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Digital Content Guide Hidden From View

How not to discourage this guys...Last month with much fanfare, blustering and extensive carpet bombing of media releases a group of “creative rights holders and creative content industry associations” launched the Digital Content Guide with the aim:

…gives consumers help to find licensed digital services which are availed in Australia across the film, music, TV, books and games industries and sporting codes

Basically it was presented as one stop listing for Australian consumers of places they could legally buy, download or stream digital content. Or as the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association CEO, Simon Bush stated to ZDnet:

The lack of availability is no longer an excuse [for copyright infringement]

But there’s just one small problem Simon. No one can find your site. And it’s all your own fault.

How To Interweb?

So why can’t anyone find this site nearly a month after launch? Is it due to hackers? Terrorists? Conspiracy by search engines because they love pirates (actual statement you occasionally see from the copyright holders)? No it just seems that the people they’ve hired to operate the Digital Content Guide website are not entirely competent. It all comes down to these two lines:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

That’s the current robots.txt file of the Digital Content Guide. It’s looked like that since launch day and I’ve been periodically checking on it to see if it has changed. What does this mean? Well they’ve told every search engine bot that obeys robots.txt protocol that they are not allowed to index this site. At all. All the big players in the search engine space obey this setting and have dutifully not indexed the site. Which is why Google shows this when you try and locate the site on its name directly:

Oops

Now hiding the site from search engines is handy where you’re in development and you don’t want it out just yet. Typically you’d set this option, then come launch day change it to allow indexing of your content. What I suspect went wrong here is the website operators forgot that step of their launch list and have more or less ignored it ever since.

The Easy Fix

Just so we aren’t accused of being just nasty mocking people, here’s the fix guys. The Digital Content Guide is a WordPress site (like this one). Just head to your Dashboard, down to Settings and into Reading. Find this tick box:

Untick it. Save. Done. Seriously that’s it. Problem solved.

Why This Matters

While it’d be easy just to laugh this off as “ha look at the internet newbies!” and chortling to ourselves, this lack of understanding when it comes to important internet concepts has massive implications given what the same groups represented by this website are demanding.

Right now there is a lot of heavy push from the entities behind this website to introduce tough new anti-piracy laws in Australia wanting everything from blocking piracy websites outright to getting access via other proposed data retention laws to information that would allow them to directly sue supposed copyright infringers.

While little to no focus has been put on availability or cost issues surrounding digital content in Australia (something I’ve written about previously) there has been a huge push for technical solutions instead from these major stake holders. The Digital Content Guide was presented as a sort of halfway measure to alleviate complaints about availability and access but when the site has been online for a month and they haven’t noticed this very simple stuff up, you’ve got to wonder if it is really meant to be useful to the average Australian user or if it was just a PR exercise to make it seem like they were making the effort.

Add to this the shellacking the Digital Content Guide got at launch time for not being a terribly useful resource to begin with (see here and here) combined with the fact it doesn’t seem to have been updated at all (for example the eBook section is still empty despite plenty of legal sources for these in Australia) it really does look more like a half hearted PR exercise with no real expected future use.

Yet these are the guys that want to have special courts, laws, rules and even technological barriers put in place despite showing that they either don’t know or care how the internet operates. This is deeply troubling, especially when they seem to have such a sway over current discussions.

I firmly believe that copyright holders and creative minds should be reimbursed for their time and energy. I have quite a large (and legally purchased) movie collection. I do not condone copyright infringement in any form but the idea you can solve it through purely technological and legal means is ludicrous. Listen to your audience, change your business plans to meet new demands. Don’t waste your money on websites that you have no intention of people be able to find instead.

Update Oct 23rd 2014

It appears someone either found this article or finally figured out how the robots.txt works and the Digital Content Guide now actually appears in search results. Shame they still haven’t bothered to update the sites content however (e.g still nothing listed for purchasing eBooks).

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Adobe Creative Cloud: Acceptance & Evolution

Bright skies are here again!Some time ago when the Adobe Creative Cloud was still very much only just being released to the world I wrote a somewhat ranty piece entitled Adobe Creative Cloud: One Size Does Not Fit All where I railed against the annoyance of Adobe not really providing options for the semi amateur photographer who just wanted Lightroom and Photoshop but not spend $50/month to get them. Now some 16 months later I find myself with a full Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and really enjoying it, so what the hell happened?

Adobe Listened

Yes you read that right. It would appear that Adobe did the single most sensible thing a company could do: listened to the feedback and then, much to a lot of peoples surprise, started implementing changes that went a long way to addressing those concerns. They’ll never be able to please everyone but they’ve made some really good moves to allay concerns.

The Photography Plan

Very shortly after my first rant, Adobe announced an introductory plan for photographers compromising of Lightroom and Photoshop for $10/month. The only catch was the plan was only going to be available for a short time. Until they extended that time. And extended it again. And finally during the Creative Cloud 2014 announcements they finally decided to make it a permanent plan option.

This one single plan essentially addressed 90% of my rant. The cost was reasonable, it supplied exactly what most photographers want and it provided all the benefits of the creative cloud system in terms of easy upgrades over time. So I signed up.

Next Steps

So what convinced me to jump from the photography plan to the $50/month all applications plan? Put simply, a change of requirements. My girlfriend had started a new university course which involves graphics work and web design. As a single Creative Cloud membership allows for installations on two computers this meant upgrading to the full plan so she could access Illustrator and other tools actually made complete sense. We sign both our PCs in, she can install the apps she wants, I can use what I want and with the costs and requirements split across two people make the overall product quite reasonable indeed.

As a tangential benefit it has also allowed me to play with Adobe tools like Premier and After Effects which in their previous box suite incarnations were far too ludicrously expensive for me to even think about obtaining and working with. Now as long as we budget the money for the yearly subscription there’s a lot more open to us.

Retaining Access

During my rant I made this statement:

Spent countless man hours creating that Photoshop file? Making all those tags and keywords in Lightroom to effectively sort your collection of photos? Well all that will be useless unless you keep paying. Each month. Every month. Forever.

I wasn’t the only one with this fear and it would appear once again Adobe listened and actually responded. Not long ago they posted a blog entry on what occurs to Lightroom after your Creative Cloud membership ends. The answer was surprisingly straight forward and essentially went:

  • Lightroom will continue to launch
  • You retain access to the catalogue with all your tags etc
  • You’ll be able to keep managing your photos with Lightroom
  • However the Develop and Map modules will become disabled

This isn’t too bad and would appear to be a decent compromise. You retain access your catalogue that  you have worked so hard to organise and they disable the component they hope you will pay for again to use. There is of course those that still demand they get the full application and for the meantime it appears Lightroom will still be sold as a separate boxed application for those that want it that way.

Dark Clouds

It hasn’t all be sunshine, rainbows and lollipops for the Creative Cloud. There’s been the security compromise that required users to reset passwords and in some cases get new credit cards issued. There was the extended outage that caused larger media corps that relied on Creative Cloud apps for constant production major pain as they couldn’t meet deadlines.

Finally from my perspective there has been the Creative Cloud desktop management tool/launcher. All the actual Creative Cloud apps themselves (Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator etc) have worked without a problem since they were installed by the central control software launcher has been a major pain.

It has been slowly getting better but along the way it has caused no end of swear words to be issued. Every few months it seems to break and get itself stuck. I won’t update an app or it will act like it can’t log into the cloud. The Adobe forums are littered with people experiencing these problems. The worst bit about this has been what you need to do to fix these problems. Most commonly Adobe support gets you to download and run a somewhat arcane fix it tool which to date has so far fixed precisely nothing for me.

After that they generally get you to located and delete/rename a cache file. This perturbs me as the last thing you really want the average user to be doing on a machine is poking around deleting/renaming files as one false move could leave you far worse off. This “solution” however has fixed thing for me a few times but I can’t help wonder if it’s such a known problem, why exactly hasn’t the underlying problem been fixed? Or at the very least provide an easy system that does the delete/rename for the user.

The final solution and the one that seems to occur most of the time is just reinstalling the Creative Cloud application. The good news is this doesn’t require reinstalling the actual products themselves, the bad news is it is time consuming and the Adobe website seems to go out of its way to be a pain in the rear about downloading the newest version.

Cloud Acceptance

Overall I’m surprised and reasonably happy with the change Adobe has made to handling the Creative Cloud and just generally impressed at the effort they are putting into customer satisfaction especially in light of their near monopoly in some of the areas Adobe applications cater for.

Is it perfect? No. Has it lost the one size fits all approach? To some extent yes, the new permanency of the photography plan attests  to their acceptance of consumer demands. They have made progress and each little change so far has been well worth accepting it as a useful set of tools.

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Encouraging Piracy Brick By Brick

Treat your customers like dirt, that'll work right?

Update 12th March 2014: All the commented out release dates mentioned below have now mysteriously reappeared. No explanation has been given and the dates don’t seem to have changed so what the hell was the point Warner Brother/Roadshow?

About a month I had a rant about the fact the LEGO Movie wasn’t being released in Australia for two months after it was released in the US and most of the rest of the world. Now a month out from that supposed release date (April 3rd) I went back to check the release dates page only to find the release dates for Australia and New Zealand have vanished.

As in completely vanished. Gone. Vamoosed. Not even listed. Feed into a mulcher. No longer visible. Not rescheduled, just utterly gone. A quick check of the source code for the page finds they have been entirely commented out:

Youink!

A further breeze through shows Australia and New Zealand aren’t the only ones to get this treatment. Release dates for Singapore, Cyprus and Greece have all been purged as well. There is no explanation as to why or even a vague indicator of if this means the movie will be delayed any further. The Australian distributor, Roadshow Films, doesn’t even list the movie on their website. Village Cinemas (part of Roadshow) still lists the release date as being the 3rd of April but who knows how accurate that is.

So yeah this is just a movie. In the grand scheme of things not much to get worked up about. But to my mind the purposeful delay in release (April 3rd lines up with school holidays) and the vanishing release dates from the official page are all part of a systemic disease in the media distributors mind of it being OK to screw over your audience because you can’t adapt to changing markets.

Australia in world wide terms is a tiny, tiny audience. We’ll never be to argue on terms of scale to get things the same day as the larger markets. Having said that informing viewers they may have to wait two months (or more!) to get the same content that everyone else has seen, in some cases many times over, you end up driving them into a mindset of it being OK to “steal” a copy from elsewhere.

This is especially relevant at this time as the Australian Attorney General has made it quite clear that he expects Australian ISPs to implement a “voluntary anti-piracy” system much like that which has been implemented in other countries (with questionable success). There are many powerful lobby groups in Australia working on the behalf of media distributors that cry loudly and persistently about those evil downloading Australians.

Much focus is given to how Australians are the biggest pirates in the world (probably true on a per capita basis) but the lobbyists insist on demanding hard to enforce penalties and further copyright restrictions as being the answer. Questions about  difficulty in legally acquiring media content in a timely or cost efficient manner is barely ever entered into or, like in most cases, ignored entirely.

For the most part if you offer media in a timely and at a reasonable cost people will pay for it. There will always be some that “pirate” the material and the chances of changing their mindsets are minimal in the extreme. These media distributors are effectively encouraging otherwise entirely law abiding customers into pirates by, quite frankly, being dicks. Sorry I’ve tried to think of a better terms but I just can’t.

I know Australia is a tiny market but please LEGO, please Warner Brothers Pictures and Roadshow Films, please don’t keep being dicks to us. We have money. We want to give it to you. But you are making it exceptionally hard by being dicks. The LEGO Movie will undoubtedly rake in the cash when it finally does release here but you would have made just as much, if not more, if you had just released in the same week (or within a few weeks) of the US release date.

The fact I could have essentially watched the entire movie through the various behind the scenes snippets that have been released combined with the fact the movie was actually made in Australia is just further evidence of being dicks. Just remember, every time you’re a dick to Australian audiences you are encouraging piracy brick by brick.