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Beyond Napster, a Free Culture 140

Top-down cool. A huge glob of capital hovers on the 43rd floor of a skyscraper somewhere in America, telling you and me what we should think is hip this week. Welcome to the whole damn world. Fortunately or otherwise, our cool-chasing is built into our genes, and it can exist with or without money driving it. Maybe the grassroots can't destroy our money-driven musical culture, but I bet there's a way a natural culture can thrive alongside the one we're force-fed. (This is the last of three features on pop music; you may want to read part one and part two for background.)

The capital doesn't have any opinions, of course. It just perpetuates itself. It's potential energy; when it's spent on the mass media, it drags youth culture in its wake, and through some miracle perpetual motion machine, that energy is recaptured in the sale of T-shirts, CDs, movie tickets, Gap vests, makeup, and shoes.

There's an indefinable quality about this kind of "cool" I'm talking about. I can't really put my finger on what I mean, but the closest I can get is: looking up to someone because you perceive their opinions regarding dynamic cultural subjects you care about to have value.

If your peer group looks anything like mine, recognizing the importance of, say, RSS a couple of years ago would have set you apart as someone whose vision could be trusted by your peers. And local peer group is all that matters for cool.

On the other hand, if your local environment buys into the top-down idea of what cool is, bands-and-brands, you're kind of screwed if you invest your mental effort in evaluating networking hardware. Ninety percent of high school is realizing that catching up with the global cool is something you don't have the resources for, and instead finding a local cool that works for you. You heard it here first.

So how does someone become, in this narrow definition, cool? The key is that it involves dynamic culture. Trends come and go, and come back again. Being with the trend, or (better) just slightly ahead of it, scores big. I'm guessing the cool people who first wore flared pants a few years ago, two weeks before we suddenly all decided it was mainstream, are now watched by their peers to see what other trends they're going to predict.

On the other hand, in 1992, wearing bell bottoms (I'm sorry, it's the same damn thing) would have had the opposite effect on your social status. Fads rise and fall, and we need to buy low and sell high. I plead guilty to still liking Fatboy Slim, which I'm sure would have been very chic three years ago -- now it means I have no taste, apparently.

Corporations spend millions on getting in and out at the right times. They speculate on the meme market, buying a trend small and selling it back to us for real dollars when it's big. MTV is day-trading our culture.

Did you think you were the one who discovered (fill in the name of something you thought was cool)? Chances are, some executive paid for research three months prior, and upped the hip of some TV show or commercial by letting you see it. Sorry, but your discoveries have all filtered through money.

I'd really like to denigrate the cool-chasing impulse, and that's easy to do when it's a driving force in someone else's peer group or the characters on Daria (episode 505, "The Story of D"). But it's part of being human. We all like to play this game a little, some of us a little too much maybe.

It does affect us all our lives, starting when we're little kids "acting out" to draw focus and attention (few things are less cool than being ignored). It ends shortly after we arrange to have our ashes shot onto Mars, thereby becoming more cool after we're dead.

And it runs parallel to economic considerations. Money is a good way to motivate someone, and it has the advantage of working on complete strangers. But the peer-group drive was motivating human beings to spot trends tens of thousands of years before money was invented.

("People are saying the tribe over the hill is doing throwing spears this year. We should make some throwing spears too." Our vacuous impulse toward fashion and fitting-in is probably a spinoff from a survival instinct. I want to align with the one who can find roots and berries; that's pretty damn cool if my tribe is on the brink of starvation, and we'll all trust the root-finder a lot more when we're eating better. Berries, Spice Girls, same thing.)

The trust system works for music. I don't browse record stores anymore; they're 99% junk (to my ear) and I don't have time or energy to sift through it all. Instead I ask friends what they're into. Which friends? Cool friends.

How do I know they're cool? My brain keeps a ledger. One of the interesting ideas that sociobiology brings us, as it struggles to shed its ugly reputation from the 1970s, is that human beings are hardwired with the capability to keep track of about 150 other human beings. Perhaps that's the size of a typical village on the African savannah, 50,000 years ago.

The evidence is pretty anecdotal, but each person's internal map of pecking orders and trust networks seems to grow not much beyond that size. You and I can track coolness factors for about 150 of our closest friends, no more.

But a computer can track more.

What we need is a system that can store musical (and other cultural) recommendations for 150 million of our closest friends.

Napster doesn't address this at all; though some have found new music through it, I sure haven't. The few times I've tried to chat with people sending me something from an artist I already know I like, nothing's come of it. It's been great at finding junk I already knew about from hearing on the radio, though.

But: recommendation systems. Basically the idea is to accumulate preference vectors from a large number of contributors, and then provide a way to ask, "if I like A and B, and dislike C, what else might I like?"

There have been a handful of master's theses and dissertations written on the subject. There are academic projects like GroupLens, but, like GroupLens, they're all 3-4 years old and there's no source.

The best-known recommendation system was Firefly, which actually worked pretty well. My initial experience was telling it a few musical artists I liked, and seeing it start spitting back to me other artists I already knew I liked. "You enjoy Peter Gabriel and Tori Amos? Have you heard Kate Bush?" Firefly was swallowed by Microsoft and is now apparently part of Passport (which I don't use, so I don't know what it looks like now).

But what's needed to leverage cool-tracking into a free (speech and beer) culture is an open system that will integrate with existing communities on the internet.

I've gotten to recognize a number of Slashdot users' nicknames on sight, and it might be interesting to see what you-all are listening to. My latest example is an Apocalyptica CD I bought last week based on a reader's recommendation in a comment (it hasn't arrived yet, so I can't say if Barnes & Noble's 24kbps preview did it justice). I'd click through to user pages a lot more often if I knew you-all were sharing musical preferences.

Note that none of this is necessarily tied to music trading. It might be nice if my user page listing the fact that I like Sarge had the music itself, or a preview, a click away. But the important thing is the recommendation, not the trading, and to build a network uninfluenced by money, the distribution system has to be separable. If Barnes & Noble is the only supplier, and has any control over what recommendations I get, I won't be able to trust them.

So the software really should have a distributed database of people's recommendations, one that's not ownable by any one entity. Ideally, the users of Slashdot, Kuro5hin, and Ain't It Cool News should all be able to drop their cultural likes and dislikes into the same database (hierarchical namespace based on domain name?). Queries drawing on users with taste like yours should be able to come just from one community, or from the entire database, your choice.

And -- the important point, the key to it all -- the database needs to recognize who was on top of which cool when. If I drop in Jonatha Brooke in February, and then 10,000 other people discover her in June, I need credit for being on the rising curve of the trend.

I don't know if I need a little star by my name or anything (I'm far too modest for that, oh stop, no really) but my positive rating of that artist or album should count for more if I got in early. Time is crucial in measuring trends.

And following the directed graph in the other direction, if I tell the database that I like these six CDs, it needs to be able to tell me the top ten users who plugged in their recommendations for those same CDs first -- on the theory that, if they led the curve last year, their opinions for this year will be of interest to me (and 10,000 other people).

Corporate cool-chasers pay good money on research, every day, to find this stuff out. In a voluntary contributory system, everyone could have access to the same information, for free. It would undercut corporate cool the same way GPL'd software undercuts Microsoft: when it's free, nobody will pay for it.

Writing code that can be integrated into existing internet communities is key as well. Firefly failed because nobody went there. Everything from the database to the web interface was proprietary, and its information was only on one website. But allow Slashdot to tie into your system, and you instantly add hundreds of thousands of potential users.

There's no money to be made in this, or not much compared to the $150 billion that the big six make every year by selling us trends.

But if you're a programmer looking for a way to influence musical genre for years to come -- or rather, to remove the influence of the glob of capital and allow a natural culture to flourish on its own -- this is a great way to start.

Music distribution and economics have historically been the two major influences on the evolution of its style. The internet has reached a point where that doesn't need to be true. Culture can be abstracted from economics, style from money. There are 10,000 singers and musicians working day jobs right now who don't care if they ever make a million dollars. They just want to be heard, and while the internet lets them reach a billion people, there's no way for word to spread. They might as well not exist. They might as well go back to selling 3 CDs at a time at gigs.

If that can't change, it's a damn shame. The alternative is another century of small-time musicians giving up in disgust while a wad of cash stuffs our ears with the Abercrombie and Fitch song.

The entrenched money is here for good. We'll have the RIAA and its prepackaged bands until copyright law changes drastically. We'll have (quasi-)payola in major radio markets until the radio itself goes away. We'll never get rid of the top-down cool because there's just too much money in it.

But we can have a market of our own, not based on money. We can leverage the best part of the internet, its communities, to produce a grassroots cool.

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Beyond Napster PLACEHOLDER

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  • Since WMBC is at a university, we feel it's part of our goal to "educate" people about _real_ alternative music. Since UMBC is a big geeky school, the radio station computers run on Linux, and WMBC has more computer functionality than your typical station. We keep track of our CDs using a database written in PHP and MySQL. Each CD has a review, which tracks are recommended and which are profane (and unsuitable for airplay), and frequently some "for fans of" text. This same database also keeps track of our spins, ie what each DJ plays. Listeners can check out the last 10 songs played on the radio, or search the database for all the songs played in the past year.

    Ultracool! I have a local college radio station as well, and I've been trying to improve their online presence for a long time.

    They have been online [vt.edu] for a long time, but I think they've only started streaming their broadcasts over the past few years (and I was advocating this a few years before they actually got it done). Still, I'm glad they are on the web, and when you have the time to release your software, be sure I'll start pestering them to use it, or something like it. I've heard so many good songs from WUVT's programming [vt.edu] that just don't get much mainstream play and it would behoove them if somehow, they could get those playlists out to both their local listeners, and their online ones as well!

  • Ahh. This is a terrific article by a true artist.

    Not _his_ fault if he doesn't understand that lots of people in his position, far from carefully planning every detail to appease the demands of some cool-obsessed small-town perfectionists, carefully plan every detail to appease the demands of some market-studied consensus approximation of an optimal consumer.

    Bravo for Dave Eggers. Three cheers for Dave Eggers. But I don't think it has _ever_ been him that people are concerned about, or ever will be.

    He should chill out, secure in the knowledge that it's not really his problem, and let other people try to determine things like whether movie studios are making up artifical fans for upcoming movies, whether music studios are designing upcoming artists to catch perceived 'cool' waves, whether it's all a shuck to suck money out of your pocket and really represents nobody's creative force.

    And the kicker (that Dave would _love_) is this: Frank Zappa, in the late Sixties, intentionally founded the Mothers Of Invention as a 'gap-filling product' to fill the niche between 'serious' and 'pop' music. He used the tools of advertising and market analysis he'd learned earlier in life, and invented the Mothers as a 'no commercial potential' band, and the niche turned out to be there enough to support a long, illustrious career. All invented to fit latent market needs.

    But the kicker to the kicker is this: Zappa had been listening to Varese and other such music, as well as seriously obscure R&B, since he was a kid. That is what he _loved_ and what he wanted to do, and it shows.

    So, Zappa's an object lesson that Eggers would appreciate- he was simultaneously totally fake, and totally real. Everything he did was tailored to what he thought would sell- and at the same time, he did what he wanted, what he liked.

    When it comes right down to it, you've got to drop the obsessions of who will like what, and do what you do the best you can. Having a target or goal is good, intending to get wildly popular can't hurt, but the only _real_ fatal flaw is to be untrue to your artistic foundation. When people do blatantly commercial stuff because they just plain love it, you get Meat Loaf- and continuous sales over many years, extensive success. When people do blatantly commercial stuff just to cash in- you go platinum in a year or less, and then nobody ever wants to hear you again. And there are too many examples of THAT out there to even begin annoying people with specific cases like Warrant or Shaun Cassidy :) oops, I did it again! ;)

  • Nah. You'd think so, but no. The only real compelling reason to keep up on corpo-fashion in any sphere is if you are working in that sphere- and even then, if you don't have your own 'cool' to bring to the table, you're commercially doomed, and can expect no better than to be a flash in the pan.

    Even the corporate fashionmakers know that global 'cool' is the absolute last stage of the process. They themselves are constantly looking for the next thing. If you have a style of your own, that might at least possibly be the next thing, increasing your value. The ONLY thing that is absolutely certain is this: the next thing will not be the _current_ thing, therefore being all in tune with the current thing is commercially worthless, and there's no point in even bothering to understand it. By definition it's on the way out and won't be coming back anytime soon. It's the last stage, the final step. If it takes you that long to clue to it, you might as well not bother.

  • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:42AM (#168708) Homepage
    Remember Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere? Not far off...

    I don't think any system in which the feedback loop of coolness (global audience preferences fed back to artist) exists is ideal. There's too much incentive for conformity on the part of the creators. The answer may be to de-formalize the process, so that you are forced to rely on word-of-mouth and not any automated tools. Perhaps we can only keep track of 150 people because that is an evolutionarily chosen ideal sample size for long-term social interaction. I don't care what 150 million people think; we already have the Billboard Top 100 which is basically the same thing.

    I have a feeling that any such system could be easily manipulated as well, just look at what happens to web polls (and to a lesser extent message boards).

  • "What Jaime's basically declaring is war on the limited-information culture that surrounds marketing and popularity."

    Very nicely put. Society finally has sufficiently powerful communication tools in the hands of ordinary people that we can bypass Powerful Corporations.

    I envision perhaps something a little looser than what is proposed here. I bet Everything could be extended in this direction.

    And heck - the Marketroids will have access to the same data as all the individual users. And they'll run circles trying to react to the new flow of recommendations. Let 'em. If they come up with something good (a better Green Day than Green Day?), we'll take it. Otherwise, we can ignore 'em. We don't need 'em anymore.
  • oh yes, get a well-funded, brainwashed, organized, and committed voting block up there, and suddenly, L.Ron Hubbard will be the epitome of cool.

    on the other hand, get a bunch of skript kiddeez going, and maybe Kevin Mitnick will be coolest. . .
  • dehumanizing?

    Define: "human"

    Jamie is saying that it's ingrained into us to desire "cool". Wanting "cool" is human.
    You're saying that we're coerced into it, and that being human is wanting to overcome this coersion.

    In fact, this whole argument is the argument of whether humans even have "free will". Isn't it?
  • Warchawski brothers are cool.
    Steven Speilberg is not.
    Stanley Kubrick is cool.

    . . . hey, this is fun!
  • This quote stolen from a recent slashdot discussion regarding criticism of JRR Tolkein's work by a literary critic with a chip on his shoulder about Lord Of The Rings being rated as one of the most important works of the 20th century. (it's not. Dianetics is ;)

    "By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece."

    -- G. K. Chesterton
  • Maybe I've inhabited this orb a bit too long, but I've relunctantly come to the conclusion that 'coolness' is an onerous burden that any thoughtful person should avoid at all costs.
    Think about it. Coolness requires surrender of your individuality. It requires conformance to a norm, however 'cool' that norm might be.
    I'm old enough to remember when 'hippies' were 'cool'; in practice, they were mostly a bunch of pretentious, self involved pricks. I stayed away in droves :)
    True Cool is simply knowing who you are, and just being That, without the crutch of other's appraisals of you as an external reference.
    Hard to do, yes, but well worth it once you get there.
  • Oh, man, that was a great book!
    Strange that one of the most highly regarded scifi tomes of all time gets read so little.
    Ironic also that a term lifted from it (hipcrime) has been perverted into the monnikker used by one (some?) of the most obnoxious usenet vandals ever.
    Oh well..
    Christ, what an imagination I've got!
  • "How is this system an improvement on what is presently available, other than the fact that it seems to elevate the author's own 'coolness' for suggesting it?

    That was a big factor of course :)

    I see it as the difference between democracy and plutocracy. I want to be governed by people who were put in place by democratic votes, not money. I'd like their decisions to be rooted in democratic accountability, not money.

    Our government and many others' constantly struggle back and forth on the spectrum between one-person-one-vote and one-dollar-one-vote. I'll do what I can to push it back to the people.

    The best politicians are those who serve their country out of love, not money. Same basic idea here. The question is what system can be put in place, not to destroy the capitalist music machine, but to allow some of us to step outside it and have an efficient alternative. Only then will musicians who are in it for love, not money, be able to connect with their audience.

    Jamie McCarthy

  • Jamie mentions "recommendation systems" and then points out the grassroots dot orgs that have been proponents of them - well mp3.com and a ton of other corporate ventures have used the same technique, so the value of your point is muddled.

    It'd be hard to find a system less open than mp3.com's (unless they've completely changed around in the few months since I've been there). I found a lot of top-40 lists genre-by-genre, and artists recommending other artists, but nothing like the listener-based network that I'm trying to get at.

    Plus, it only tracks artists and music who are hosted on mp3.com; it makes you sign in before you can even hear a preview; etc. I have absolutely no objection to helping small-time artists make money, but insular, proprietary systems don't help solve the real problem.

    And just because somebody proposes an alternative to the existing commodified culture makes them neither utopian nor socialist. I'm talking about voluntary cooperative efforts leveraged by technology; it's just as doable as, say, Gnutella. Next you'll be telling me the GPL is un-American...

    Jamie McCarthy

  • "If we can only keep track of 150 human beings in our heads ... why would we let a computer confuse us with the names of millions?"

    You wouldn't have to worry about the opinions of those whose interests aren't at least somewhat in line with your own. Someone who rates Britney highly just wouldn't going to show up on any of my queries (unless I ask for the vector most opposed to my own!).

    The database could be used to set up virtual communities, following their own trends -- in effect, groups of people with similar interests as large or as small as their attention span demands. The 150 number was just a guess of a good average size.

    Jamie McCarthy

  • "written mostly out of anger and frustration"


    "how could a person EVER discover something that they like themselves unless they were to actually discover it firsthand (e.g. meet a band you like in person before anyone else knows about them)"

    How often does that happen really? Don't you usually hear something on the radio, or on a friend's stereo, or at a party?

    "Discovery" is an interesting word. If you do "discover" a local band at a local venue, you're closer to the source but still are relying on someone else to filter your preferences for you. The booking agent wouldn't have scheduled that band for that night unless s/he thought they were at least some good. You're quite a bit closer to the source, true, but there are still intermediaries between you and the act of creation.

    The only way to truly break free from the cycle is to create something yourself.

    Jamie McCarthy

  • All good opinion IMO, but I would argue music can't be fully compaired to material goods. Also, it does have a kind of "everyone is a sheep but me" favor, although not as bad as some of these replies.

    The reason all the payola-esque game playing is nessessary is partially to try and manipluate cool the same way the Gap does with TV, but that's only a side effect..

    Music is all about exposure. Humans are all; to a greater or lesser extent; hardwired to like music. We'll like anything with a beat if we hear it often enough. Getting the listener to hear it often enough is the goal, the fact that they'll often start to think it's socially "cool" after that is just a useful side effect.

    Lots of people buy lots of records by bands that aren't going to win any cool contests at the club.. All these bitter folks who "don't care about cool", they still care about music, and that's where you get them.

    I would argue, that even at the most pop level (Britney), cool is just a side effect. Britney's music appeals to little kids because they lack the context to compair it to anything, not because they use it in Pepsi commericals and slip it into Dawson's Creek.
  • The only problem I can see with an OpenSource solution to the issue of music preferences and ratings and stuff like that is basically what happened to CDDB. SOME corporation, probably one of the big-four of the RIAA, is gonna buy the damn thing out (and GPL isn't gonna protect the database, as we've all discovered) and take it all away from us and our open sense of thought. We're gonna build a system that the RIAA will realize makes money and controls money, and the RIAA will try to take it away from us.
    You know, you gotta get up real early if you want to get outta bed... (Groucho Marx)
  • > I plead guilty to still liking Fatboy Slim, which I'm sure would have been very chic three years ago -- now it means I have no taste, apparently.

    Nah, five years ago it might have been cool.
    Three years ago you would've just been another teeny-bopper wannabe.
    Now, it means nothing.

  • The capital doesn't have any opinions, of course. It just perpetuates itself. It's potential energy; when it's spent on the mass media, it drags youth culture in its wake, and through some miracle perpetual motion machine, that energy is recaptured in the sale of T-shirts, CDs, movie tickets, Gap vests, makeup, and shoes.

    Woah! What happened to the thought in your first sentence? The anthropomorphization of the dollar sign is nothing more than a misleading metaphor. It's people that make the decisions and do the purchasing. People have opinions, and people act on them. You're upset that neither capital nor business has emotions and opinions. Well, they don't have brains either. People make all of the actions, and in any bureaucratic organization, capitalist, communist, or democratic, things snowball from there.

    Your argument with corporate marketing teams is not that they have influence over us, but rather that they have too much influence. That's never going to change. There is entirely too much information out there for it to be any other way. It would be impossible to make conscious decisions about everything we do. It would just take too long, I'd never even make it all the way to work. We have to make snap decisions all day long, otherwise we'd never get anyway in both the metaphorical and literal sense. That's one of the things the subconscious does. Marketing, in the most basic sense, is the act of getting attention. In this case, it the attention to the ends of purchasing an item. I don't have time to determine what the best of class item is that I need in my price range, marketing tells me. They may not be straight forward, or even right, but I don't have to do the research on everything I buy.

    Marketing/Consumption is a feedback loop. We want to be cool and different, and marketing tries to give that to us. Not having enough time to learn everything for ourselves, marketing shows us some examples. What we buy goes back into the research for the marketing groups. They then present it bigger-better-fast-more right back to us.

    Look at how much more "Xtreme" things are in recent years. It's the same thing we all heard growing up, "You kids are so [fill in] these days." The music industry is a perfect example. When jazz first began making it to the mainstream it was hedonistic, sinful, and the work of the devil. Now, Jelly Roll Morton is tame by all but the most strict of standards.

    Now what's wrong with this? We like the next thing. We like new. If we didn't we'd still be fighting for daily sustenance instead of reading /. If there were no marketing, I'd never have learned about much of the music I enjoy, the books I read, the places I like to eat, and who knows what else. Do you have the resources to discover and publish every author you ever want to read? Every musician you want to listen to? Marketing only becomes dangerous when you take it as gospel. The problem is that despite what we may say, most of us do.

    We have to accept that capital does not perpetuate itself. It is often treated and modeled as such, but again it's just a metaphor to help us understand the way we, as consumers, affect economic markets. It all comes down to whether or not you are will to take responsibility for your actions. If you are in a marketing team, will you refuse to over- or mis-represent your products, even if it means your job? Probably not. As a consumer are you willing to refuse to buy something because it offends the smallest sliver of your sensibilities. Probably not. If you are, good for you, convince more of us.

  • by Vapor ( 6907 )
    I like the second one, but I literally fell asleep reading this one. I get tired of hearing people whine about "the man" and the "profiteering glutons" telling society what is cool and how it is so awful. It is really really easy to ignore them you know.

    And then, after the rant about the evil empires, the suggestion comes up to create a different one. Why do you need other peoples opinions to decide what you like? Use your own mind, and fsck everyone else. If you like it, like it! Life is too short to worry about it this much. Do something constructive... quit crying.
  • Books I've read about culture often pose it as a guerilla war between producers of stuff (who'd be a lot happier if everyone bought the same thing) and consumers (who like to be individuals). But rather than a top-down cool system, many would argue that it is a process of discovery, wherein cool people are continually surveyed by the producers of stuff, so that they can tell which way the wind is blowing. I know, it's much more pleasant to blame the state of pop culture on corporations than on the general public, but that don't make it so.

    Malcolm Gladwell [gladwell.com], author of the wonderful The Tipping Point [amazon.com], has this New Yorker piece [gladwell.com] about people who are paid to figure out what's cool now. That's an Amazon link for the book, BTW; did you know they have a recommendation engine too?


    To have ambition was my ambition. --Gang of Four, "I Love Man in a Uniform"

  • Nonetheless you are passing up the sociological point of the article as well. No matter what way you "choose" what you think is cool, some form of society has directed you there. Wether it be that you heard that cool song on that commercial during Friends, or you want to support the local DJs or you hate all American Pop and go for something from India - it is the social factors that are driving that one way or another.

    "Choosing" is the worst word. In one way or another you were being told by society what you like. Like it or not, this is how it works.

    The bigger the force by corporations to push Gap commercial style or Boy Bands down your throat, the more influence it will have. If you didnt' already hate that sort of style, you will probably like it more - if you didnt, you will dislike it more.

    what is being talked about here is creating some sort of force that is Dynamic, and controled by PEOPLE not Corporations.
  • by Wreck ( 12457 )
    Here you go at length about wanting a programmatic way to pluck "cool" out of a DB, by carefully tracking opinions to find opinion leaders. Fair enough. Though to tell the truth, I think a free ripoff of Firefly would be just fine for me. If it tells me "you really should try Perry Como", and it's right -- well, is that a problem?

    But then you decry the very idea of "capital" choosing cool: "We'll never get rid of the top-down cool because there's just too much money in it." But what is the problem with top down cool? If it is cool, it is cool, no?

    All I can see here is posturing. Joe Public's cool isn't as good as your cool because yours was picked by a machine whereas Joe's came from the imagination of some suit. Well from my meta-cool position (which is not cool at all), you are both chasing rainbows. You may be right that we may be evolutionarily programmed to chase cool. But even if so, as rational beings we should be able to step back and realize that if that is true, no cool is better or worse than any other; they are all equally valid, equally rewarding, and equally fatuous.

    One other thing: this piece really wants an editor.

  • by Wreck ( 12457 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @09:14AM (#168728) Homepage

    I have no idea where people picked up the idea that freedom of code == socialism, or communism, or anything of the sort, and I fail to see the connection at all.
    Socialist, no. That's the state ownership of the means of production. It is clear that no government owns Free software, nor is that even remotely possible with the net in anything like its current form.

    But communism? Check the definition; m-w.com:

    a: a theory advocating elimination of private property b : a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
    Sound familiar? It does to me. It is true that free stuff is in a legal sense private property, being copyrighted. But since the use of the copyright is to reveal and share rather than obscure and exclude, in any practical sense free software is commonly owned.

    A lot of people seem to think that "socialism" and "communism" are free floating negative words roughly comparable to "bad" or "satanic". But they are not comparable; in fact they have definitions and therefore can be applied to everyday situations that their inventors could not foresee. It is true that public ownership of scarce goods has always been a bad thing when the "public" was larger than a few hundred people. But information is not scarce, at least in some of its forms. And there, the reasons why socialism fails in the real world of tangible objects simply do not apply.

    Free software is communistic. But communism is not bad per se, rather, it is bad in certain real life applications.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 )
    It looks like "The Merchants of Cool" seriously lit a fire under some peoples' asses. That's cool!
  • That is perhaps the most long-winded example of Sour Grapes I've ever seen.

  • About a year or two ago, I sent a suggestion to MP3.com about adding a Firefly-like listener feedback system. They never responded.
  • So, I say I like Cool Band X's new album today, so for every user who says they like Cool Band X's new album after I do, I'll get some sort of points.

    Not exactly. It's more like, I say I like Cool Band X's album today, and later when other people say they like it too, other things I like rank higher in their "you might also like.." lists. That's what's so (no pun) cool about the idea! There is not a single, global, cookie-cutter, end-all "Cool Index" for everyone. Rather, based my likes/dislikes the system finds other users with similar likes (Cool Band X) and builds a "Custom Cool Index" just for me.

    Ideally, as a user adds new opinions (ratings, rankings, recommendations, whatever you call them) that user's index (or profile or whatever) will be updated by adding/removing other user's opinions that agree/disagree with the newly entered one. This way, the power you get from being an early adopter of Cool Band X lasts only as long as Cool Band X's popularity with other users. Spread this across a large number of artists, and the "power" almost evaporates.

  • Why do you need other peoples opinions to decide what you like? Use your own mind, and fsck everyone else. If you like it, like it!

    Letting other peoples' opinions define what you like is not the point, the point is to let other peoples' opinions define what you try out. You can't decide if you like it or not if you don't know it exists.

  • by Masker ( 25119 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:40AM (#168734)
    Some people in the world opt-out of the 'cool-seeking' drive that you're talking about. I don't believe that that behavior is inescapable or part of human nature or "... part of being human." While you might think that "We all like to play this game a little, some of us a little too much maybe.", I don't think that it's necessary to cave to corporations' consumeristic pressures, or the pressures of your peer group.

    I tend to believe that other people's opinions are basically worthless to oneself in a practical point of view. Although it feels nice when people like you, you should live your life the way that YOU think is right and good, and forget what anyone else is telling you to do or how they want you to behave. If people choose to ignore you, then so what? You might think that "few things are less cool than being ignored", but really, what happens when you're ignored? You're alone, maybe? So what. That just gives you time to do what you want to be doing! If the people that you hang out with ignore you just because you're not doing "cool" things, then you're hanging out with a bunch of shallow dilletantes. You should pay attention to yourself and feel secure in what you're doing. If you hang out with people that are "cool" just so some of it rubs off on you, then you're pathetic, not "cool".

    I'm not saying that you should be anti-establishment or isolationist. I don't think that you should shun things just because they're considered "cool". BUT you should look at the actual value of the thing you are going to buy/use (or the person you want to be friends with) and make your choice on the merits of the object (or person). I think way too many people get burned and hurt by trying to be "cool" or make something "cool" that isn't worth what they're making it out to be. Linux, for example, is a decent operating system that has decent tools. It's nice that it's free, and has lots of free applications, but it has its problems, too. Companies may try to push Linux products becuase Linux is "cool", but when those companies can't make any money because their value-add isn't making money, then people get hurt (fired, lose money, etc.).

    "Cool" is so hard to define because it's terribly subjective and illusory. You shouldn't base your decisions on something like that.
  • As soon as Heather Graham and her like are giving out free love.
  • personally, i like the old-fashioned peer-to-peer
    approach when it comes to these things. you know, when you and your peers actually hang out and see eachother and do things together. call me a luddite, but i think that culture is defined by your social interactions, and when music ceases to be something that i participate in -- by going to shows, going out clubbing, occasionally playing music myself, then i deserve to be out of the loop. cool shouldn't come easy -- that dramatically reduces its value.

    i understand that one might get all futurist and envision a world in which all of our social interactions are virtual. ooooh, william gibson! but i like being a meatsack, and keeping track of 150 friends doesn't seem all that limiting to me.
  • Maybe I'm too crass and capitalistic to grasp the concept...Probably so, money's almost always at the back of my mind if it's not at the front, and I freely admit it.

    Anyway, ultimately, to me this all boils down to compensating musicians rather than a giant quintopoly. I have a way to do this. My earlier rants [slashdot.org] have more detail, if anyone's interested, but the bottom line is that artists have to be able to buy (food, shelter, clothing, instruments, studio-time, groupies, controlled-substances, and whatever else they want) or they're not going to keep entertaining us. They're more likely to get more of these things from a tips-based, voluntary system (see rants [slashdot.org]). Thanks.

  • Mass-market music is what you get if you just don't care enough to avoid being led around by the nose. If you want something better, you have to actively support it. Personally, I go for weird skronking noise-music that never will have a mass audience, and to try to ensure that I can get my fix when I need it, I (and some friends) organize a concert series [sfsound.org]. Putting on two concerts a month takes about 16 hours of my time -- 5 hours, twice a month, supervising the shows and about 6 hours doing organizational work. (Also, we lose small amounts of money doing this, but a lot less than many hobbyists spend.) This is about as much time as I spend on my Open Source hobby, and has many of the same rewards -- I'm working to make a world that has stuff in it (software or music) that's what I want, not what Microsoft or MCI want me to want.
  • The last example I can think of is flatland.
    I first heard about it on slashdot. Then, I checked it out of the library.
    Before I had returned it, it was made recommended reading by my physics teacher.
    I heard about Atlas Shrugged second on slashdot.
    First from a girl in my class. We've decided that each other is (are?) cool, and now she's reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainace on my recommedation.
  • "What we need is a system that can store musical (and other cultural) recommendations for 150 million of our closest friends."

    no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no
    Why would we want to do something like this? I just don't get it. I don't want to be sold the "perfect" cool. I don't want to be sold ANY cool. Leave me alone. We need to stop creating and selling cool. Cool is irrational. Cool is a gimmick. Cool is a vicious cycle of making people feel inadequate so they buy your meaningless shit. I don't *want* a database of 6 billion people to tell me that yes, Limp Bizkit is indeed the coolest shit in the world, go out and buy it so you can feel good about yourselves because papa Media Industry loves you now (until of course you revert to being lame in a few months). What is Jamie smoking? "This vicious dehumanizing system is not EFFICIENT enough! Let's fix it Geeks!"
  • I work for a company that develops recommendation systems. It's all fairly simple from a mathematical point of view, and we tend to get very good results (approx. 90% of all recommended items are well-liked by our users). We are currently in the process of developing a cross-platform, language-independent system capable of being used by just about any website or internet-enabled system. I'm not responsible for the math and statistical code running in the background, but I did pick up a thing or two about collaborative filtering (CF is the name Pattie Maes, founder of Firefly, gave to her style of recommendation techniques. It was eventually picked up by many others as well.).

    In his article, Jamie says we all want to be cool. This may be true, however, the one thing recommendation systems show us plainly is that there is no magical 'One coolness' everybody adheres to. As a matter of fact, people in general have such radically different tastes that one person's 'cool' may be another's total opposite.

    Yes, you could have a recommendation system handling 150 million users, but the chance that your definition of 'coolness' corresponds to those 150 million users' definition is slight at best, unless you're really part of 'mainstream culture', in which case the recommendation is unneeded because you're constantly being told what's cool through the media. Nobody needs to tell 13-year-old girls that the Backstreet Boys are cool. And when the next mega-boy-band comes out, they'll know, trust me.

    Oh, and the one reason nobody has a free, open-source recommendation system is that the recommendation biz is pure gold. People are willing to pay huge amounts of cash to know what their users want / need. Just look at the data-mining business, which is enormous, and doesn't provide real-time results (which collaborative filtering / recommendation systems do). Developing an effective, fast recommendation system is time-consuming and extremely costly, due to the manpower you have to hire (Ph.D's in math, anyone)? Yes, it would be incredibly effective to have an open-source system anyone can tie into, but we're not talking about $100 operating systems here, we're talking about million-dollar statistical analysis programs.

    Which is not to say that we couldn't tie, say, Slashdot into a recommendation system along with several other weblog-style sites to get a huge user base. One of the interesting things about our system is that it's web-based, so any number of sites can access the same system, keeping the same user database.
  • I like Jaime's notion, despite the ripple of revulsion that slides down my spine at suggesting an economy of cool (no fault of his).

    What he's pinpointed is the value of market research that is available to the sellers of the products we greedily consume that they use to base their decisions on every day.

    What they say is "Wow, Green Day is hot. We need a band just like them!" or "I have enough money to make En Vogue hot, to keep that other label on the run chasing after us for another five weeks."

    The value of the information on how people are affected by advertising and who is buying what is increased by keeping the subjects of the psychological/sociological experiment in the dark about the results. Do we really know Green Day or En Vogue were hot? Or was it just protrayed that way? They have the scantron data in their hands, and they'll let us see it once they make it true.

    What Jaime's basically declaring is war on the limited-information culture that surrounds marketing and popularity. If we actually knew who was popular and what was just marketing lies, we might stand a chance. Having the information available to everyone that is currently only available to a select few spreads the value of that information around to everyone.

    Capitalism is based on equality of information. Decision makers need reliable and timely information, and consumers are currently only presented with information that is unreliable and often deceitful. As a result, our decisions are manipulated. By taking the information distribution out of the hands of the marketers and into our own, we stand the chance of actually making informed decisions. What a concept--clearly one that marketers and record labels fear because their well rehearsed disinformation tactics will become useless.

    Now, do I think this will put an end to tripe like Destiny's Child or those Green Day-a-likes? No. There is tripe, I believe, because at least 50% of Americans are trite. When we can self-select our "culture" database, however, we have a reliable source of information where we can glean "actual" preferences, instead of the artificial ones we are presently fed. Perfect information doesn't solve all of our problems as consumers, but it eliminates the worst of them.
  • I plead guilty to still liking Fatboy Slim, which I'm sure would have been very chic three years ago -- now it means I have no taste, apparently.

    Well, I must really have no taste, as I liked FatBoy Slim back before he was Fatboy Slim, back when he was the lowley bassest and backup singer for the Housemartins.
  • My ex-hubby and I used to make our own music [mp3s.com]. We had our own internet radio station and everything. I go see my friends play in bars and brag about them. I happily support bands that fall somewhere outside the mainstream. Ever heard of Bile? Or Expansion Union? Or Cellophane? No? And you won't unless they all suddenly catch MTV's collective eye. *sigh* Good music is out there, in your own backyard! I think it's great that you're taking an active role and feeding the artists who bring you joy.

    "Smear'd with gumms of glutenous heat, I touch..." - Comus, John Milton
  • > I agree that cool people don't need people to tell them that they're cool. (Or do they? If no one calls you cool, are you actually cool?)

    if people keep telling you over and over and over that you're cool, you probably aren't

  • I listen to music all the time, but if I spent any time at all worrying about what music is so cool, I'd never get anything done.

    Maybe if people worried less about what was cool, and more about their own lives, the music industry might have to work a little harder to please.

    Cool is irrelevant. Get a life.

  • I really liked this article.. and I agree. I'm going to see what i can do about researching this project idea a little.. keep up the good work.
  • Don't foget the hormones as well. The "boy band" approach appears to have worked that angle at least since the Beatles, and individual handsome / beautiful singers (and politicians...) have benefited from their influences as well. The awful *shrieking* that occurs when, say, Leno invites some band like N'Sync (shudder) is probably a symptom.
  • This seems to be more of a rant of a high-schooler...

    Actually, I enjoyed the post and felt it brought up some interesting perspectives. Even though I may not agree with the solution, I think the topic is timely and relevant, and the problem identified an important one.

    I've always been puzzled with people's identity-seeking quests, especially when they take the cloning approach (e.g. adopting a packaged identity presented for them, either through commercial sources as referenced by the top-down approach, or through other sources - i.e. clubs, gangs, etc.)

    Yea, I was the kid in high school who hung out with the jocks, geeks, etc. and found each of them interesting for what they offered, while being somewhat puzzled at my lack of belongingness to any group. In retrospect, I'd bet that the diversity of experiences I gained by not being identity-locked was greater than that of a die-hard clique member.

    Now that I've got two young kids, it's even more of a puzzle to me. How do you let them know that perhaps the happiest path is the one where no identity is borrowed? Perhaps it's a function of taking the best from each, and tossing the rest?

    Do we need a bottom-up borrowed identity, vs. the top-down commercial ones? Why is this external definition of our personality and lifestyle so important?

  • A few weeks ago, /. ran this story [slashdot.org] about a project of mine called FreeSQL [sourceforge.net], an attempt to port SQL apps to Freenet. Freenet is the only distributed network with the capacity to do what you describe in this article. It is fully distributed, private and anonymous. People are only identified by their public keys, which is just what you want. You don't need to know other users' names, just their listening track record.

    Using FreeSQL has the advantage that we can integrate it with ease into existing web-based sites, like /. and K5. In fact, this is something I proposed when the original article was posted. The reason I wrote FreeSQL in the first place was to see if something like Slash could be ported to it. Imagine a Slash-based site with compelte anonymity and no possibility for censorship. Many different sites could simply plug into the global database. Like the stories on /. but the comments by K5 users? No problem. The network is the database.

    One of my big complaints about the state of OSS and the web now is that it is almost impossible to get new things integrated into the popular things like Slashdot. That's why I was so excited to read this: But allow Slashdot to tie into your system, and you instantly add hundreds of thousands of potential users. . Right on, jamie. Let's do it. I'm ready whenever you are.

  • "Ninety percent of high school is realizing that catching up with the global cool is something you don't have the resources for, and instead finding a local cool that works for you. You heard it here first."

    That makes no sense if you plan on working in the world economy. If you don't expose yourself to the wideest vision of the economy (i.e., new world economy), then you are putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage.

    Following cool, like it or not, gives you perspective on the media, products, and services of the world. McWorld, to be sure, but that is what we are creating every time we by a processed burger. Same with software and music and any other thing in the world. Your dollars are votes.

    If you do not have perspective, you will be a second class person, at least in the eyes of employers. Now, I am not saying that you need to follow the world cool, but you need to understand the world cool. Look beyond your peer group for ideas and inspiration.

    (Damn, I hope there is something interesting in this post. I rambled and rambled.)

  • The "music industry" used to be in the business of distributing music - now it's in the business of preventing music from being distributed.

    Of course they're also in the business of promoting music, stimulating popularity by bombarding the public with a tiny subset of the music being made at any given time. Popular taste is largely circular - something is popular because it's familiar, and familiar because it's popular.

    How to break this cycle? Even though the billboard 100 may represent the aggregate tastes of the population, it doesn't represent individual tastes very well. Charts like that don't mean much to me, I want to see a chart in which only the opinions of people whose tastes resemble mine are taken into consideration. This could be achieved by a rating or "voting" system in which individuals are encouraged to promote their favorites - as long as all of this data remains publicly available, it may be cross-referenced to create personalized pop charts, in which one's own favorites are ranked together with material which may be unfamiliar, yet rated highly by individuals with similar tastes.

    One problem to be overcome is the privacy implications of such a public rating system. We suggest that we apply the principle of the secret ballot to this system, in effect creating a democratic "info-commons" in which opinions are published without being "linkable" to real identities.

    Another problem is the difficulty of ensuring that these charts are not susceptible to spamming or other forms of manipulation or abuse. A simple means to discourage frivolous or malicious "voting" would be to associate a small, but real cost to the process. We propose a micropayment of 1 penny per vote, to be split evenly between the "ratee" (ie. the creator of the book, song, movie being rated) and the *previous raters*. In this way we provide anti-spam "friction" on the abuse of the system, which at the same time providing an economic "traction" that encourages and rewards creators and grassroots promoters alike.

    The "potlatch protocol" itself is an attempt to establish an open-source aggregated micropayment system which will facilitate this process. Basically it goes like this: in order for one's votes to "count" in some meaningful way, one must make a contribution to the system to "back them up." For eg. after making 1000 votes (possibly by listening to 1000 tracks on a music player with "potlatch mode" enabled) one would have to make a $10.00 payment into the system. The initial "0.1" draft protocol (http://potlatch.net/protocol.01.html) presumed that third-party aggregators would be necessary to mediate such transactions. However, it clearly doesn't matter who I pay, as long as it can be verified that I've paid *somebody* who has it coming. For eg. if I'm $10 down, I need to pay someone, anyone, who is $10 up and wants to cash out. In fact, it doesn't need to be cash - if I find someone who wants something that I've got and is willing to say it's worth $10 (eg. a book, cd, etc) then that would work too, in other words barter systems could be built on this. The key here is the ability to independently verify that a payment has been made, which involves a bit of fancy crypto footwork that will need to be worked out in more detail.

    The point is to establish a peer-to-peer payment and promotion system that is free, open, and publicly owned, in perpetuity. Without something like this, the corporate stranglehold on popular culture will only continue to get stronger, more concentrated, and more corrupt. Anyone out there want to help us build this thing? comments welcome: dinsdale(at)potlatch(dot)net

  • It seems that a large portion of the "typical" population does indeed follow this trend of "corporate coolness" - but I think that the geek community is a bit different. We don't like something because it's "cool to like it" (With the possible exception of *NIX, and even then, it has a great deal of functional value) - I believe that we, as a trend, tend to like what we like. That's one of the things that made Napster so popular - we weren't limited to what the Suits determined we were to like. It was like opening a floodgate - give people the chance to buy based on what they like, as opposed to what we're told to like ("Where would Microsoft like to take you today?") and they're gonna respond.

    I, for one, do not like music because it's popular. There are a lot of popular bands that I like, but I like them based on their music, not the size of their contract. Coincidentally, there are a lot of popular bands within my preferred genres that I'm told I should like that I don't. Uh-oh. Rebel alert.

    Some of my favorite music is by bands that I've never heard of that I found through Napster. The geek culture, or really all "outcast" cultures are more likely to follow their own likes, instead of those of a $25 million/year marketing guru. And I'm grateful for that - without that mentality, there would probably be no Linux, no Napster, no Slashdot, because the geek culture would have been absorbed by "normal" culture.

    And I do think that's the longest comment I've ever written.
  • while this may be your experience ... it is unusual. Most trends *are* created by corporations, and most consumers seem pretty happy (ignorant?) with this state of affairs.

    this AC is right. while i agree with the original poster that the good music is out there, most people don't want to look around that hard for their music! and why should they? not everybody needs to be obsessed with music: some people just want to listen to whatever's easiest and has a catchy tune, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    i'm not really sure what's so bad about recording companies "generating" cool. if people don't want to take the time to find out what music they really want then i think the record companies should be able to make a nice fortune off of selling them "easy" music. there will always be "the underground" for the rest of us. some may consider this "unfair," but really, do you think all of these "unwashed masses" would actually bother to go out and find their own music if the record companies weren't there? of course not! they'd listen to whatever was playing that didn't completely piss them off.

    the only people who really care about this are the ones who immediately assume that because they like to hunt for music that all people like to do the same. personally i love to find obscure music and i've made it my hobby to be a rave & club dj because of it. this is great for me, but i'm not about to assume that all people want to go to this much trouble. if they want to go out of their way to find and listen to my stuff, that's great! and if they want to continue listening to N*SYNC that's fine by me too (in fact, i happen to like N*SYNC, though the Backstreet Boys are more consistent ;).

    at any rate, record companies do a lot of "evil" thing, but manufacturing cool certainly isn't one of them. it's simply supply & demand. demand for "easy" music.

    (PS: i appologize for the exessive use of italics and "quotation marks" in this post ;)

    - j

  • I'm cool, and here's what I have been finding the most challenging to my ears for the past year:
    • Thursday - Full Collapse
    • Boy Hits Car - S/T
    • Tool - Lateralus
    • Cave In - Jupitor
    • Mogwai - Rock Action
    Now go out and buy those albums. On a side note, coolness through listening is an interesting occurance. Once upon a time, I tried to run a weblog-style [loudwerkz.com] loud rock music news forum, but found that my idea was flawed on a number of levels.

    Perhaps most disapointing of all was finding that the audience we were targeting wasn't nearly as intelligent or as communal as we expected them to be. Unfortunately, the largest number of submissions, comments, and personal emails we received were from teens hopping on the latest trends and spamming about their favorite flavor of the week. No intelligent discussion about the next mutation of Mike Patton's sounds or how the avante-garde stylings of Buckethead [bucketheadland.com] would change the direction of a latter day Guns N Roses. Nada.

    It's too bad, really, that popularity matters so much to everyone's senses of taste. And sure, it's affected me as well to some degree or another. But personally I find the best music being made is being put together by relative unknowns who really feel what they're writing about. I have a hard time believing that anyone in Limp Bizkit is having a hard time getting laid these days (and yes, I like 3 Dollar Bill when it first came out but that band became lame long ago :-).
  • I beleive that there we have a collective, subconscious idea of what's cool and what's not. Whether it be music, clothes, or whatever, we all sort of know when the coolness of something expires. I think we all sort of subconsciously agree on what the next trendy thing will be, it's just that some people are quicker to pick up on the new things and quicker to drop the old things.

  • Every one of the bands mentioned in it are still major label bands, with the same giant corporations behind them as bubblegum, substance-less stuff like Brittany Spears.

    You mean like Autechre? The very definition of banal, soulless, corporate, electronic music.

    Of course, "If it sounds good, it is good" - Duke Ellington. Britney Spears connects with a heck of a lot more people than Built to Spill does. What's the problem? Of course, if Built to Spill some day rivalled Britney Spears in popularity, you argument would reverse - since you believe that everything mainstream is by definition bad, and everything obscure is by definition good.

    Whenever most people here on /. say something regarding music, it's the same story. It boggles the mind how people could use such different software than the mainstream, and listen to the same junk

    One of the most popular musics among educated geeks is classical music. The music is popular, because it's good. Probably a considerably higher percentage of mainstream music is good, than the percentage of obscure music which is good. Beethoven's music has passed the BS meter of about eight generations of humanity and enjoys a larger audience now than at any point before.

    Since UMBC is a big geeky school, the radio station computers run on Linux, and WMBC has more computer functionality than your typical station. We keep track of our CDs using a database written in PHP and MySQL.

    Sounds to me like you're much more interested in fighting the power and being different, than you are in looking at the real merits of things. That's OK. You're haven't even graduated college yet; you have a lot of time to grow up.
  • Hehe. Well, not everyone have the same taste. You seem to only like what is "musical", while I like what I hear when I hear it regardless of other factors. Especially when it's something new or with a new twist. Sort of the same thing as with literary people disliking LOTR, and "commoners" loving it.

    Btw, I didn't say every melody/song by Alice Deejay, Enya, All Saints, Garbage, Moby and Bryan Adams(!) is good (far, Far, FAR from the truth ;). Maybe I should clarify that. It's just my default mode to download music and only keep those pieces that move me in some way (or moved me), regardless of who's singing, playing or what genre it is. But I guess that's pretty uncommon? You're right Tribal Trance isn't generally very good either, so I'll probably remove that and put in those tribal trance mixes that I think are good.

    If I could, I would produce the full list of just songs that I like (doubt there's much point though ;). However, /. has a limit on the length of User Bio. Btw, this shows that the article is pretty correct (apart from the "coolness"-factor). There's no point in just rating music since everyone's flavour differs. You need a bit more complex system that can compare "taste" with other people.

    Bryan Adams - WTF?
    Hehe, I know, I know, but "Don't give up" is pretty good IMHO. Especially when you've just awoken from sleep and are pretty drowsy.

    If I were to "sell" some of these, it'd probably be Ayla. Try it, you might like it. Or maybe it's not musical enough for you? ;-)

    - Steeltoe
  • Right on! I for one would be interested in good music according to my tastes, not "cool" music. What's "cool" anyways? There are alot of different groups of people that define their own culture. Not everyone listens to Brittney Spears and N'Sync and think they're cool.

    If anyone's interested in good music, I heavily recommend to check out my User Bio [slashdot.org]. I don't let anyone tell me what good music is, I listen.

    - Steeltoe
  • The internet has reached a point where that doesn't need to be true. Culture can be abstracted from economics, style from money.

    Yes. This is the most true insight. What we are talking about is a special form of cultural value called fashion, which arises with the improvement of living standards and increased free-time which industrialisation brought to cultural activity. Not coincidentally, the same time that people begin to complain about boredom. Before the eighteenth century only a small handful of folks could afford to waste time on being fashionable. You were the "ton" that is, "cool". Before that, only royalty was cool. What remains to be seen is the change in the operation of fashion which the digital age will enable.

    What you are proposing, a sort of distributed cool network, is really just bringing greater efficiency to our twentieth century mass-culture idea of cool. I have a strong feeling that the twenty-first century idea of cool involves participating more than consuming. Rather build a distributed drum circle, a vitual poetry workshop, a collective painting. Goddammit, make, don't buy!
  • So, I say I like Cool Band X's new album today, so for every user who says they like Cool Band X's new album after I do, I'll get some sort of points. Then there should be a list of the users with the most Cool Points, where I can click their names and see what they recently thought was cool. A good idea, but a few problems exist: If I was on top of the Cool List, I would stay number on top, as long as I said ANYTHING else was cool, because everyone would keep checking my latest cool reocmmendations, and then saying it was cool, only because they know Everyone Else Will Do It, because I'm the coolest. Also, If I'm the Coolest, I defintely wield a lot of power, simply by saying This Is Cool. I could exploit my power, and charge a fee for saying Their Stuff Is Cool. Isn't this the same thing as payola? I'm not saying I would do it, but it's defintiely possible in a system such as this.
  • or at least cool in the sense that I'm going to use it. Who cares if you are viewed as cool.

    Maybe it would be cool to have some sort of db in the style of firefly where you could find similiar artists based on the music you like. Oh wait usenet, damn we've had that for years, a way to find new music based on the recommendations of fans not corporations.

    Tangentially (sp?) I'm against anything that makes it easier for Joe Shmoe to shoulder his way into a sub culture that I belong to. Usually when bands, activities, or whatever go mainstream they get watered down and become crap. Some becuase they watered down themselves to become mainstream, others because too many morons jumped on the bandwagon and ruined things for everyone else.

  • Damn! Here I am with no moderator points left. I'm glad this got moderated up.

    This Frontline was one of the best ever, and I completely endorse this endorsement. True counterculture now must be in the hands of people who consciously, deliberately and effectively fight against the constant commercial bombardment we are exposed to.

    One of the local "pop" radio stations advertises using a reverse psychology that says "old music is crap, listen to us to get the latest, newest, faddiest music". Garage bands are hunted and exploited like wild ginseng by people who have neither souls nor ethics. M&M (aka "Eminem" cause the dumb fek is a dumb fek) sells a carefully packaged "anti-establishment" message that is soooo carefully tailored by (guess who?) the Establishment. (Fek it-squared).

    Lest we pat ourselves on the back too hard, do you really think that the Slashdotter's slavish devotion to using Hax0r-like, Tolkein-based naming conventions (e.g., W1ldWurm0V3r345y") is any less driven by a need to be leading edge cool.

    An armed society is a polite society, and I'm the politest MF in this room.
  • Let's take a good look at this statement about being cool:

    "Fortunately or otherwise, our cool-chasing is built into our genes"

    And also...

    "I'd really like to denigrate the cool-chasing impulse...But it's part of being human."

    I'm not exactly sure where Jamie gets this idea. There doesn't seem to be any evidence, other than the odd reference to sociobiology and a few anecdotal experiments, none of which track the source of his 'coolness' factor. All of the discussion is about the consequences of it.

    In fact, I strongly doubt that coolness is ingrained at all. That is not unless coolness means nothing more than 'lack of public censure;' and I'd say that corporate-driven censure as he talks about is an entirely unrelated and opportunistic (in fact, downright greedy!) non-necessity.

    Pretty simple, really--listen to something, decide if you like it (and ideally, why), and then turn it off if it's shite. It's not MY fault that other people are stupid sheep, and it doesn't make me one either.

    It was a sad day when thinking first branded one a rebel.

  • by Velex ( 120469 )

    I used to care about what was cool. I tried to be 31337. I had magic cards -- are you kidding? Pogs r00l, d00dz!

    Then I entered high school.

  • by conner_bw ( 120497 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:26AM (#168766) Journal

    I enjoyed the first 2 parts of the this 3 part series.

    This however is a pathetic conclusion based on, at least to me, a very unfamiliar view of the world.

    The bands I like are my friends and associates. Ask anyone who has liked and actively participated in a wide array genres, from Jungle to Straight Edge Hardcore, for more than a few years and you will realize that their culture is manufactured by themselves first (under the impression that they are just in proximity with common tastes - the internet making that proximity global), sold and repackaged by corperations later.

    Your view of the world is a packaged one. If you can't see the 'street level' it's probably because you aren't there. If you find these things 'too late' it's because you are an unorignial bored consumer looking to be spoon fed.

    Trends are capitalized on, not created by corperations. You participating in them is your lack of a life outside the flat screen.

  • Every one of the bands mentioned in it are still major label bands, with the same giant corporations behind them as bubblegum, substance-less stuff like Brittany Spears.

    Whenever most people here on /. say something regarding music, it's the same story. It boggles the mind how people could use such different software than the mainstream, and listen to the same junk (then again, all my indie music friends seem to like Windows...hmmm...)

    I'm afraid that even if we did have a database of recommendations, all of the independant music would be overshadowed by the major label stuff, just like it always happens.

    If you follow my homepage link, you'll see that it's a college radio station. We specifically instruct our DJs to _avoid_ playing major label bands that can be heard on the radio. Ever hear of Black Box Recorder? Linus of Hollywood? Built to Spill? Looper? Probably not, and that's a damn shame, because these (and dozens of other bands) are leaps above anything I ever heard on the local "modern rock" station.

    Since WMBC is at a university, we feel it's part of our goal to "educate" people about _real_ alternative music. Since UMBC is a big geeky school, the radio station computers run on Linux, and WMBC has more computer functionality than your typical station. We keep track of our CDs using a database written in PHP and MySQL. Each CD has a review, which tracks are recommended and which are profane (and unsuitable for airplay), and frequently some "for fans of" text. This same database also keeps track of our spins, ie what each DJ plays. Listeners can check out the last 10 songs played on the radio, or search the database for all the songs played in the past year.

    (Yes, I'm going to be releasing this code as soon as I make a few more fixes. Yes, it will submitted to Freshmeat--I mean, I _work_ there :) And I would love it if this code expanded into the sort of thing Jamie envisions above [although for anything more complicated, I'll probably move it to Postgres])

    It's a shame that this /. article was put up over the summer, because being a college station, WMBC is pretty much down+out at the moment. But please, if you'd like to expand your horizons, bookmark our site and come back in mid-September. Hey, bookmark almost _any_ college radio site; I don't want to sound too much like I'm pushing ours (though I happen to like it :) College/Independant radio is good for you.

    Sotto la panca, la capra crepa
  • Although you're anti-rant is a bit of a rant itself, I agree with the point you make about this being a high school phenomenon. If there is some human tendency to be cool as jamie mentions, it's a tendency we have when we're young and impressionable. It probably has to do with the drive to establish one's own identity independent of one's parents. It dissipates with maturity.

    When we're young, we believe the old folks are old and square, they just don't "get it." But when we become older ourselves we discover there really wasn't anything to "get" and we wonder how we could have been so naïve.

    Neither the young nor the old are wrong, it's just a difference in perspective.
  • Every musician (or artist) would like to make a living out of his hobby. Traditionally, they are very dependent on labels, syndicates, presses, and stuff like that. Just think about it: who owns the copyright to the work of Prince? To the Charlie Brown and Garfield comics (that'll be United Features Syndicate or something)? Situations like Metallica's, who are still the owners of their own music, are considered exceptions. Because it seems like the only way up, many bands (and other artists) agree to this kind of practices.

    Then there is the problem with these record companies, but also with digital media creators. Law and hardware are both turning against their consumers by means of copy protection schemes.

    That's the whole problem in a nutshell.

    Now what did whe do when software started to look like this? Well, I didn't do that much really, but there was this Richard Stallman figure who did a lot. The movement he started now seems a crucial factor for fair competition in the computer world.

    So what should we do when art starts to look like this? A Free Art Foundation? Providing people with liberated music licenses in which they can specify precisely what you may do with their art (use, modify)? Where people can learn that they don't *need* to give away their freedom for fame?

    Just a thought, but hey, if well set up, it could just be the kind of counterstrike we need.

    "FAF. The only record label that guarantees your freedom to copy this CD." ;-)

    It's... It's...
  • There is already a collaborative filtering [everything2.com] system built in to FreeAmp [freeamp.org]. (Note: I have never gotten the collaborative filtering mechanism in FreeAmp to work correctly) It uses technology from Relatable [relatable.com]. Although FreeAmp and the built-in Relatable client are GPL, the Relatable server is proprietary, and, in fact, their database is now being licensed by Napster [slashdot.org] to help them filter music.

    I think that collaborative filtering is a much better solution than a recommendation system, although only time will tell. The advantage of a collaborative filtering system is that it can be passive, not requiring any explicit input from users. The software can just examine your playlist, and (anonymously) upload the information to a server. (perhaps a username and password so you can identify the same user repeatedly, but no way to tie the username back to anything else)

    If you want to get fancy, you could even hook a Gnutella client up to it, and have a virtual custom radio that downloads and plays music that it thinks you'll like. (except, of course, that would be illegal ;-))

    I think the FreeAmp project is a great one; it's a cross-platform, GPLed, music player that even supports Ogg Vorbis.

    It just needs a little love.

    To make a smooth, free collaborative filtering system, we really need a free software implementation of music fingerprinting software, along with an open, non-profit database of songs. MusicBrainz [musicbrainz.org] is headed in that direction, but, they to, are tethered to Relatable's technology.

    Does anyone want to step forward to work on music fingerprinting software, who is interested in using it for the good of consumers, without catering to the recording industry?

    How about a collaborative filtering database for music? If you were willing to settle for per-CD resolution, it'd be pretty straightforward to add this technology to FreeCDDB [freecddb.org].

    -- Agthorr

  • Democracy is not always the best form of making decisions. As discussed in Aristotle's The Politics [amazon.com], and summarized by Robert Heinlein "Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something."

    The issue is not democracy versus plutocracy; democracy implies that our musical culture will be fed to us by the collective will of the masses. I don't want that either; I don't want my culture fed to me by anyone, democracy nor plutocracy. It's an issue of liberty and of diversity, more than one of government. I don't want one thing that's hip or cool; I want a plurality. That exists to some extent today; I want to see it flourish.

    (I assume this is what you intended, but I think it's an important point to distinguish)

    -- Agthorr

  • doh! Evil double-submit button. grr.

    -- Agthorr

  • Democracy is not always the best form of making decisions. As discussed in Aristotle's The Politics [amazon.com], and summarized by Robert Heinlein "Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something."

    The issue is not democracy versus plutocracy; democracy implies that our musical culture will be fed to us by the collective will of the masses. I don't want that either; I don't want my culture fed to me by anyone, democracy nor plutocracy. It's an issue of liberty and of diversity, more than one of government. I don't want one thing that's hip or cool; I want a plurality. That exists to some extent today; I want to see it flourish.

    (I assume this is what you meant to intended, but I think it's an important point to distinguish)

    -- Agthorr

  • Really, I guess you don't know what it's like to be treated differently because you're of a different skin color or religion than the white majority. American pop culture is decidely white culture. There is no melting pot. Wake up.
  • Amusing assumptions. They're all wrong.
  • I bet there's a way a natural culture can thrive alongside the one we're force-fed.

    Natural culture already exists. I'm not sorry I don't dress like an Old Navy clone, spend my free time watching sitcoms, cast my ballot for a republicrat, have your skin color and pray to your god. Natural culture already exists, but you view us as oddballs, outcasts, nuts, minorities or hermits. We view you, as, well, boring.

  • by ellem ( 147712 )
    So through, like, incoherency we can, like, be cool? And like, we all just wanta be cool and stuff?
  • i know as much as people hate them, there is some good, if you go to amazon.com when you look at items they do give you suggestions of other related artists and other stuff that customers bought that bought that product. yes i know they suck but still it's a good service. i know cdnow.com has this service too. when i go to those places i know what i want and i'm not really affected by it, unless i happen to notice something i don't have.

    user/friend suggestions are good, i being a music lover, my lack of money in the bank and piles of cds and vinyl will attest to this, try and follow this as much as possible. i even get record stores suggesting stuff for me to buy or they pick up the cd or vinyl at their distributor if they know i want it. and yes i do that if you spend enough money at the store.

    personally i don't listen to the radio anymore since they never play the music i like. our local alternative station claims there's no market for my music, yet somehow when bands i request at the club packs the floor and when the bands come around they easily sellout the show. so most of my selection comes from either friends, links or browsing record labels

    i will say tho that there is a total lack of a push of the music industry. if the label doesn't have enough money to bribe, errr ummm i mean push, the artist on radio stations. then well the band and the label are sol and have to work with word of mouth promotion and small club promotions or if there is a local university (or college) radio station.

    this lack of distribution is one reason i like napster and mp3s. if used properly people DO go out and buy the mp3s of a band they have downloaded the mp3 of. if they don't well the artist never really lost anything since the person wasn't going to buy the cd anyways. also it is one of the reasons i like to put the list of my cds on the net and i do offer to make mp3s of any of the cds i have so people can have a taste of the band.

    maybe one day the riaa will realize that it's head is secure wedged up it's behind and pull it out and see what a mess it has created of the music industry but i doubt that. it's akin to ask microsoft to write stable, secure and standard compliant software. it will never happen.
  • Well, I have to really thank Moxy Fruvous for all they've done to me and my music habits. You see, Moxy Fruvous struck it big in Canada. But, then they sorta just disappeared off the face of the planet. Not completley off the face of the earth, they went underground, and built a new grassroots following.

    Well, wouldn't you know it, a good fan base was created. We revolve around fruhead.com [fruhead.com].

    I was surprised by the suggestion of a "you might also like..." system. Fruhead.com has one of these. Music REcommendations [fruhead.com]. Sure, there are some big names on that list, like the Barenaked Ladies, Dave Matthews Band, but there's also lots of groups the average person probably hasn't heard of.

  • ...and you bring up DARIA?

    Damn right. Just because Daria is on MTV doesn't make it corporate pop culture.

    The first episode of the current season, "Fizz-Ed", was a criticism of everything MTV stands for. And this was not the first Daria episode to critique MTV and the rest of corporate pop culture.

    It has always been my view that the reason why MTV plays games with Daria's schedule is that it has been trying to kill the show. However, it remains one of MTV's most popular shows, and is only now leaving the air at the end of this current season because Glenn Eichler wants to move on and end the show before the ideas run out.

    However, what will become of the show after the end of the series? It will probably disappear just as shows like Beavis and Butt-Head, Aeon Flux, The Maxx and Downtown did. MTV is not very savvy about syndication, never mind that it's a subsidiary of syndication kings Viacom. They have syndicated The Real World and that's about it.

    Oddly, MTV has been more forthcoming about releasing videotapes of Daria in Europe and Australia than in the US.

    Anyway, my point is that Daria has been an effective critique of corporate pop culture from inside corporate pop culture itself. Discounting the Trent/Daria "shippers" and the Fashion Club wannabes, Daria fandom "gets" this.

    When Daria finally leaves the air, MTV's reason for existence will be gone.

    Here are a few good links to Daria fan sites:

    • http://www.outpost-daria.com/
    • http://www.lawndale-commons.com/
    • http://paperpusher.simplenet.com/

    (no live links for the goatsex-wary...copy and paste)


  • This seems to be more of a rant of a high-schooler who has just figured out how his school's social structure works

    I will turn 50 this month and it sounds to me more like a good idea than a high school rant.
    Pink Floyd: We know what you dreamed, we told you what to dream. (Welcome to the machine)

    Moreover, it seems a desperate plea to make a social structure where the geeks can be cool.

    Geeks are cool, everyone is cool somewhere, that's the whole point of the article.

    What is with these rants lately? It seems like they are getting more and more "Please Like me..."-ish all the time.

    So what's the problem with using technology to find the kind of people that you like and are liked by.
    The point is, we can use the gift of a technology with global reach to decentralize our culture. This is really a return to the state we were in before we all watched the same TV shows and listened to the same songs. It is a sort of re decentralization.
    The only difference between this decentralized culture and the previous is that it will not be based on region and we will be able to choose our cultural preferance without picking up and moving

    We can all pick (Forgive the buzzword) our own virtual region of the world in which to live.

    BTW: back in 1968 ther was a Band called AUM. I had one of there albums, It was great, It got lost in a move at some point. Any old fart geeks out there know where I can find a copy?

  • Actually such recommendation systems allready exist, but they are called 'datamining' and e-commerce. It's allready implemented at amazon.com where certain top-authors or top-buyers can suggest a list of 10 books for a certain genre. There are dozens of other sites on the net, typically all about buying and selling and commercial activity, so here are a few non-commercial ones you might want to check out, which were all created with enthusiasm and volunteers, not cash: ojuice.org [ojuice.org], which is a fully customizeable database containing 'member information' of a specific underground culture movement. The movement in question, the demoscene, is not important in my point here. What is important is that these kind of member websites allow you to search the most respected people and query their tastes and preferences in the demoscene. Maybe that's not as instant single-click-away as Jamie has put it, but it's practically the same. Here's another example [united-trackers.org], or try this one [traxinspace.com], both examples based on "home and hobby electronic musicians" preferences.

    I could easily give a dozen more, my point is that "cool" is inherently related to subcultures, rahter than 'big pictures'. The very fact that cool exists, means that you are different and have specific cultural 'features' people envy you for. Hence, cool doesn't work for 'big picture 20$ websites'.. it only works for small obscure and underground submovements you are not very likely to ever discover on your own.

  • It seems to me that the backlash against "cool", while it looks good on paper, doesn't work so well in real life. Humans are social animals, they require a social group. Just "being who you are" doesn't get you a social group unless you have multiple personalities, so it won't actually work for most kids.

    Not that I'd want mainstream "cool", mind you.

    So my proposed solution: start a LUG at your kid's high school. Establish a beachhead for the kind of "cool" that really is. Sure, not everyone will think it's "cool" ("that club is for freaks! join the football team!"), but it could really help a certain kind of kid to find a geek community in their high school. I wish I had.

  • I think this idea is right on. While longwinded, it says essentially this: You get cool from other people ~150 of them. Tech could make that 150 million ppl. Someone needs to make a moderation system to do that - and to keep track of _who's_ mods are best, and give them more mod points.

    It's a great idea. If no one's done it, perhaps I'll try it next year, but not this.

  • by Furd ( 178066 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:46AM (#168785) Homepage
    I note a number of people here seem to reject the notion that "cool" can be engineered. I *highly* recommend you all look at the FrontLine WWW site and look for "The Merchants of Cool [pbs.org]" show. You will definitely have to rethink your assumptions. Their depiction of the use of anthropology-based tools to do market research on "coolness" and the way that they engineer their products around that is chilling - and the MTV empire is particularly well done.

    Then tell me that cool is something wholly independent of a market.
  • This seems to be more of a rant of a high-schooler who has just figured out how his school's social structure works. Moreover, it seems a desperate plea to make a social structure where the geeks can be cool. What is with these rants lately? It seems like they are getting more and more "Please Like me..."-ish all the time.
  • I tend to believe that other people's opinions are basically worthless to oneself in a practical point of view. Although it feels nice when people like you, you should live your life the way that YOU think is right and good, and forget what anyone else is telling you to do or how they want you to behave. If people choose to ignore you, then so what? Aw, you're just saying that to try to impress us!
  • Hey, this idea of using a recommendation system sounds pretty cool. But which one should I use?

    Any suggestions?

  • "our cool-chasing is built into our genes"

    I think in the case of my parents the cool-chasing gene must have skipped a generation. ;P

  • Being cool has two aspects to it:

    1. Cool things have some practical usefulness (at least most of the time)
    2. Cool things differentiate you from the rest of the masses, elevating you to special status ("you're cool")

    Once a cool thing saturates a market (or culture, if you prefer that term, though functionally there's little difference in the two terms) it no longer serves to differentiate you from the rest of the masses. ("Whoa, color TV!" turns to "Yawn, when are you getting cable?" turns to "Big deal, my satellite pulls down 3000 channels" turns to "I got a TiVo!" turns to "Ha, ha, you got a TiVo!")

    Therefore you must constantly be moving in the direction of the New Cool. If you become enlightened you may realize the futility of this, and instead choose to seek a personal cool. This doesn't help you in terms of your status, but it may make you happier.

    Some people attain enlightenment and realize that this pursuit is empty in itself, and also pointless.

    Others realize that money can be used to influence the public perception of what's cool and that this can be leveraged to generate more money. The 90% who isn't cool can be kept in a perpetual game of catch-up trying to be like the truly cool they want to emulate. This will make you ever richer and therefore in an ever-increasingly better position to define coolness by fiat. You just have to keep that carrot on the end of that stick just out of the reach of the 90% while simultaneously making them feel like they're getting something of value each time they reach for it. It's a foolproof plan that works great. And as we all know from high school it's perfectly ethical to exploit the uncool for personal gain, especially if you are one of the elites in charge of defining cool.

  • But part of the point of that show was that the corporations do a lot of research to find out what's cool. They look for the trend-setters, and do lots of test marketing, focus groups, etc.

    I'm not saying that cool isn't manipulated. But the large corporations can't just single-handedly define cool. (This is a flaw in Jamie's article as well: he starts off talking about the "top-down" determination of what's cool--then goes on to describe all the research that corporations have to do in order to keep up with what's cool.)

    Another point of the Frontline episode was that once something is corporatized, it ceases to be cool. (Not instantly, but in time.) Thus, the corps are always scrambling to keep up with the latest.

  • by ichimunki ( 194887 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:29AM (#168796)
    If you have 150 friends and they are all cool, then I don't care what kind of music you listen to. I may not be a software developer or a UNIX admin, but I'm geeky enough to know that being that cool and being friends with that many cool people is totally uncool.
  • Trade one hierarchy of coolness (a very vague and arbitrary distinction by the author's own admission) for another which has no clear benefit? How is this system an improvement on what is presently available, other than the fact that it seems to elevate the author's own "coolness" for suggesting it?
  • This caught my eye:
    One of the interesting ideas that sociobiology brings us, as it struggles to shed its ugly reputation from the 1970s, is that human beings are hardwired with the capability to keep track of about 150 other human beings. Perhaps that's the size of a typical village on the African savannah, 50,000 years ago.
    I tend not to trust the "soft" or "social" sciences, because their practitioners always seem to have an axe to grind, starting from a preconceived conclusion and searching for data to support it. I found the persepctive of zoologist Desmond Morris, author of "The Naked Ape" and "The Human Zoo" quite interesting. By viewing H. Sapiens as just another species of animal, and comparing to other primates, he comes up with the premise that we can really know about 60 people well enough to form a cohesive tribal unit. It seems that, whenever a tribe reaches triple digits, it fissions into two smaller tribes.

    Morris' thesis is basically that the ills of modern man come from the fact that our social systems go beyond the ability to keep track of personal reputations that is essential to a functional society. That jerk who cut you off in traffic this morning suffers nothing as a result, because you don't know him and will probably never even see him again. So, instead of each of us keeping that "ledger" of repuation, we use clumsy substitutes, like crowns, cops, courts, churches, commercials, and celebrities to tell us what to think.

    Recently we've become more clever. The sort of devices the article mentions, as well as our own "karma", or the digital TV recorder feature that suggests programs rated highly by others who seem to rate things the way you do, are attempts to find more efficient ways of distributing knowledge of reputation. Two-way digital communications themselves make possible the creation of non-geographic "tribes" that are small enough that the members really can feel like they know someone.

    It's as if our brains have receptors for social interaction patterns that something is going to plug into. We just have to figure out which ones are best.

  • I'm not sure if it matters who is cool overall. It's more important to be able to find a few people who have similar likes and dislikes, who's tastes you come to trust, and who's recommendation you elect to accept in the future. Such a system could be implemented using [grumble grumble...] Microsoft's proposed SmartLinks technology [slashdot.org], discussed on /. earlier today.

    Userw who wish to participate would create their own smartlinks channel which might be implemented similarly to an RSS channel using an XML format. A database would identify similarities in links built into registered channels, and then recommend other users who's shannel you might wish to include in your SmartLinks configuration.

    Most of the discussion of SmartLinks on /. in the above mentioned atticle was Microsoft Bashing, but I think the technology might have a few neat applications, when implemented with restraint. This 'Coolness Database' might be one. In order to avoid repeating myself (and I know this is bad form, sorry...), my earlier comment [slashdot.org] might shed some light on how one could implement a shared recommendation system leveraging the best features of Alexa, RealNames, NBCi QuickClick and FireFly.

  • by grovertime ( 237798 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:26AM (#168809) Homepage
    Jamie's post is well-intentioned but well off the mark. The open-source movement has made many of us long for days of - let's just say it - socialism. It's a beautiful concept on paper. But I doubt most of us really dream of such things. That would infringe on all of our goals whether inherited or achieved - most of us have a conquerer spirit and grassroots systems are just that - the beginning of long adventures to penetrate popular culture. I love discovering new music in the dirty, dank nightclubs and finding a writer who prints his stuff on pad paper bound by paper clips, but both artists still wish for a larger forum. Don't confuse grassroots with just getting started.

    Jamie mentions "recommendation systems" and then points out the grassroots dot orgs that have been proponents of them - well mp3.com and a ton of other corporate ventures have used the same technique, so the value of your point is muddled. A free culture is a utopian pipe dream that makes no actual sense. Having systems in place where unknown artists - be they musicians, writers, coders, biochemists - is fantastic, but let's not completely bash the American Dream because as we lose our neighborhood communities and get swallowed up into a global network, it only makes more and more sense that we too, pure artists that we are, would really like to make a big splash someday in our new community.

    1. is this.....is this for REAL? [mikegallay.com]
  • by ryanvm ( 247662 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:22AM (#168811)
    "Not Cool" is the feeling you get when you're reading Slashdot and you realize, "Shit - this web site is for teenagers."

    I'm kidding of course, that actually makes me feel "cooler". ;-)

  • What's the real difference between someone who finds something cool and a label in your view? You say that you trust certain people's choices because they have made cool recommendations in the past, and that those people should be compensated for their coolness. How is this different from the Blue Note label, or all of the Indie labels out there? They find good talent early and promote it.

    Your discussion seems to hinge on the idea that the labels are somewhat inefficient at bringing quality acts to you. At the same time, you don't want to go out and find quality acts yourself. An efficient way in your system is to have a machine make sophisticated recommendations based on yours and others' purchasing behaviors. Well, check out Amazon [amazon.com], they do that already.

    I think that the real answer all of the wrongs of capitalism is to stop consuming. The reason why McDonalds (insert any multi-national) replaced your local diner (insert any local equivalent) is because you don't go to your local diner.

  • The idea of a music DB is an interesting one, and has already been partially implemented on Launch.com [launch.com]. You rated songs you liked by album, artist, track and genre, and thier software used those choices to predict other music you liked. When you listened to a song, the names of other people who liked it popped up in a little side window, and if you wanted to, you could throw them onto your list of 'music selection factors'.

    Sadly enough, thier service is crippled right now, because the fsking RIAA is suing them. Combine that with the no more streaming audio, and I have to listen to my mp3s at work instead of ever having a chance to hear new music. Grumble.

  • I think you defeated your own argument.

    Free software is not commonly owned, as you yourself pointed out; not even in a practical sense. Reveal and share != give up ownership in this context (because I can share information with you without losing what I own, or losing my claim on that information. Indeed, this is exactly what the GPL does).

    Ryan T. Sammartino

  • by ryants ( 310088 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:40AM (#168823)
    The open-source movement has made many of us long for days of - let's just say it - socialism.

    Open source/Free software has nothing in common with socialism.

    Open source/Free software makes me, personally, long for the days of freedom: free speech, free ideas, free markets. All three of these are, to some degree, contrary to socialism.

    I have no idea where people picked up the idea that freedom of code == socialism, or communism, or anything of the sort, and I fail to see the connection at all.

    Ryan T. Sammartino

  • Brace yourselves: Here's a long rant against the notion of being superior to mass-produced cool, by author Dave Eggers. [mcsweeneys.net] Enjoy.


    First, a primer: When I got your questions, I was provoked. You expressed many of the feelings I used to have, when I was in high school and college, about some of the people I admired at the time, people who at some point disappointed me in some way, or made moves I could not understand. So I took a few passages from your questions - those pertaining to or hinting at "selling out" - and I used them as a launching pad for a rant I've wanted to write for a while now, and more so than ever since my own book has become successful. And the rant was timely, because shortly after getting your questions, I was scheduled to speak at Yale, and so, assuming that their minds might be in a similar spot as yours, I read this, the below, to them, in slightly less polished form. The rant is directed to myself, age 20, as much as it is to you, so remember that if you ever want to take much offense.


    You actually asked me the question: "Are you taking any steps to keep shit real?" I want you always to look back on this time as being a time when those words came out of your mouth.

    Now, there was a time when such a question - albeit probably without the colloquial spin - would have originated from my own brain. Since I was thirteen, sitting in my orange-carpeted bedroom in ostensibly cutting-edge Lake Forest, Illinois, subscribing to the Village Voice and reading the earliest issues of Spin, I thought I had my ear to the railroad tracks of avant garde America. (Laurie Anderson, for example, had grown up only miles away!) I was always monitoring, with the most sensitive and well-calibrated apparatus, the degree of selloutitude exemplified by any given artist - musical, visual, theatrical, whatever. I was vigilant and merciless and knew it was my job to be so.

    I bought R.E.M.'s first EP, Chronic Town, when it came out and thought I had found God. I loved Murmur, Reckoning, but then watched, with greater and greater dismay, as this obscure little band's audience grew, grew beyond obsessed people like myself, grew to encompass casual fans, people who had heard a song on the radio and picked up Green and listened for the hits. Old people liked them, and stupid people, and my moron neighbor who had sex with truck drivers. I wanted these phony R.E.M.-lovers dead.

    But it was the band's fault, too. They played on Letterman. They switched record labels. Even their album covers seemed progressively more commercial. And when everyone I knew began liking them, I stopped. Had they changed, had their commitment to making art with integrity changed? I didn't care, because for me, any sort of popularity had an inverse relationship with what you term the keeping 'real' of 'shit.' When the Smiths became slightly popular they were sellouts. Bob Dylan appeared on MTV and of course was a sellout. Recently, just at dinner tonight, after a huge, sold-out reading by David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell (both sellouts), I was sitting next to an acquaintance, a very smart acquaintance married to the singer-songwriter of a very well-known band. I mentioned that I had seen the Flaming Lips the night before. She rolled her eyes. "Oh I really liked them on 90210," she sneered, assuming that this would put me and the band in our respective places.


    Was she aware that The Flaming Lips had composed an album requiring the simultaneous playing of four separate discs, on four separate CD players? Was she aware that the band had once, for a show at Lincoln Center, handed out to audience members something like 100 portable tape players, with 100 different tapes, and had them all played at the same time, creating a symphonic sort of effect, one which completely devastated everyone in attendance? I went on and on to her about the band's accomplishments, their experiments. Was she convinced that they were more than their one appearance with Jason Priestly? She was.

    Now, at that concert the night before, Wayne Coyne, the lead singer, had himself addressed this issue, and to great effect. After playing much of their new album, the band paused and he spoke to the audience. I will paraphrase what he said:

    "Hi. Well, some people get all bitter when some song of theirs gets popular, and they refuse to play it. But we're not like that. We're happy that people like this song. So here it goes."

    Then they played the song. (You know the song.) "She Don't Use Jelly" is the song, and it is a silly song, and it was their most popular song. But to highlight their enthusiasm for playing the song, the band released, from the stage and from the balconies, about 200 balloons. (Some of the balloons, it should be noted, were released by two grown men in bunny suits.) Then while playing the song, Wayne sang with a puppet on his hand, who also sang into the microphone. It was fun. It was good.

    But was it a sellout? Probably. By some standards, yes. Can a good band play their hit song? Should we hate them for this? Probably, probably. First 90210, now they go playing the song every stupid night. Everyone knows that 90210 is not cutting edge, and that a cutting edge alternarock band should not appear on such a show. That rule is clearly stated in the obligatory engrained computer-chip sellout manual that we were all given when we hit adolescence.

    But this sellout manual serves only the lazy and small. Those who bestow sellouthood upon their former heroes are driven to do so by, first and foremost, the unshakable need to reduce. The average one of us - a taker-in of various and constant media, is absolutely overwhelmed - as he or she should be - with the sheer volume of artistic output in every conceivable medium given to the world every day - it is simply too much to begin to process or comprehend - and so we are forced to try to sort, to reduce. We designate, we label, we diminish, we create hierarchies and categories.

    Through largely received wisdom, we rule out Tom Waits's new album because it's the same old same old, and we save $15. U2 has lost it, Radiohead is too popular. Country music is bad, Puff Daddy is bad, the last Wallace book was bad because that one reviewer said so. We decide that TV is bad unless it's the Sopranos. We liked Rick Moody and Jonathan Lethem and Jeffrey Eugenides until they allowed their books to become movies. And on and on. The point is that we do this and to a certain extent we must do this. We must create categories, and to an extent, hierarchies.

    But you know what is easiest of all? When we dismiss. Oh how gloriously comforting, to be able to write someone off. Thus, in the overcrowded pantheon of alternarock bands, at a certain juncture, it became necessary for a certain brand of person to write off The Flaming Lips, despite the fact that everyone knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that their music was superb and groundbreaking and real. We could write them off because they shared a few minutes with Jason Priestley and that terrifying Tori Spelling person. Or we could write them off because too many magazines have talked about them. Or because it looked like the bassist was wearing too much gel in his hair.

    One less thing to think about. Now, how to kill off the rest of our heroes, to better make room for new ones?

    We liked Guided by Voices until they let Ric Ocasek produce their latest album, and everyone knows Ocasek is a sellout, having written those mushy Cars songs in the late 80s, and then - gasp! - produced Weezer's album, and of course Weezer's no good, because that Sweater song was on the radio, right, and dorky teenage girls were singing it and we cannot have that and so Weezer is bad and Ocasek is bad and Guided by Voices are bad, even if Spike Jonze did direct that one Weezer video, and we like Spike Jonze, don't we?

    Oh. No. We don't. We don't like him anymore because he's married to Sofia Coppola, and she is not cool. Not cool. So bad in Godfather 3, such nepotism. So let's check off Spike Jonze - leaving room in our brains for who??

    It's exhausting.

    The only thing worse than this sort of activity is when people, students and teachers alike, run around college campuses calling each other racists and anti-Semites. It's born of boredom, lassitude. Too cowardly to address problems of substance where such problems actually are, we claw at those close to us. We point to our neighbor, in the khakis and sweater, and cry foul. It's ridiculous. We find enemies among our peers because we know them better, and their proximity and familiarity means we don't have to get off the couch to dismantle them.

    And now, I am also a sellout. Here are my sins, many of which you may know about already:

    First, I was a sellout because Might magazine took ads. Then I was a sellout because our pages were color, and not stapled together at the Kinko's. Then I was a sellout because I went to work for Esquire. Now I'm a sellout because my book has sold many copies. And because I have done many interviews. And because I have let people take my picture. And because my goddamn picture has been in just about every fucking magazine and newspaper printed in America.

    And now, as far as McSweeney's is concerned, The Advocate interviewer wants to know if we're losing also our edge, if the magazine is selling out, hitting the mainstream, if we're still committed to publishing unknowns, and pieces killed by other magazines.

    And the fact is, I don't give a fuck. When we did the last issue, this was my thought process: I saw a box. So I decided we'd do a box. We were given stories by some of our favorite writers - George Saunders, Rick Moody (who is uncool, uncool!), Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis, others - and so we published them. Did I wonder if people would think we were selling out, that we were not fulfilling the mission they had assumed we had committed ourselves to?

    No. I did not. Nor will I ever. We just don't care. We care about doing what we want to do creatively. We want to be interested in it. We want it to challenge us. We want it to be difficult. We want to reinvent the stupid thing every time. Would I ever think, before I did something, of how those with sellout monitors would respond to this or that move? I would not. The second I sense a thought like that trickling into my brain, I will put my head under the tires of a bus.

    You want to know how big a sellout I am?

    A few months ago I wrote an article for Time magazine and was paid $12,000 for it I am about to write something, 1,000 words, 3 pages or so, for something called Forbes ASAP, and for that I will be paid $6,000 For two years, until five months ago, I was on the payroll of ESPN magazine, as a consultant and sometime contributor. I was paid handsomely for doing very little. Same with my stint at Esquire. One year I spent there, with little to no duties. I wore khakis every day. Another Might editor and I, for almost a year, contributed to Details magazine, under pseudonyms, and were paid $2000 each for what never amounted to more than 10 minutes work - honestly never more than that. People from Hollywood want to make my book into a movie, and I am probably going to let them do so, and they will likely pay me a great deal of money for the privilege.

    Do I care about this money? I do. Will I keep this money? Very little of it. Within the year I will have given away almost a million dollars to about 100 charities and individuals, benefiting everything from hospice care to an artist who makes sculptures from Burger King bags. And the rest will be going into publishing books through McSweeney's. Would I have been able to publish McSweeney's if I had not worked at Esquire? Probably not. Where is the $6000 from Forbes going? To a guy named Joe Polevy, who wants to write a book about the effects of radiator noise on children in New England.

    Now, what if I were keeping all the money? What if I were buying property in St. Kitt's or blew it all on live-in prostitutes? What if, for example, I was, a few nights ago, sitting at a table in SoHo with a bunch of Hollywood slash celebrity acquaintances, one of whom I went to high school with, and one of whom was Puff Daddy? Would that make me a sellout? Would that mean I was a force of evil?

    What if a few nights before that I was at the home of Julian Schnabel, at a party featuring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and at which Schnabel said we should get together to talk about him possibly directing my movie? And what if I said sure, let's?

    Would all that make me a sellout? Would I be uncool? Would it have been more cool to not go to this party, or to not have written that book, or done that interview, or to have refused millions from Hollywood?

    The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it's corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I'll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no's you've said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.

    No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.

    There is a point in one's life when one cares about selling out and not selling out. One worries whether or not wearing a certain shirt means that they are behind the curve or ahead of it, or that having certain music in one's collection means that they are impressive, or unimpressive.

    Thankfully, for some, this all passes. I am here to tell you that I have, a few years ago, found my way out of that thicket of comparison and relentless suspicion and judgment. And it is a nice feeling. Because, in the end, no one will ever give a shit who has kept shit 'real' except the two or three people, sitting in their apartments, bitter and self-devouring, who take it upon themselves to wonder about such things. The keeping real of shit matters to some people, but it does not matter to me. It's fashion, and I don't like fashion, because fashion does not matter.

    What matters is that you do good work. What matters is that you produce things that are true and will stand. What matters is that the Flaming Lips's new album is ravishing and I've listened to it a thousand times already, sometimes for days on end, and it enriches me and makes me want to save people. What matters is that it will stand forever, long after any narrow-hearted curmudgeons have forgotten their appearance on goddamn 90210. What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who's up and who's down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say. Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.

    I say yes, and Wayne Coyne says yes, and if that makes us the enemy, then good, good, good. We are evil people because we want to live and do things. We are on the wrong side because we should be home, calculating which move would be the least damaging to our downtown reputations. But I say yes because I am curious. I want to see things. I say yes when my high school friend tells me to come out because he's hanging with Puffy. A real story, that. I say yes when Hollywood says they'll give me enough money to publish a hundred different books, or send twenty kids through college. Saying no is so fucking boring.

    And if anyone wants to hurt me for that, or dismiss me for that, for saying yes, I say Oh do it, do it you motherfuckers, finally, finally, finally.

  • by absurd_spork ( 454513 ) on Thursday June 07, 2001 @08:39AM (#168839) Homepage
    The evidence is pretty anecdotal, but each person's internal map of pecking orders and trust networks seems to grow not much beyond that size. You and I can track coolness factors for about 150 of our closest friends, no more.

    This is not entirely true. I know that this has been the result of some experiment in social psychology, but there is enough evidence that the sizes of individual ego networks may vary greatly, often beyond those 150 heads. These results have been problematic mainly due to the environmental settings their test persons were subject to, i.e. their role within Western culture. However, if you look at the ego network of someone really prominent within one's society (a famous scholar, a politician etc., someone who knows and has to communicate with lots of people independently and intensively), you'll find that they are often larger. I know of no historical examples where there are scientific surveys, but one is currently in preparation about an Arabic scholar in 18th century Egypt who had intensive scholarly contacts all over Northern Africa, Arabia and most of Asia, and his ego network comprised of well over one thousand individuals.

    Of course, this does not invalidate your idea.

    Personally, I find the idea to have something like a permanent trend database collected from what individual users considered "cool" at a given time rather fascinating. It allows for some really interesting social analyses, for example whether coolness trends originate from individuals who are in the position of "hubs" in a social network or rather from individuals more to the edge and so on.

    However, the proposal definitely has the problem of anonymity. When individual user's trends are trackable, individual anonymity can no longer be guaranteed; effectively, DoubleClick already does quite a lot of what you want the trend database to do! I doubt whether just anonymizing the data will solve this fairly basic problem; social networks are very often harder or even impossible to reconstruct when the data is fully anonymized (because it is much harder to reconstruct who interacts with whom), and partial anonymization is practically equivalent to no anonymization at all, because when you speak of "User A" instead of "Joe User", but keep track of his taste, his age, gender and so on, as well as his social interaction within the observed framework, you may just as well keep the name because it would be rather easy to correlate the data with external material and thus recover the individual's identity.

    And just to give the crowd some material regarding social networks, here are some social network-related links:

    For those interested, that should point you to a lot of interesting material.

  • Socialist, no. That's the state ownership of the means of production.

    No, that's Stalinism [att.net]. Socialism [att.net] is the ownership of the means of production by workers. Yes, Stalin did misleadingly describe his system as "socialist" or "communist [att.net], which has, as you say, led to these terms being widely, if incorrectly, used as "free floating negative words roughly comparable to 'bad' or 'satanic'."
    require 6.0;

Last yeer I kudn't spel Engineer. Now I are won.