Are apps the new music video?

Boston alternative rock legends The Pixies are the latest music artists to release free content to the public in the form of a free smartphone app. Black Francis and his cohorts have released an official Pixies app for iPhone which features live concert footage, three live albums spanning twenty years of performances, and tracks from the band’s original demo tape, known as “The Purple Tape.”

Icelandic avant-garde singer Björk has also released an interactive audio-visual iPhone and iPad app to accompany her new album, Biophilia, while Belgian DJ collective Soulwax decided to forgo the making of a new album under their 2 many DJ’s moniker, and opted instead to release their Radio Soulwax, a collection of 24 hour-long mixes with accompanying visuals based on the original artwork of the featured songs.

Although YouTube is still a powerful marketing vehicle for music, it seems that the golden age of the music video, heralded just a couple of weeks short of twenty years ago with the launch of MTV, is drawing to a close, or at the very least, entering a new phase of its development.

The more forward-thinking artists are now questioning the wisdom of hiring a celebrity movie director and paying for a harem of dancers and enough lighting to land an Airbus, for a clip that will only ever be viewed on YouTube or Muzu, and fleetingly at that, when they can employ an app developer to create something that stays in the consumer’s pocket and can lead them to engage with, and even purchase from, the artist.

The Pixies app provides free content, but only after the user agrees to share the app with his or her Facebook or Twitter friends. The fan gets free, and legal, content, while the band gets invaluable exposure through social media, not to mention the links to purchase the band’s music and merchandise through the site.

Björk, being Björk, has a slightly more complicated approach, but the basic premise is the same. Her app, narrated by naturalist Sir David Attenborough, is an integral part of the overall concept of her album. The initial app is free to download, and acts as a umbrella for ten micro-apps, which will accompany the ten songs on the album, and will retail at around €1.79/$1.99.

These innovative and, frankly, odd apps will feature various games and interactive educational features which will teach the user about topics such as chromatic scales. This might be a step too far for many people, but if the video for “It’s Oh So Quiet” was released today, how much attention would it receive? Probably not enough to even cover director Spike Jonze’s wages. You have to applaud the source of Iceland’s second-most violent eruptions for her willingness to be a pioneer in this field.

Of course, bands have tried this before with CD-ROM’s; I remember all of twelve years ago spending what seemed like, and probably was, hours sitting at my mother’s rickety old desktop PC waiting for an interactive Foo Fighters “experience”, which turned out to be a couple of tour photos and a music video which took so long to load it felt like watching a cartoon being animated in real time.

Technology has moved on though, and the time is right for artists to properly explore the mobile world, and finally wreak vengeance on the video for what it did to the radio star.

Surprise Upturn In Intel Sales [VIDEO]

Running contrary to industry expectations Intel has just posted record sales $13 billion in its last quarter.

Although demand has ebbed in its established markets of Europe and the United States this has been more than compensated for by the upturn in sales in countries such as Brazil and China.

In addition, apart from buyers in the new markets who are buying PCs for the first time, Intel claims that the advent of smartphones and tablets has not had the impact on sales that many observers would have thought.

According to Intel CEO, Paul Otellini, customers still see these device as additional purchases rather than outright replacement for their PCs.

Philanthrokidz: Real World Results from Online Play

The Rift is a new website for pre-teens, the brain child of Tina Venema, a mother of two with a background in software development, whose interests in innovation, technology and a budding interest in philanthropy led her to explore the idea of creating a virtual world for children where they can socialise and, by playing online, contribute to community projects.

While her own children were avid users of technology, their one complaint was that for all the time they spent playing games online, nothing would happen. Her children would tell her they could decorate a room or feed an animal online and while this was fun for them, nothing else would happen — there were no visible consequences to their online presence.

Tina came to the conclusion that children in the tween demographic, between the ages of nine and thirteen, are equally involved in their online lives as they are in their real world lives, “Tweens live with one leg in the real world and one in the virtual world; virtual experience is very real for them but they are still in school every day in really concrete situations.”

“A theory I came up with is that there is no bridge between their real world experience and their virtual experience and how cool would it be to empower kids to do things virtually that they have currency in and the ability to play online and to transform that into something that they could be proud of creating in the real world.”

Thus The Rift was born.

It is Tina’s company, Philanthrokidz’, current project and is what Tina hopes will become, “the coolest place online for kids.” It differs from other tween sites such as Webkinz or Club Penguin in that by playing and taking part in activities online, kids can generate currency for themselves called Rifts which they can use to contribute to virtual community projects.

“Our special sauce is we have to have all the things a virtual world needs that keep kids coming back; which is fun and games and allowing them to be part of masterminding it. I think the one benefit we have which we haven’t seen in other places is the ability for them to turn their virtual currency and power into the real world things happening.

“Currently our users are building a virtual kids’ park in the Dominican Republic. What the kids are doing is all virtual and our corporate partners match with real currency in the real world what our kids are doing with virtual currency in the virtual world.”

On the website the Rift kids will find a toggle button where they can watch the real park as it’s being built and there they can see what is happening and how their real project is coming along be able to compare it with their virtual park on the website.

The benefit for investors is that they’re able to build their own customised space on The Rift where kids can go and sample their product, help them with development or design new packaging, and all of this information goes directly from the users on The Rift right back to the company.

The name for the site comes from a legend Tina and her team created for added intrigue and that added a spark of folklore to the idea of these children coming together to create their own world where play equals power.

The fictitious tale of The Rift goes that at one point in time an island existed out in the middle of the Atlantic which was governed by five guilds; entrepreneurs, builders, artists, intuit and scientists. The island was seen as the place that other people could go to seek help.

Then the rift happened and while no one knows how exactly this happened, the different tribes or guilds that had taken up residence on the island fled back to their countries of origin. The island turned in on itself and sank beneath the ocean.

Fast forward thousands of years: Five kids spread across the globe get together online via a blog that one of the girls starts; unknownst to themselves they are all descendants of the five guilds.

“So the idea is that The Rift is being rebuilt and at the same time we’re saving the world, kids are invited to become part of that endeavour through all the activities they do and by earning their virtual currency. This currency gives them virtual spending power and also status, so we’re encouraging healthy competition among kids to earn more but also to give more.”

As they play online, pre-teens can earn a virtual currency which they can use to build their kids’ park in the Dominican Republic. They purchase the land which then has to be sodded and grassed and as that happens in the virtual world it’s also happening in the real world, funded by real currency.

The beauty of this scheme is that children are being enforced with the idea from an early age that earning money and working towards a goal can be extremely rewarding. The Rift is gives them the experience of seeing their goals come to fruition through vicarious education.

“While we don’t want to be an educational site for kids we do think there are some important things that can be learned though this project around financial literacy, global issues, geography and languages.”

Another major part of Philanthrokidz and The Rift project for Tina is a desire to develop user generated content, “We’re seeking out feedback from our users to help us build the world in the way they want it to be, we really want it to be a world for kids, built by kids.”

Apple: Record Profits Amidst Uncertainty in Silicon Valley [VIDEO]

Mac OSX Lion was launched a day after Apple reported record profits in the last quarter. There are predictions that Apple will go on to turnover $120 billion in this fiscal year.

However, the PriceWaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree Report, also just released, points out that although VC investment has been at its greatest in the first quarter of this year since 2008, there are indications that the VCs themselves are having trouble finding funding.

While there is much debate about whether Silicon Valley is in the midst of a bubble or not it does seem that growth in the tech market sector is very mixed.

Graphene [VIDEO]

Graphene, a new material discovered in 2004, is set to speed up the data transfer between computers. The Nobel Prize was awarded in 2010 for research into its behaviour.

Although there a great many obstacles to be overcome before it can go into production its interesting and unique set of properties hold the promise of a great many new and interesting applications in the future.

Infographic: State of the Internet

State of the Internet 2011

Source: Online Schools

Apart from some rather mind-boggling statistics presented in a very effective way there are a number of interesting takeaways to be had from this infographic.

Although the internet is growing at a phenomenal rate it is not growing at an equal rate across the globe. In some places expansion is inhibited by lack of resources and infrastructure. In other places direct human intervention is holding back the tide.

The former issue may well be resolved before the latter but even so it will be some time before internet growth can be said to be stable or even predictable.

What is intriguing is that there is now no way of even beginning to comprehend these figures easily without the art and craft that it takes to produce a decent infographic.

Trying to discern meaning from columns of figures on a spreadsheet or even a simple pie or bar chart can be so much harder than deriving information from the representative form of the infographic.

Alongside the growth of the internet will be the growth of the infographicist — a profession devoted to making data meaningful and useful.

Thanks to Candice Parkson for bringing it to our attention.

IBM’s Smarter Cities: A Synergistic View of the Modern City

Smarter Cities is IBM’s initiative to utilise the wide array of data and instrumentation available pertaining to city life to enable cities to become smarter in their integration and delivery of services and planning.

Earlier this year, IBM launched their Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin, which will eventually employ up to 200 people, across a wide variety of disciplines. Pól Mac Aonghusa is a Senior Manager at the Dublin Smarter Cities centre, and describes IBM’s approach to building smarter cities as, “a very synergistic view of how a city needs to work as a total organism”.

“We’ve noticed that the world in general has become increasingly instrumented. Devices are telling us about the world, and so there’s a huge amount of instrumentation out there. That’s interesting, but in another way it’s an enormous challenge, because actually what you want to be able to do is interconnect all of those things so that you can get data from rich and diverse sources.

“Ultimately, what you want to generate is the ability to create insights from all sorts of rich data sources so that we can make our cities smarter. And if you think back to IBM’s business model, we are about very, very large system integration. We are about enabling through our technology.”

With half of the world’s population now domiciled in cities, Pól says that IBM views the city as the, “emerging model of economic development, of human concentration, and therefore as a future marketplace for IBM”.

In setting up the Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin, IBM has entered into a non-commercial, research-based collaboration with the city’s local authorities, who have made much of their data available for research, which can be scaled and applied internationally.

Pól believes that, in Ireland “public thinking is quite enlightened in this general area”, and that for this reason Dublin presents an interesting research base, being as it is, “a well known city which is not so big that it’s unmanageable, yet it’s not so small that it’s not significant, where we have a very good open relationship with the city through their interest in research”.

This project represents something of a departure for IBM, not least in terms of recruitment, a process which is ongoing for the Dublin centre. As well as scientists and technologists, “all the kinds of people that you would imagine IBM would want to hire”, the project will involve people with specific expertise in the domains of water, traffic, energy, and other areas less commonly associated with technology.

“The idea of sharing research is also one that is new for IBM, “we realise that, even for a company the size of IBM, a city is a huge proposition, and so we’re creating a model of research which is based on collaboration”.

“If you’d come to an organisation like IBM several years ago, a lot of the research would have been behind closed doors; very much proprietary. But particularly when we started to talk about cities and how we can make them smarter, we realised that we needed a different model of research, so we are very actively seeking the right kind of collaboration with industrial partners, with interesting small and medium enterprises, and also with academic and public sector partners.”

Much of the work in Dublin is centred on trying to understand, to research and to figure out what might be the next generation of computer technology that can exploit both the data made available by cities themselves and also created by mobile devices, and that can then utilise that data in a “smart” way.

“If you think about water, for example, that’s everything from raindrops, to recycling, from flushing toilets to drainage, to flood management and flood prediction. So, for example, the kind of questions there are, “how can we help a city optimise distribution and production of drinking water?”

“The kind of insights that our scientists can provide help do things like predicting where are the smartest places to install various pieces of equipment on the network like pressure reduction valves and so on, that can influence how water is distributed around the network.

“If we had readings from smart meters in peoples’ homes, we could create feedback for these people that could help them alter their behaviour in terms of water consumption, and maybe help reduce the overall consumption of water in smart way.”

An example of a current research project at the Dublin Smarter Cities centre is a study of how analysis of social media feeds could potentially help determine the actual social usage of the city, which could then be utilised to inform certain planning decisions, like the location of amenities or different types of business.

“We’re not there to criticise the decisions that might have been made; I’d hesitate in any sense to do that, that’s not really our remit; but what we can help to do, perhaps, is present data and views of data in ways that will help decision-making, whether that’s faster decision-making or more informed decision-making.”

Pól sees the future, and true utility, of data as being bi-directional, where for example, in addition to providing data about its inhabitants, the city will receive data from them, much like the analysis of social media feeds being investigated in the Smarter Cities centre.

“If you say to me, ‘Is it going to fix process A, or is it going to improve process B in some way?’ That’s more than I can answer because there are obviously political considerations and the IMF and everybody else. What I can say is we believe that we can help people make better decisions, we believe that we can help people make more efficient and maybe faster decisions. How quickly those filter into practice? That’s beyond my pay grade!”