always had the sense that people ‘friend’ one another on there for many reasons other than shared musical taste. Very few of my ‘friends’ on there are those I think share my taste, they’re much more likely to be people with whom I’ve had an interesting interchange or two or who I already knew offline or elsewhere on the net. (Besides, no one on last.fm seems to have that good a match to my listening anyway, which is not surprising given how long it’s taken to build my narrow music collection and said collection’s strange mix of 80s alt american stuff and 00s swedish pop). Effect of the taste-o-meter is certainly a study waiting to be done.

They are also making the artist pages quite different so that all last.fm generated information appears on the left and user-generated input is made much bigger and appears on the right. I like this too because it makes more of user input, although some artist shoutboxes are full of either “they suck” or “she’s hot,” neither of which are the developers’ fault.

It looks like they are fixing the issues with their player taking iPod listens into account, another constant complaint of many.

They’ve built in a nifty flash player you can use to listen in-page and they’ve restored the ability to download (some) songs. When I look at my dashboard, the list of recommended songs I can hear all of now includes 3 I can download free. That is awesome.

And perhaps best of all, they have integrated something users have been asking for forever — events listings. It looks like there are a few glitches to work out there, but the basic idea is that artist pages will include tour dates and other important info and user profiles will have links to events for artists they listen to. You can mark which events you plan to attend and see what events your friends are going to, so it ought to help with body-to-body meet ups as well. Cool!

I still wish that they would focus on improving its basic functionality first and foremost instead of playing with its look and very small things, although some of these are important big things (especially the events). Would people rather have the taste-o-meter or the ability to capture more streaming listening? I am sure there is lots of backstage improvement going on that users don’t see, but the constant changing of this and that while leaving the basic ways we are supposed to input music, navigate the site, and the search functions woefully confusing and/or inadequate really works against them.

However, the staff communication is much better in this beta round (probably helps that the feedback is so much better too) and I give them kudos for that.

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