Tuesday, March 29, 2005

More Ways to Share Files, Yet Shipments are Up

A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Group showed that about 18-20mm people are engaged in the sharing of digital music files via means other than P2P apps like Kazaa, Limewire, etc. Email, IM and "taking songs from someone else's iPod"(whatever that means) were quoted as the leading choices for folks who share outside of P2P apps.

All of these new capabilities combined with traditional P2P usage (which the study shows is flat in terms of % Internet users using P2P) should be enough to tank the music industry if they really were that damaging.

Strangely though, unit shipments in 2004 vs. 2003 were up slightly (2.7%) proving that there is still healthy consumer interest in a physical product / uncompressed files. Note: revenues were down during this period in part due to price reductions.

Given this data, some are crowing that P2P helps sales. And while that may ultimately be proven to be the case, the fact that year on year unit shipments were up for one year may not be sufficient evidence yet to that say that file sharing helps sales.

But it certainly casts some warm sunshine on the contention that file sharing can only do harm.

Clearly, at upto11.net, we see proof of the power of P2P to drive sales every day. Fans discover music by exploring P2P user's shared collections and then go on to buy music at Amazon, iTunes. Our sense is that most, if not all of these transactions are sales that might never have occurred had P2P-based recommendations not been available.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Wisdom of Crowds

Cory Doctorow posted his notes today at Boing Boing from a presentation given by James Surowiecki at ETECH. That post is here for reference.

In it he asserts
"HUMAN BEINGS ARE NOT ANTS. We do not have the biological programming or tools to allow this kind of interaction to produce intelligence."
In general I agree.

When it comes to music fans as a "crowd" I must disagree. They can in fact be harnessed to produce intelligence - namely relevant recommendations - upto11.net is a case in point.

Surowiecki's "recipe" for a wise crowd is that it meets 4 criteria, and I believe music fans meet all 4 of them. They are:
  1. Diversity of opinion - music fans, like the music they love, come from all ages, regions, professions etc - a truly diverse crowd
  2. Independence from one-another - most fans make up their own minds about what artists, albums and songs they like. True, there are plenty of influences that bear down on a fan (friends, radio, music TV, etc.) but no set of fans is swayed by a single opinion leader
  3. Decentralized - music fans live everywhere, and other than at concerts, rarely get together in one place
  4. Easily summarized - P2P software apps and the networks they run on provide a great tool for aggregating users and for the collection of data on how fans collect music.
The "wisdom" that can be produced from music fans, and their digital music collections, as a crowd, is pretty amazing.

For the music fan who is asking the question "what band should I listen to next?" the crowd can seem very wise indeed.

Who cares about "The Long Tail?"

Well, music fans for one.

What is the long tail? In music, its comprised of all those artists and albums that never got much radio airplay, and therefore had little sales. For more background on "The Long Tail" check out this article at the Wikipedia.

So why am I so sure about music fans and the long tail? A few reasons...

#1 Over the last few years iTunes, with their 1mm song catalog (think head, not tail) have sold 300mm songs. Over the same period, the P2P networks, which feature much greater selection (see #2 below), have seen 80 Billion downloads, or 250 times as many transactions.

#2 If you look at the digital music collections of P2P users in aggregate, there are close to 4mm different unique songs being shared. That's 4x the variety of iTunes and other on-line stores and services.

#3 If you look at the distribution of what people have searched for at upto11.net, you will find over 6,000 different songs, albums and artists - and that's just in 2 weeks - and, only 500 of them have been searched for more than 4 times. Truly a long tail.

Hardly a "torrent"

Been trying to download the 2.6gig SXSW mp3 song bundle via bittorrent off and on for two days. So far I'm finding it more than a little slow. Sort of illustrates the point that without peers, P2P is like one hand clapping.

Update - did a little router configuration and the flood gates opened!

Kudos for Jeff Buckley Documentary

Proud hubby Peter blogs about wife Nyla's (with Laurie Trombley of course) documentary getting some much deserved recognition.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

User profiles are interesting

Just spent a bit of time looking at "who" has signed up - and it's fascinating.

There's fairly straight forward folk like "drew.farris" from Olney, MD - who's a fan of electronica and "loveinhaight" from San Francisco who works in Land Conservation and has a taste for Indie bands.

There are folks who take time to put in a crazy photo and a bunch of info about themselves like "base2wave"

And, there are still others put in a photo, but leave us to fill in the blanks as they have just given us a hint of who they are like "masc19".

What's so fascinating about this?

I dunno, to me is just seems interesting that for the most part, people seem to be more comfortable filling in the "favorite bands" field than other fields like hometown, which perhaps seem too personal to them.

I say, "to know me, know my iPod."

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Quick update - 2 weeks out

Well, its been about 2 weeks since we launched. As of this AM we had our 10,000th session. Traffic continues at a steady rate each day due almost entirely to pass-along referrals and expanding blog coverage. Over the next few weeks we'll be rolling out some minor enhancements and testing out some on-line advertising. We'll see how that goes.

So far we're seeing a lot of usage of "the tour" and clicks on the latest file unders and latest artist bookmarks. And, we're also seeing quite broad usage of the search features with the variety of bands being searched for ranging pretty widely - from The Shins to Thelonius Monk to Pink Floyd to Josh Rouse. In total, there have been searches for around 2500 different artists thus far.

More later...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Some thoughts on the launch of UpTo11.net

We launched upto11.net about a week and a half ago and so far, so good.

We've gotten some good coverage from places as far away as Japan, Holland, the UK and Italy.

Some notable quotes include:
  • "Pretty decent, actually"
  • "the upto11 service could be one of the single most awesome music finding tools evar."
  • "simply the most amazing music recommendation engine"
We've enjoyed a day or so on the de.licio.us "most popular" bookmarks list, had a number of folks add us to their favorites over at Furl, and had enough mentions to fill up most of the first 4 pages of results at Google.

We've had visitors become members from all over the world...by last count I think we had a member from 15 countries and 18 of 50 states. Members are bookmarking artists, adding "file under" tags and creating playlists.

In general people are finding the site usable, the recommendations relevant and the popularity slider helpful at "chopping off the head" of the results.

That's not to say that everyone loves everything about it. We've had a few bugs reported, the look and feel is not working for some folks, and as always, people want more functionality like being able to upload your library, get longer previews and add /correct artist information.

I'd say, on balance, things are going about as we expected.

What's next?

Well we're on to the business of finishing up some features that didn't quite make it in time for launch, and working through prioritizing bug fixes and enhancements.

Stay tuned for future updates.