Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Vote No on Gonzales  

Alberto Gonzales made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee today, with the vote split evenly along party lines. I'm sad to say that one of my representatives, Mike DeWine of Ohio, toed the Republican party line like a good little kid and voted to confirm him. Now it goes to a vote in the full Senate.

I've written my senators already. Or, I should say, I've written to their staff. It's pretty much a given that the senators don't bother to read any correspondence they receive from the ordinary people they represent, but I had to try anyway. Here is a copy of my letter to Senator Voinovich. It's a shame; Voinovich is well-regarded here in Cleveland for helping to turn the city around, and I've heard him speak: he seems basically like a good guy. If not for the fact that since he's been in office he's been like a rubber stamp for the bad policies of the Bush administration, I might have even voted for him.

Please listen to your conscience and vote NO on Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General.

I am very disappointed to hear that Sen. DeWine voted to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General in the SJC, and I hope that you won't make the same mistake when it comes to a vote in the full Senate.

Gonzales is the author of the US justification for torture. That's the issue, and that is how history will judge you.

As a citizen, a representative, a father, a husband, a grandfather, a member of the church, and a Cleveland resident... Please help our country put a stop to this madness. No more rubberstamping bad policies. You are a better man than this.

If you don't stand up, who will?

Senator Voinovich is one of a scant hundred Americans with the opportunity to stand up and really make his voice heard, to speak for the millions of Americans he represents and say no to torture. Will he do so? Probably not. But if you feel the same way, I urge you to write to your Senators and try to convince them to see reason. Gonzales doesn't deserve a place in the U.S. government, and confirming him would be a mistake with far-reaching implications.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

If Wishes Were iPods  

How popular is the iPod? How about the iTunes Music Store?

Insanely popular.

You already knew that, of course. But I've got a few sources of both subjective and objective data to share. First of all, since subjective data is so much more fun, let's look at Amazon's new feature, the Most Wished For list in electronics. Here's what it looks like right now as I write this:

  1. Apple 20 GB iPod M9282LL/A
  2. Apple 4 GB iPod Mini Silver M9160LL/A
  3. iTunes $15 Prepaid Card
  4. Philips DVP642 DivX-Certified Progressive-Scan DVD Player
  5. Apple 40 GB iPod M9268LL/A
  6. Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G Router
  7. Creative Zen Micro 5 GB MP3 Player Black
  8. Canon EOS 20D 8.2MP Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens
  9. Canon EOS 6.3MP Digital Rebel Camera with Lens 18-55MM Lens
  10. Monster Cable iCarPlay iPod Wireless FM Transmitter (AI-IP-FM-CH)
  11. Canon PowerShot A95 5MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Zoom
  12. Apple iPod In-Ear Headphones (M9394G/A)
  13. SanDisk 256 MB MP3 Player Red
  14. Verbatim 8x 4.7 GB DVD+R Spindle (100 Discs)
  15. Sony Cybershot DSC-T1 5.1MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Zoom
  16. Canon PowerShot S410 4MP Digital Elph with 3x Optical Zoom
  17. Kodak CX7300 3.2 MP Digital Camera
  18. Altec Lansing INMOTION Ipod Portable Speaker System
  19. Belkin TuneDok Car Holder for iPod
  20. Creative MuVo Micro N200 512 MB MP3 Player (Black)
  21. Apple iPod Dock Kit (M9602G/A)
  22. Belkin Pro Series USB 2.0 Device Cable (USB A/USB B, 10 Feet)
  23. Apple AirPort Express with Air Tunes (M9470LL/A)
  24. Sony MDR-EX71SL Fontopia Headphones with Closed Type Design
  25. Canon Powershot SD300 4MP Digital Elph Camera with 3x Optical Zoom

Today, iPods and iPod accessories fill 9 of the top 25 slots. I've counted the iTunes Music Store card, since it's a pretty safe bet that almost everyone using the iTunes Music Store regularly either has an iPod or will be getting one soon. Other closely related items didn't count because they are not exclusive to the iPod: the AirTunes base station, the USB 2.0 cable, the headphones.

Just a few days ago, the same list showed 13 of 25 items that were iPod-related. The only MP3 player on the list at that time was the Creative Zen Micro 5GB, sliding in at number 22.

So there are a lot of people out there wishing for iPods. By Amazon's wish list metric, more people want iPods than want digital cameras, DVD players, TiVos, wireless networks, or any other MP3 player. You should definitely keep in mind that this is an entirely subjective and arbitrary sample; practically speaking it's meaningless, but I found it interesting anyway.

iTunes Music Store Sales

Want some real data? I've got that too. Not about the iPod, but about the iTunes Music Store. As I pointed out above, the popularity of the iTMS should generally track the popularity of the iPod pretty well. They are marketed together, and combined they provide a lot more functionality than either one alone.

How well is the iTMS doing? Apple does not release specific numbers about how many tracks the iTunes Music Store sells at any given time, but they do make press releases when they hit certain milestones. Here they are:

Here's what that looks like on a chart:

iTMS performance through January 2005

A strong exponential growth trend is clearly visible. This trend has actually been obvious since July 2004, and every data point since then has followed the same path. Graphing the data on a logarithmic scale makes that even more clear.

iTMS performance through January 2005, log scale

The growth is almost a flat line against the log scale. I'd say it's probably flattening out slightly, but it's hard to say for sure. One argument against that is that we're currently getting data points more often, so we could just be seeing seasonal fluctuation that we didn't have the resolution to see before.

But one thing is clear: even in the flattest period we've seen, iTMS total sales are still increasing exponentially, at an astonishing rate of about 14% per month. At times it's as high as 26% per month. That's anywhere from 500% to 1000% growth per year.

iTMS to hit a billion in 2005

If this keeps up -- and the January 24th press release follows the trend exactly, and gives no reason to suggest it will stop -- then the current growth rate suggests that Apple will sell its one BILLIONTH song through the iTunes Music Store by the end of 2005. And that's actually a pretty conservative statement.

It only took ten months for the sales to increase tenfold from 10M to 100M tracks. If it takes the same amount of time to go from 100M to 1B, the store would reach 1,000,000,000 tracks sold by the beginning of May. Unbelievably, that's less than four months away.

My personal impression of the data is that the growth rate is slowing a bit, and it'll reach a billion in September or October 2005. But we'll see what the future holds.

Other music services

So how are all those other music stores doing? Not so well.

The IFPI reported last week that over 200 million songs were legally downloaded in 2004, compared to 20 million in 2003. If both these numbers and Apple's are considered accurate, and if they are measuring roughly the same data set, then we can actually get some idea about the market share of the iTMS.

(For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to assume both sets of numbers are both accurate and consistent, even though they might not be perfectly so. I'm inclined to believe Apple's numbers. They should be capable of very accurate tracking and are subject to shareholder lawsuits if they misrepresent their sales. The IFPI has no reason to be inaccurate, but neither would it be held accountable if it got any numbers wrong. I don't know whether they are measuring the same data; Apple is probably counting free downloads that don't generate revenue, and the IFPI might not be. Apple is probably also counting every track, including audio books, while the IFPI release was only interested in digital music -- however, I doubt that audio books are more than a drop in the bucket of Apple's sales.)

The IFPI's numbers state that over 220M songs have been legally downloaded and purchased over 2003 and 2004, which just so happens to extend back through the lifetime of Apple's iTunes Music Store. Well, Apple just reported on December 16th that it had sold 200M songs over the lifetime of its store. If Apple has really sold about 200M of those 220M songs, that gives them a market share of more than 90%.

To put it in perspective, these two sets of numbers suggest that everybody else added together has sold about 20M songs over the entire lifetime of their stores. Apple sold more than twice that number in just the past month, selling 50M in the period from Dec 16th to Jan 24th.

When you read an article like the IFPI's release about the explosive growth of "legal downloading", they really mean "the iTunes Music Store". Because honestly, that's where all the action is right now.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Anonymity and the Web  

From time to time I encounter people who wonder why I don't use some creative online name. You know, some AOL-inspired unique handle like "drewsome" or "hyperthought" or "knockinboots16". Better still, when I intelligently argue an opinion against someone who'd rather not be rational, I've received dark comments about how it's surprising that I'd use my real name to "spout that kind of garbage".

(As an aside, I find it interesting that the latter kind of vague threat -- and it is definitely meant as a threat -- has only so far come from people who hold far-right-wing political views. Whenever that happens, though, it's a sure sign that you've won an argument; remember, violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.)

So why do I use my real name, anyway?

Part of it is that I can't be bothered to keep finding new names when the one I want is taken. For example, I could choose to be "drewsome" on half a dozen accounts, but then have to come up with something new when it's taken elsewhere. Well, that just stinks. My full name is not the most unique one in the world -- I'm no Deep Jawa -- but I can get by with using it most of the time.

I also find that using my real name helps a lot in business, since there's no need to explain why I've chosen it. It's simple, to the point, and easy to remember if you know my name, which you should if you're doing business with me. And if you are using it to email me, you will have to spell my last name correctly. Hint: there is no Y in it whatsoever.

But one of the biggest reasons is that I truly believe that anonymity on the web is an illusion. And since it is an illusion I don't see that it's worth the bother to go out of my way to maintain it. I try to act online the same way I do in real life: I'm polite, I respect the opinions of others, and even when I have a very strong opinion I still try to see both sides of the story.

That's quite a sweeping statement to make, so let me clarify it. I do not mean that anonymity is an illusion in the absolute sense. It's still very possible in this day and age to keep your identity hidden online from anyone but the government if you work at it, and if you're extra paranoid it's probably even possible to keep hidden from the government. (Although I guarantee they do not reveal everything they might be able to do to track you down.)

But for the average person, if you spend a reasonable amount of time online interacting with others and you don't go well out of your way to protect your identity, you are not anonymous. You may feel anonymous, but it's an illusion.

If you make comments on blogs and use the same identity over a period of time so that people can recognize you, you are not anonymous.

If you ever mention personal details of your life online or fill them out in forms, you are not anonymous.

If you have an internet connection in your home which keeps the same IP address for a long period of time, whether it's static or dynamic, you are not anonymous.

If you maintain an account on a webserver which keeps logs (and pretty much all of them do, with rare exceptions), then to anyone with access to the logs you are not anonymous.

The technologically savvy among you are saying, "Sure, but there are ways to get around all that." And you're right. There are. But in the end they are impractical for the average person. To be anonymous to everyone but the government, you need to be fairly antisocial. You can't maintain a consistent identity -- for any system where an account is required, you generally would have to create multiple names/accounts and never linger in any one for too long. Furthermore you'd need to watch out for quirks of spelling, typing, word choice, and grammar which might provide hints to which accounts are the same people. And you must trust the webmaster of the site, since most server software normally keeps logs of which accounts are accessed from which IP. Anonymizing proxy servers are possible, but due to the vanishingly small number of people that use them, you can actually make yourself less anonymous by doing so! And most obviously, but perhaps the thing that people forget most often, is that you can NEVER reveal to anyone your real name; the memory of a web server is much longer than the memory of a person, and in many cases things you say on the web NEVER go away.

A recent example of how anonymity failed on the web came to my attention this summer. Remember the book Unfit for Command? It was not much more than an ugly hack job written to smear John Kerry, but the book got some attention from the paid conservative onanists. Then a micro-scandal flared up when it was revealed that one of the co-authors, Jerry Corsi, had made some nasty, hateful, and often racist comments on the nasty, hateful, and often racist far-right-wing political website Free Republic. Oops.

It turns out that Corsi fell victim to the last and most obvious pitfall -- he revealed his name, and it later came back to bite him. But take a closer look. Joe Conason of Salon had just documented the links between the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Free Republic, two organizations whose names are very much Orwellian doublespeak. To the best of my recollection, Conason was first to pick up on the link and then someone else found Corsi's name. But even if Corsi hadn't made the obvious slip, it really might not have been very long before Corsi was identified from his posts on Free Republic anyway.

Don't believe me? Perhaps you remember the protestors who "infiltrated" the Republican National Convention and made a nuisance of themselves. They were quickly tackled and subdued, but a TV camera caught a young-looking guy kicking one of them, a girl, while she was pinned down on the floor by event security. A lot of people were outraged, and there were a flurry of blog posts like this one trying to identify him.

With nothing to go on but his obvious political leanings and a vidcap of his fairly nondescript face, a likely candidate named Scott Robinson from UPenn's Wharton was tracked down. He eventually denied it, and it's not quite proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But there are things that make you go hmmm. Someone with a guilty conscience cropped him out of a picture on the National Taxpayer's Union website while the brouhaha was going on. Hmmm. People came forward who knew him and said yeah, sounds exactly like something he would do. Hmmm. The chair of the UPenn College Republicans even said it looks like him. Hmmm. What do you think?

There are many more stories like these two. I'll spare you the details, but I've been working online for more than a decade (closer to two decades, if you count BBS systems), and the same pattern keeps showing up.

Are you really anonymous? No. Not really, not when somebody really wants to know.