Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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Freeloading limit

25 March, 2009

As far as predictions go, this is likely to be the beginning of a series of features on the sustainability of various net-based business models experiencing the expository glory of the Web 2.0 surge over the last few years. And conveniently helping to kick-start this debate, revolutionary social music network Last.fm very briefly announced on the Last.HQ blog yesterday that they are to begin charging a non-optional subscription rate (should you choose to continue using the service) to users living outside the United Kingdom, United States and Germany. This €3.00-a-month decision is suggested to come as a result of the international licensing fees that have restricted the likes of Pandora from fully tapping into markets beyond their conventional core user-base back in 2007. Understandably, this creates a veritable dilemma once considering how it is precisely the regions beyond the UK, US and Germany in which such multimedia platforms have been seeing unbridled interest, use and support amongst a diverse forum of users and music listeners as they become increasingly connected and integrated with one another through technology and word-of-mouth. Of course this wouldn’t be the first instance of a move towards charging a premium for content, seeing as online news publications and Google (TBC) are already foraying into a world where free content is yielding to the need to compensate for falling advertising revenue in face of the economic downturn.

But before I grind my axe about YouTube and others, it is important to highlight the fact that the current state of free content simply cannot be sustained forever if one is to also expect product innovation, service differentiation and the expansion of  services offered online. I have written numerous times about Last.fm, very much in praise of what it has done to shape the media landscape in terms of enriching the music listener’s experience whilst facilitating interaction with enthusiastic and perhaps like-minded individuals on an international scale unparalleled despite the recent flood of new music-oriented web platforms. Slightly less obviously so, it has additionally helped to cultivate one’s passion for a variety of musical stylings that may have ordinarily taken a lifetime to explore, furthermore helping to dispel the notions of bad science linking music to the twisted world of profit-based corporate initiatives and targeted advertising (although when examining the nature of the press release, that latter point can easily be disputed). It is for these reasons and many others that the current model would undeniably need to be modified to sustain the company after the CBS acquisition and, sadly, the subsequent laying-off of staff here in East London this past December.

Now Last.fm states that the ‘business decision’ was needed ‘in order to keep providing the best radio service on the web’ and ‘support all the other free services’, promising to provide ‘unlimited access’ alongside improvements ‘for years to come’. One should emphasize, however, that user communications support, scrobbling, charts, recommendations, the events calendar, etc., will remain free for access worldwide. They optimistically state that there will also be a ’30 track free trial, and we hope this will convince people to subscribe and keep listening to the radio’. But despite that all seeming to be in the user’s best interest, the expected backlash will perhaps supersede that which took place following the major interface overhaul last summer. The flood of comments and forum dialogue already provides a fair amount of indication of such, with statements ranging between a series of disapproving expletives and those highlighting the increased attractiveness of alternatives such as Grooveshark, Deezer, RadioVeRVe and Spotify (especially in France). People have also enquired about the precise geographic determinants of the charge (IP address, postal address, nationality?), whilst expressing that the service should either be free for all or free for none.

It is that final note that directs attention to the notion of freeloading and the future of content consumption in a world where not only licensing varies extensively, but also purchasing power parity of currency differs between countries in a manner which makes a move such as Last.fm’s seem highly discriminatory. And it may be the case that the lack of consistent pricing across the board in member countries may prove to be at odds with EU law. But there does seem to be a general view that loyal users who may already be subscribed will go unaffected regardless of location; meanwhile, freeloaders will switch to the alternatives mentioned above, therefore increasing the cost of competition throughout the entire marketplace for everyone (including the competitors). In theory, Last.fm can take this risk now, especially if there is concern as regards to how the recent spike in the popularity of Spotify’s free on-demand service will cut into the Last.fm radio-listening user-base — that is until the two applications become more complementarily integrated. Whether the move will lead users to turn to Spotify or revert back to illegal filesharing is yet to be seen, though I suspect a younger audience located outside the G3 nations who are without the convenience of credit card access will resume (if not doing so already) the use of P2P and mirrors without any trouble at all.

According to Last.fm’s Matthew Ogle, the UK, US and Germany ‘are the countries in which we have the most resources to support an ad sales organization, which is how we earn money to pay artists and labels for their music. We are focused on the US, UK, and Germany as key markets, with the help of the CBS Interactive salesforce and our own sales team here in London. Our headquarters are in the UK and we’ve always had a strong presence in [Germany]. And so we’ve made the decision to focus on these markets for free streaming radio.’ But it would be naive to think that this only impacts specific markets, because web developers will be affected as well. As Steven Bengtson, a creator of the application Songbird, has pointed out, ‘this is also a big pain [because] we are releasing an update to our Last.fm add-on that allows streaming [and now] too bad for those other countries’. In addition, the same goes for labels whose main operating base lies outside of the G3, as a representative from a Brazilian label mentioned in discussion, making Last.fm less prominent of a feature in terms of marketing the music of a label to a home audience facing a price barrier under the proposed scheme.

Out of all the Last.fm user comments, perhaps this one best sums up the current situation: ‘It’s been a pleasure building up a global database for you so you can turn it into gold and then screw people over.’ A successful business strategy is, after all, extremely difficult to fine-tune and maintain whilst adapting to market forces fluctuating in a volatile global economic climate — not to mention the difficulty in appeasing everyone involved, especially when everyone is the massively infinite online community. Evolution is absolutely necessary in order to stay afloat and survive in the longrun, and a good demonstration of prospective monetization of web-based applications to build up the coffers in ways surpassing the potential of advertising was the spoof article in recent circulation on Twitter, itself about Twitter and the creation of premium accounts. Already Twitter has begun to test its own advertising model, bringing it closer in line with Facebook’s Beacon. But whereas content on networks such as Twitter and Facebook is user-generated rather than licensed by media industries (music, mainstream news and ‘premium’ video content) long struggling in the advent of piracy and online technologies, advertising no longer seems to be helping to balance the books.

To be honest, as I am currently in London and already a Last.fm subscriber, I am not particularly affected. However had I been in either Stockholm or Cairo at he moment, I would have to reconsider the burden of my subscription (probably dropping it for the latter city in question due to the exchange rate). Having written my IB dissertation on socio-economic disparity rooted in exchange rates and purchasing power parity in relation to the Third World some years ago, €3.oo will never seem to me to be a ‘mere’ €3.oo to be spent on something in a country where bootlegs are no more taboo than breathing the polluted air is. But for the time being, I will have to ask fellow neighbours and Last.fm users about whether or not they would be willing to pay the premium — especially if they are Spotify users as well. And I’m sure that the general outlook will change once Spotify becomes available worldwide, though considering the headache of all the licensing red tape it’s currently up against, part of me thinks global domination will be very unlikely for some time yet. But until then, perhaps Last.fm would be best advised to adopt Facebook’s recent approach of democratization if it is to maintain its popularity — and hopefully then it will take into serious consideration the feedback it has received from its users thus far after such a significant proposal of change.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Spotify v Last.fm (pieces at random)

Love thy neighbour (pieces at random)

Site overhaul (pieces at random)

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Parallel posting

2 March, 2009

In the wise words of David Ogilvy, ‘Imitation may be the sincerest form of plagiarism, but it is also the mark of an inferior person.’ What better example of this than the recent launch of Skittles’ new website, to the dismay of a public who sees it little more than a rip-off of the novel concept used over at the home of the Modernista! ad agency. With WordPress commentator Lorelle VanFossen having officially declared it ‘The Year of Original Content‘, it’s a relief to see that online creatives are becoming more vocal about the preservation of the integrity of their content. Because let’s be honest — it’s far from pleasant to find that despite taking the risk of appearing anally retentive by plastering your copyright policy in every corner of your site to curb wanton imposters from taking more than their fair share of your time and thought invested without permission or due attribution, there are individuals who persist to steal either directly or through the convenience of creepy crawly spambots. And it is unfortunate that in a world today where blogging provides grounds to help cultivate new and dynamic voices in an arena where politics, the sciences and arts may be explored and discussed freely, the infringement of one’s proprietary rights in relation to their content is as common as it is everywhere else in the media landscape.

And though complex the nature of copyright and ‘originality’ may be by definition, it baffles without fail every time to see that those either callous or inadvertently unaware of content protocol could have otherwise simply sent an e-mail to ask and clear up any doubt if site policy failed to convey the message with a level of clarity that they would appreciate and respect. In writing this, it will fast become obvious that I have dealt with the matter first-hand on numerous occasions, the inaugural moment being that which involved a derivative work of a creative (and personal) piece of mine, about which I was fortunate enough to be notified. But in the past couple of years, it has since continued much to my dismay, spanning all content in surprisingly unique ways that one begins to wonder whether or not content thieves know they would be better off directing their seeming ingenuity into creating their own work instead. In addition to this, the Fair Use and Creative Commons guidelines exist to provide an alternative more conducive to upholding a creative and inspirational forum and flow of information, so that content creators need not be confined only to a full blanket policy requiring the sort of policing that takes a great deal of one’s time.

And let’s not forget the grey area left in the wake of web conventions established amongst online creatives that develop far too quickly for official copyright legislation to instantaneously adapt and reflect real action on the ground. Already there has been considerable discussion regarding the acceptability of deep-linking and the excerpting (at varied lengths) of written content online. It’s not unheard of that trusted sites and bloggers repeatedly attribute content to the wrong individuals or forego on attribution entirely (this applies to video content especially). And yet it’s not much better when adamant bloggers intent on posting daily decide that every little thing they find of interest can be ‘excerpted’ with a sentence of their own tagged at the beginning of it to sell it off as a find worth reading on their page. Of course the incorporation of any advertising or commercial gain into this equation makes it all the more dubious; the same goes for SEO and the mere desire to increase traffic. But even without that, a website claiming to provide ‘news’, ‘thoughts’ and/or ‘opinions’ should not rest solely on what FriendFeed and Facebook Links ultimately amount to.

But equally disconcerting are the bloggers you know personally, who repeatedly dig up your old content to rework into their own, who perhaps believe that your blogging memory only goes as far back as a few weeks and thus they have some sort of licensed access to a smörgåsbord of your work to sell off for personal gain. Although not much can be done about this other than to tolerate it within the confines of non-commercial ShareAlike without attribution, it is when it’s a few words short of full-on plagiarism that it becomes difficult to ignore. Cyber-stalking (or what I like to call ‘parallel posting’) is behaviour more akin to Hirudo medicinalis, reflecting poor judgement on behalf of the parallel poster — though I would gladly stand corrected in the instance it all turns out to be one statistically implausible coincidence, nine times out of ten. Nevertheless, as I can’t emphasize this enough due to previous, more serious experience with having work taken through alteration and wrongful attribution, here is the license under which the written segments of this site operate (unless otherwise stated, i.e. non-applicable to creative non-fiction and original artwork featured, all of which require explicit permission). Internal documentation has also been updated to reflect as much.

But hopefully time spent monitoring suspected trackbacks, scraper sites and copycats will soon be decreased considerably. In celebration of The Year of Original Content, I’m currently beta-testing a fantastic new service called FairShare, which automatically provides a feed that updates in accordance to your site’s content and other content on the web that may have been taken from it. What makes it so convenient apart from sending all of the information to Google Reader is that it provides links to a page showing the exact site it has detected, the percentage of the work used, whether or not it is a derivative, if it complies with your registered license, whether advertising is present, how much traffic it receives, and the list goes on. There is also a content search available through the Copyscape services which have proved useful in the past. And Lorelle VanFossen has written extensively of her insights into how best to deal with one’s blogging and site content — including how to report theft, where to include one’s policy, when to send a cease and desist notice, etc. Most certainly worth checking out (as well as reading the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), regardless of if you’ve ever experienced anything of the above or not.

The important thing to remember in all of this is that it is not often easy to make clear distinction between harmless imitation and more serious plagiarism, theft, scraping, cyber-stalking and downright harassment. Whilst tiring with eyes plastered open through my studies of tort law, constitutional law and most things in-between, the one thing I have to hand to the mind-numbingly dry experience of it all is my respect for some of the well-meaning achievements in the written body of intellectual property law. Its applications are not always correct, consistent, nor apt to every given situation, but the underlying premise aiming to balance between creativity and commercial gain is one worth preserving. To preserve the integrity and relative originality (more on originality in an upcoming post) of one’s ideas, to allow for the recognition and endorsement of such work, all the while motivating the creator and conceiver to continue on with their fruitful endeavours in order to further drive development in the world of science, art, music and writing is no easy feat in an age when exact duplication, wrongly directed advertising, rampant profiteering, unwanted spamming and malicious scraping are all just one easy, mindless click away.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Creative Commons

Prevent Content Theft (WordPress)

10 Copyright Myths

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Flash fantastic

29 January, 2009

The lovely folks over at Boing Boing have often referred to Flash sites as stupid, monolithic blobs that render deep-linking (linking directly to a site’s internal pages) as virtually impossible. As a writer who feels it absolutely necessary to provide the most precise location of all cited sources, I couldn’t agree more. But as a designer, I find that one can achieve so much more when building with Adobe Flash than when depending on squarish CSS or just using (X)HTML. Bearing in mind that deep-linking is already in threat of being branded as a copyright violation in some parts of the world thanks to the ageing legion of out-of-touch judges, there is no doubt that the recent increase in the use of Flash will go on unabated until a more dynamic tool hits the mainstream media. And that’s not such a bad thing when considering the stunning combinations of graphics, video, animation, sound, and interactive navigation that are unparalleled when truly balanced in both aesthetic presentation and streamlined function. Designers who adhere to the principle of creating impressive designs that also serve as both usable and intriguing interfaces are the ones who should be looked towards for genuine inspiration in how one ought to make a site look. As opposed to Flash sites that are (excuse the pun) just flashy, that is.

Quite frankly, I would rather refer a reader or my client’s customers to a ‘monolithic blob’ if I knew they would be able to easily locate what they were looking for and all else that may be equally of interest along the way. Besides, there are several methods of creating linkable pages within Flash (primarily through the naming of frame anchors), and recently built examples live up to this current industry standard. Ultimately, simplicity and creativity are key when striving towards interactive motion graphics on-site. After an interning stint at the web design division of an ISP several years ago, I had seen some pretty awful styling methods that are surprisingly still quite common today (government-affiliated websites are all too frequently exemplars of shame in that regard). But rather than list those now (maybe later, though), it’s much better to celebrate the ones that have succeeded in visual mastery and cyberspace ergonomics. And listed below are ten of my recent favourites found whilst browsing, with brief descriptions for quick reference. There are many more out there, so I may soon update this list for inclusion in a regular album-style line-up with screenshots similar to the recent series of reviews here. Feel free to send in any interesting finds of your own if you’d like them included — especially if they’re your own original creations.

01 » Trevor Jackson :: site of the London-based all-round creative
02 » playMUJI :: instructional product promo micro-site for MUJI
03 » CREAKTIF! :: multimedia graphic design studio based in Paris
04 » AgencyNet :: marketing solutions agency in Fort Lauderdale
05 » Paregos :: graphics and advertising agency based in Stockholm
06 » SectionSeven Inc. :: design and development office in Seattle
07 » The United Network :: WPP global advertising micro-network
08 » hellokarl :: site of French designer and artist Charles Kalpakian
09 » AKQA :: global advertising, media and design agency network
10 » BIG :: site of the Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Content awareness (pieces at random)

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Great unveiling

28 January, 2009

Like The Medium‘s Virginia Heffernan, I too am a self-confessed TED addict. Sparked by my first viewing of director Jehane Noujaim‘s presentation after she received the TED prize in 2006, I’ve since been keeping close tabs on the various speakers specialized in a wide variety of disciplines encapsulated by the ‘technology, entertainment, design’ cachet that the conference series has set out for itself from the time of its inception. Held annually since 1990 after it was founded by graphic designer and architect Richard Saul Wurman six years prior, the lectures limited within an inspiringly rigorous eighteen-minute time-frame offer over 300 insights of expertise freely available online today. Focused on a marked contribution to contemporary issues related to the sciences and humanities, the TED talks culminate with the awarding of the TED Prize each year, giving three individuals $100,000 alongside their being granted one wish ‘to change the world’ (Noujaim‘s wish had been to organize Pangea Day, with an aim to foster cross-cultural understanding through film).

Ordinarily held in Monterey, the TED 2009 Conference will be held in Long Beach, California this year. And commencing in five days, the programme is set to bring together an unrivalled set of speakers throughout its four-day duration, including Bill Gates, marketing guru Seth Godin, futurist Juan Enriquez, musician Herbie Hancock, and many more. A few of them have already been featured in previous years, though there’s no doubt that the calibre of discussion created will be as unprecedented as ever. I’m particularly excited about the upcoming lecture by maestro Dr. José Antonio Abreu, one of this year’s recipients of the TED Prize, and the founder of El Sistema in Venezuela. For some comprehensive insight into his revolutionary system of music education and its reformative socio-economic impact over the past thirty-four years, I strongly recommend you get your hands on BBC’s Imagine episode featuring music director Gustavo Dudamel and airing this past November.

As usual, the talks will soon be available on the TED site, YouTube and Miro. And another to look out for on the TED calendar will be the TED Global Conference, which will be held in Oxford this year. So luckily for fellow TED addicts who might be stranded in the UK this summer, registration is still open for those who would enjoy a less virtual viewing venue.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Seth Godin’s Blog

Pangea day (pieces at random)

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Spotify v Last.fm

21 January, 2009

So I accidentally got an invitation to use Spotify recently (don’t ask), and my instinctive reaction was as one would expect from someone already devoted to another music platform. ‘Surely this can’t be better than Last.fm‘, I thought to myself as I reluctantly proceeded to sign up — albeit semi-curiously hitting download for the client application. From the outset, it had already been obvious: Spotify’s marketing ploy was envisaged in a byline beaming about its effortlessness, ease, and sheer simplicity. ‘The best thing about music is that you can just listen to it,’ it modestly informed. ‘It doesn’t have to be hard, and neither does using Spotify.’ Minutes later, the introduction screen appeared with an invitation to ‘dive in’. So I did. Naturally, I searched for Trentemøller, and 118 tracks soon appeared in a list, to my surprise including several mixes I’d actually not had the pleasure of hearing before. So three minutes into Djosos Krost’s reworked ‘Chapter One‘, I had already reached my tentative verdict of approval. And that was certainly more favourable if not entirely contrary to my prematurely predicted reflex derived from a growing distaste towards the onslaught of new online and mobile applications seeming to be cropping up by the thousands at breakneck speed.

So what is Spotify and what’s the catch? The Anglo-Swedish cloud-based, peer-to-peer networking service provides unlimited access to a music library, with or without the optional paid subscriptions. It essentially allows you to stream tracks via a player that very much resembles iTunes — or the iTunes Store, rather, only with track-preview in full. Instead of being modeled on profile-driven network interaction as is Last.fm, it allows you to ‘share’ tracks and create collaborative playlists via e-mail and instant messenger with fellow Spotify users. Somewhat similar to Last.fm is the radio available for less autonomous, more exploratory listening (though it limits you to too simplistic a selection for tuning based on music decade or genre), allowing you to skip from song to song as you wish. Integration with Last.fm’s Audioscrobbler is also made possible through enabling preferences in the menu, so you can continue listening without abandoning your chart data collection. And of course conveniently placed are links to purchase the tracks being listened to, helping to fulfill Spotify’s apparent aim to spread the music whilst fairly compensating the artists featured by agreement.

As such, you can reasonably imagine that the legal framework binding this project together is pretty watertight, having to clear rights for use which — for example — would limit you from using it to entertain customers at a restaurant or club. It grants a limited, non-exclusive, and revocable license for personal, non-commercial use, and arbitration arising from legal disputes is administered as per Swedish jurisdiction. But having said that, the audio quality is quite good for a streaming player, using the Ogg Vorbis q5 codec offering a satisfying 160kb/s rate on decent speakers or headphones. And the catch? Well, advertising — like with most things these days — is the primary pool of revenue, and a single advertisement resembling the sort you might hear on local radio programming is evenly distributed (though not distractingly so) between every few songs. Purchasing subscription access does away with the adverts and allows for more invites and more selective radio-listening at a £9.99 premium. The Spotify team are also in the process of exploring options to branch out on mobile and other platforms, so watch this space…

Now the question that remains is how extensive the catalogue may become. In terms of prompt updating, the Fever Ray album that was released digitally last Tuesday is already available; Telefon Tel Aviv‘s latest, however, isn’t there. In fact, few tracks by them are available, and the same goes for The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Radiohead, on the other hand, is included — which says a lot considering the fact they weren’t on offer via iTunes until only earlier last year. I still do wonder if and when more will eventually come; but for the time being, it’s nice to have the option of using a platform friendly to both users and music, where you’re relatively free to select, enjoy, and (as a musician) earn your keep. I have no doubt that Last.fm is far better in terms of ‘musicability’ through its taste-gauging, music-trekking neighbourhood approach that I’ve loved all these years. But the two in fact cannot be directly compared within the confines of being the same type of product. Because they do differ in both purpose, function and presentation — a point clearly concluded when you use Last.fm’s player to ‘heart’ Spotify’s tracks.

It’s still in its beta phase and free service is available only via invitation in Sweden, Norway, France, Spain, and the UK (Spotify Premium is more widespread otherwise). But I might have one or two invitations going spare, so if you’re interested in trying it out, just drop me a line.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Love thy neighbour (pieces at random)

Exponential growth (pieces at random)

Site overhaul (pieces at random)

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Industrial image

18 January, 2009

As any fan of the font Helvetica (Glenn Sorrentino, no doubt) will know, Gary Hustwit’s documentaries are good food for thought.  His 2007 independent film Helvetica, a rather notable recent example, took the fiftieth anniversary of this single, iconically-Swiss font and shaped an entire discussion around it in focusing on the art of visual communication through graphic design and typography in our modern, posterized, urban-aesthetic world. The full eighty minutes of insightful interviews from renowned designers such as Michael Bierut, Bruno Steinert and Lars Müller places this feature along the same lines as Phaidon and Die Gestalten Verlag in my home media library in terms of educational value elevated by a generous helping of inspiring eye-candy. Which is why I was so delighted to find out several weeks ago that Hustwit’s next full-length release is expected to premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival at the end of March. And this time, the main object(s) of focus will be industrial design — yet another field that has tremendously impacted our living spaces, and dare I say probably even more so than graphic design.

It’s fascinating that despite the extent to which our lives are determined by the use of objects we choose to buy and surround ourselves by, it still seems that many of us know very little about who made them and the creative processes that went into making them for mass-consumption in the marketplace. Objectified seeks to redress this issue, examining the realm of industrial design through the perspectives of both our interfacing with manufactured objects through our use of them, and reciprocally the industrial designers who design them for us to use. Hustwit defines objectified as having two meanings:  one as being ‘treated with the status of a mere object’, and the other as representing ‘something abstract expressed in a concrete form’. Through exploring what ‘good design’ is, Hustwit is set to reveal a great deal about what such objects serve to reflect about us and our contemporary society — continuing the age-old form vs. function debate whilst highlighting the importance in understanding consumerism, identity, expression and sustainability in relation along the way.

Once again, it provides insights of several of the industry’s greats, including interviews with MoMA curator Paola Antonelli, Apple’s Jonathan Ive (yes, the iPod designer), Naoto Fukasawa (MUJI audio), the IDEO design consultancy, and revolutionary designer Karim Rashid. Not himself being an expert in either graphic or industrial design, Hustwit’s refreshing approach undoubtedly provides a very much needed look at not only what design is or what it does, but rather what it means and what it may one day become. His interest in the profound way that industrial designers influence the threadwork of culture and interaction is one that many more people should be inspired to share. He asks, ‘If you could get all of these designers and design experts together at a dinner party, what would they talk about? […] Maybe there’s a third meaning to this title, regarding the ways these objects are affecting us and our environment. Have we all become objectified?’ And for a $500 donation, you can become one of ‘The Objectifiers’ whose names are listed in the  credits — along with a DVD and other special merchandise thrown in the mix as objects of appreciation.

Produced and directed by Gary Hustwit, edited by Joe Beshenkovsy, and shot by Luke Geissbuhler.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Swiss Dots

Objectified (Shop)

Helvetica Teaser

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Content awareness

9 January, 2009

Bates 141 print campaign, Jakarta
Click above for higher resolution

Following the premier of Melih Bilgil’s brilliant PICOL-based animation History of the Internet, and with the hype of the 2009 CES and MacWorld conventions drawing to a close, one can’t help but reflect on how end-user computing has transformed in recent years. Looking back now, it’s startling to think that there had ever been a time during which HyperText editing more or less implied hours of painstaking retinal incineration due to the rather primitive though well-intentioned ColdFusion 5.0. As is the case for designers of my generation and older, when I first began using Adobe graphics and web development applications, it had been back in the day before the Creative Suite was born and Flash flooded the scene. It was also before (affordable) computers became powerful enough to actually get the job done on time. No longer having to upgrade software in increments of 0.5 before laboriously seeking out multi-language extensions only to find that the filters were taking enough time to load for you to pop out and grab a coffee next-door, the CS collection of integrated design tools first released in 2003 was to some respect the watershed on a path flowing towards the dynamic front-end focused Web 2.0 revolution made popular by the O’Reilly Media conference of 2004.

Certainly having come a long way since then, the last five years have continued to follow as per Adobe’s prevailing trend of improvements, making possible so much of what we see to be the impressive, ‘interactive’ online content of present day. So after previous editions continuously albeit very gradually undergoing minor tweaks, interface touch-ups and bug elimination, word of the latest generation in store began buzzing around the web by phantom testers and hopeful creatives right when I was beginning to fully appreciate the CS3 edition. After having grown into it with increased use over the past year and not having had any tantalizing hands-on exposure through the sneak-preview features showcased in CS3 Extended back in April, I had no specific expectations for the fourth coming in the series other than that improvement would be inevitable — though I did wonder whether that improvement would be discernible enough to alter the way I approached my use of the software as has happened sometimes (but not always) in the past. But I am glad to say that the result has been not at all disappointing following the official unveiling of Adobe Creative Suite 4 in the beginning of  October last year. And having taken it for a spin several times courtesy of a friend who has regular access to an influx of software for every season, I’ve found that it’s noticeably a cut above the rest.

In terms of imaging upgrades, the 64-bit support for large file-handling for Windows (the one time I’m actually happy to be using the OS) and 3D acceleration made possible via OpenGL compatibility brings the smoothness of operation to a much higher level. Taking inspiration from the Web 2.0 browsing experience, no less, is the introduction of tabs for document views making it possible to run more than one CS application simultaneously in a single window in order to ease the cross-editing process. Before, one of the bones I had to pick with CS3 and earlier versions was something I often assimilated to the act of having to go up to the tenth floor of a building to get to your sixth-floor apartment: the drop-down labyrinth of menus overhead didn’t always necessarily make it easy to perform minor actions (with or without the shortcuts) repeatedly. But thankfully, the addition of a new adjustment panel with pre-set options now makes it less of a task to access what used to be nestled within the main title bar area and most ‘easily’ reached by having to ctrl+alt+shift+[x] every time you weren’t bothered to use the mouse. Indeed in general, there does seem to be the much needed attention towards realizing seamless accessibility and manoeuvrability (e.g. via window menu enhancement, the smartening-up of the right-hand panel and extra viewing options) than was achieved in prior editions.

Undoubtedly one of my favourite features is being able to resize using its ‘content awareness’, which allows for the singling out of individual visual components within the image for alteration without skewing the scale of the areas left unselected. And it doesn’t hurt that colour management for printing has also been improved, with solf-proofing preview making it easier to get a better idea of how well colours will turn out in finely-lined logo detailing, for instance, in order to help minimize that unflattering appearance of colour bleeding. Having not yet delved into the new InDesign, Illustrator et al., suffice it to say that the verdict so far is quite positive — and it isn’t just the software that has won me over. The advertisement in circulation for CS4 appears to be equally inspired, a good example of which can be seen in the above print campaign by the team over at Bates 141 studio in Indonesia. Promoting the new Photoshop CS4 through online retailer software-asli.com, ‘As Real as It Gets’ features a realistic equivalent to the virtual interface using everyday arts and crafts tools. Wonderfully executed by creative director Hendra Lesmono, art directors Andreas Junus and Wanda Kamarga, alongside copy by Darrick Subrata and photography by Anton Ismael, it has received a great deal of positive media attention since making available the ‘behind the scenes’ takes on Flickr.

And to bring this review to a close — and as earlier promised — more on Irish artist Johnny Kelly and his beautifully directed promo animation for Adobe via Goodby, Silverstein & Partners: ‘The Seed’, shown below, again features the work of Foley artist Sue Harding, this time with accompaniment by Dublin musician Jape and Mike Wyeld on sound, paper modelling done by designer Elin Svensson, and animation by Michael Zauner and Eoin Coughlan. All made possible by the tightly-knit work of the production and direction team on set, including Micolaj Jarosewicz, Matthew Cooper, Christine Ponzevera, Johan Arlig and Keith Anderson — all inevitably helped along by the Adobe integrated design suite itself.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Making of ‘The Seed’

Whiling away (pieces at random)