Pirate


You will remember that some time back I was musing about the exploration of models for earning income in the new media paradigm.

At that time I installed the Collection Plate, to the right there in the sidebar, just to see whether visitors could even be bothered to flick a virtual coin my way when they found something on The Cow that they liked. Well, it’s been a mixed response. As I might have guessed, the click count was proportionately high toward the beginning and has now tapered off. Even factoring in King Willy’s irritating clicking frenzy in the early days, I can see that there was interest when it was a fresh idea, but has now settled into a predictable low-level trickle. Not surprising really.

As of today the plate has collected 860 coins – if we assume that people might have dropped in 5c a hit, that’s a grand sum of 43 bucks in 3 months. It’s obvious that I’m not headed off to the Maldives anytime soon. Still, my readership is small (if entirely faithful) so those figures are obviously dependent upon traffic – it’s not bad for someone who’s busking in a back alley on a cloudy day.

When I installed the Collection Plate, you may recall that I mentioned, somewhere during the discussion, a concept called Flattr – a micropayment ‘sharing’ system being set up by Peter Sunde, one of the Creators of Pirate Bay. Well, I was recently invited to join the Flattr beta project and you will infer by the Flattr icon underneath the Collection Plate over to the side there, that I have accepted a role in the Flattr experiment.

This is how Flattr is supposed to work:

First of all, you need a Flattr account. Currently these are given by invitation only, but the idea is that when Flattr is launched, anyone can get an account just by signing up. When you have your account, you decide how much money per month you’d like to spend to ‘Flattr’ people who you visit on the web. This money goes into your Flattr account – you can’t get it back. Then, over the month, the amount of money you decide upon – say five dollars (or Euros, as it is at the moment) is divided up by the number of times you click on Flattr buttons you encounter while traipsing around the intertubes. That amount of money then goes into each Flattr account you clicked on. In other words, if you only click one Flattr button on one site, that site gets the whole five bucks. If you click on two Flattr buttons, each site gets $2.50. And so forth. If you don’t click on any Flattr buttons, all your monthly allowance goes to a charity.

I’m giving Flattr a try, but I have numerous reservations about its concept. Let me elaborate:

•Straight off the bat, when I activated my Flattr account I was asked to nominate an amount of money I wanted to spend to Flattr people each month. This is too damn tricky, I think. I simply don’t know what kind of a figure I think is reasonable to spend on my internet travels. Heck, mostly I get my stuff for free right now – why should I pay? I don’t think I’m the only one that will ask that question. This idea is too much like subscription models that have already shown to be less than effective on the internet. And a big difference is that with subscriptions you know in advance what you’re getting, and can make an assessment of whether it’s good value.(i)

•Right from the first time I heard the concept vaunted I could see a huge drawback: Flattr must break a critical user barrier before it’s got a hope in hell of working. If Flattr buttons were everywhere, and you saw them on YouTube and Wikis and Forums and so forth, then I think you’d be inclined to join up, if for no other reason than to get a chance at a slice of the pie for yourself. But for now, the very first thing you realise after you put some money in your Flattr distribution account is that there are not many people out there that you want to Flattr. Well, sure, for the novelty you’re likely to chuck a few coins in wherever you see a Flattr button, but the idea is that you reward people who are doing great stuff, not just exchange coins with everyone else in your club.

We can see the problem here of course – Flattr needs to be ubiquitous to get the system working, but the system has to be working for Flattr to be ubiquitous. It’s an unenviable conundrum. Can Flattr pull itself up by its own bootstraps? I’m doubtful.

•You can’t proportionately award good stuff more Flattr points the more you like it. Flattr will only let you click on one unique button once a month. I think this is a problem. I understand the egalitarian idea behind sharing revenue ‘fairly’ among places that I visit, but let’s face it, I want to be able to decide that if I like someone a lot, I can click on their button three or four times to reflect that. I’ve hit this stumbling block already – I’ve visited a few sites that are linked off Flattr and, well, they’re OK, but do I really want to give them my coin? If I plonk my click down on one site, then I am under pressure to find another site just so site #1 doesn’t get my whole month’s allowance. There’s something that I find instinctively wrong about that concept.

•You can’t see (as far as I can tell) who has Flattred you. This is probably not something that would be ultimately relevant, but while Flattr is new I think it’s quite important. If someone Flattrs you, you instinctively want to see what they do also. It’s like when someone leaves a comment on The Cow – mostly I will pay their link a courtesy visit to see exactly what it is they’re about, and if I like it, I might even stay. I believe this sense of community is vital in a scheme like Flattr, at least in the early stages. (It occurs to me that it’s also a very good way of finding out exactly who actually even has an account on Flattr, since the only people who can Flattr you are Flattr users). And related to that:

•To even get a leg-up, you need to have Flattr users come visit you. I don’t see how I’m going to get this to happen unless I actively solicit visitors to The Cow. Once again, this may not be as much of a problem if Flattr becomes widespread, but for the moment it is a stumbling block. You can see how many people have Flattred me by the count on the Flattr icon. Right now it’s zero and I expect it will remain that way for some time.

How do I get you guys to join up with Flattr, so that you can Flattr me? Why, according to the Flattr website, I tell them to! So – how many of you are heading across to Flattr right now to get an account? Right, I thought so.

So, there are my thoughts on the Flattr mattr. As I said in my original article, these things interest me so I’m all for some experimentation, but I really don’t hold high hopes for Flattr. I aim to stick with it for a few months – let’s see how we go.

ADDENDUM: I thought of another instability just now. Flattr exists as a kind of community contribution idea – I Flattr you, you Flattr Gilbert, he Flattrs me, what goes around comes around. But exploitation of the system would arise very fast. Let’s say I post something on my site that really gets people’s attention. They all Flattr me, and not only that, I get quite famous, with lots of readers and a nice Flattr income. There is no incentive for me to care about belonging to the Flattr community, as such, any longer. I can reduce my Flattr contribution to the minimum allowable and just let it go to charity every month. Meanwhile I’m doing very nicely out of a constant Flattr revenue stream. I’m not suggesting this would happen a lot, but there would definitely be Mega Flattr sites that are sucking it in rather than giving it up.

Another thing that occurs to me is that knowing how much people are being Flattred is likely to influence how much they get Flattred. If I see someone with lots of Flattrs I’m likely to think – oh well, they’re doing OK, I’ll save my click for someone else. I think this could be ameliorated slightly by having the number of Flattrs NOT displayed on your icon. It may well be that doing this might counteract the situation I mentioned above.

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Footnotes:

  1. I suppose that you can always treat your Flattr account as a hypothetical donation to charity from the get-go – which it kind of is. []

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Well it’s that time of year again Acowlytes, and as the world (quite inevitably) starts to become jaded by International Talk Like a Pirate Day, those of us who were pirates long before the fad came along, and will be pirates long after it fades, raise a cup o’ grog and drink to the the spirit unfettered minds and uncluttered horizons.

This year on The Cow I aim to repurpose ITLAPD into something a little more meaningful – a celebration of free thinking and provocation in the face of parochialism and institutionalization. Herewith on each ITLAPD The Cow will acknowledge someone who, in some manner or other, fearlessly challenges the status quo and questions authority after the fashion of a true pirate.

To kick off, since we’ve just been talking about the Cartrain/Damien Hirst wrangle, we tip our hat to the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop and its mouthpiece Red Rag To A Bull who describes itself as:

…a radical institution dedicated to the pursuit of “FREEDOM, TRUTH and JUSTICE in the art world and BEYOND”, and overblown statements. It was founded by a cartel of rich and powerful light industrialists in the depths of the bleak winter of 2009 when the world was on the brink of total financial collapse.

Red Rag To A Bull and L-13 have been champions to Cartrain over the last year, running their Street Urchins Art Appeal in order to raise enough money to reimburse him for the cash that Hirst’s original legal action cost. They did this by creating and selling meta-parodies of Cartrain’s parodies of Hirst’s work. You gotta love that endless spiral of iteration and self-referentialism.



L-13 also produce some rather remarkable work in their own right. This will come as no surprise to anyone who recognizes Jimmy Cauty as the name behind them. Cauty is perhaps better known for being one half of the KLF, and later, with Alex Paterson, as The Orb – the architects of the Ambient House genre.

With L-13 and RRTAB, Cauty continues to sock it to the narrow-minded, the clueless and the haughty in the manner they truly deserve. A recent Red Rag To A Bull manifesto says in part:

Unlike Cartrain and his gallery we are not intimidated by lawyers, and if an injunction is issued we will simply ignore it on the grounds of freedom of expression. We also operate a ‘copyright out of control’ policy which in our world makes us immune from prosecution…

If they aren’t the words of a true pirate, I’m handing in my wooden leg. So, here’s to you, James Cauty and crew. May your seas always be calm and your powder dry.

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(I’m posting this early Acowlytes, because on the 19th the full Curse of the Black Cow takes hold and there’s no telling how much sense anything will make for the day. If ever you wanted to Ride the Mad Cow, that’s truly the time to do it).

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I’m sure you know the drill by now.

With the exception of the astute few, the general Cownoscenti somehow comprehensively failed to notice that on this International Talk Like a Pirate Day past, the whole of Tetherd Cow Ahead was in piratese.

This is a massive shame because there was some gut-quakingly funny stuff to be had, especially via some of my more serious posts.

Before the magic of ITLAPD wore off, though, I was able to snap a little snippet out of my Cracked, Plastered or Just Incompetent post for posterity.

If you remember, it was an account of the trials and tribulations of my attempts to find a plasterer to do some work on my house. Go read the post to familiarize yourself with my conversation with the little rotund man with one tooth.

Got that?

This is the way the conversation would have happened had we been pirates:

So. I need ye t’ give me a quote in writin’.

Aye! (shakes his head as if t’ say ‘nay’).

Can ye do that this week?

Aye.

Can ye send it t’ me by th’ end o’ th’ week?

(The ornery cuss brandishes his business card) Have ye got lines?

Lines?

Lines! Shiver me timbers! Lines!

(The ornery cuss waves his card again, I’ll warrant ye. I look confused. The ornery cuss points at me computer. Fetch me spyglass, and a bottle of rum! A lightbulb pops on o’er me head).

Oh! You mean email!

Nay! Nay!

(The ornery cuss shakes his head violently and waves his card again, I’ll warrant ye. I have NO notion what he means).

So yez all missed out on the laughs. That’ll teach yer to pay attention. Now you’ll have to wait a whole year to see whether or not the Curse of the Black Cow is cast once again over my writings.

Another Pyrate Grrl

Shiver me timbers lads! International Talk Like a Pirate Day has already drawn up against our gunwhales and fired across our bow!

For yer piratical pleasure, me mateys, I’ve spent a doubloon or two over at Rent-A-Wench to secure the services of this year’s Play First Mate – Misty Cannonbait. Arrrr! Isn’t she a piece o’ crumpet?!

(Arrrrr… an’ no, ladies there’s no piratical beefcake – ye have yer Cap’n Jack Depp so quit yer whinin’)

So, avast and belay, ye barnacle infested bilge rats! Get yer landlocked booty out there and let me see some pillagin’!

Ye may find these some useful additions to yer plunderin’ expeditions:

Pirate gadget-du-jour #1.
Pirate gadget-du-jour #2.

Arrrrrrr!!!

This last week has been an extremely aggravating exciting time here in Sydney, with the city being comprehensively ground to a standstill by the carnival of clowns that is APEC (aka ACROCK). Today we have George Bush, Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin slowing down the traffic and stealing the media attention away from more important issues like footballers getting busted for doing drugs.

As APEC has progressed, we’ve been treated to some terrific banter between these great minds of our age (the Leaders, that is, not the footballers. Although, really, there’s not much in it). The press was all over this exchange between George W and John Howard at a barbecue lunch:

George (loads plate up with steak and sausage): I’m a meat man.

John: I think we know that.

Onlookers: Hahahahahaha!

Honestly, I didn’t stop laughing for a full attosecond. And to think they hold Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw up as the finest examples of English language wordsmiths.

Mr Bush said in a speech this morning how much he loved Sydney and that he was hoping to be invited to the ‘OPEC’ summit next year (now was that ever a Freudian slip). It would seem that he thinks APEC is held in Sydney every year. This man is the Leader of the Free World. SpaghettiMonster help us all.

Some of the other fine word manglings I’ve heard this week include annualized, disendorsed and our own Beloved Leader’s stadia (which he evidently thinks is the plural of stadium but it isn’t. It’s a made-up modern word that someone thinks follows the rules of Latin. It doesn’t. A more correct and wholly less pretentious thing to say would be stadiums)

Meanwhile, since International Talk Like a Pirate Day is imminent, and you all know how much I like to get into the swing of things here on The Cow, I propose we start celebrating a little earlier this year and keelhaul the lot of ’em.

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