Short Clips

February 10, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Has the writer's strike actually ended, or are those just rumors flying around Hollywood? Tentative agreements are such fragile things; let's get an actual settlement before rejoicing, if that's what we're supposed to do. Actually, I was hoping the writers would stick it out another couple of weeks. I would have enjoyed seeing the "alternative" Oscars show. Alas, it looks like it will be business as usual, which means I'll DVR it and watch the whole thing in 30 minutes starting at 12:30 am.

I received a number of e-mails debating my stance regarding DVD copy protection. One reader tried to argue that copy protection was designed to keep a seventh grader from buying a popular DVD and making copies for his classmates. Newsflash: Seventh graders are probably more savvy than their parents when it comes to Internet tools such as software to break copy protections. It's not as if that stuff isn't out there and readily available. The recipe is simple. Use a search engine to find the software and download it. Put a copy protected DVD in the computer's DVD drive. Use the copy protection breaking software to upload a clean, unprotected copy onto the hard drive. Burn as many clean DVDs as you like. This isn't a secret. It's something that every seventh grader and more than a few sixth and fifth and fourth graders know. Kids are generally more knowledgeable about computers and the Internet than adults because it's in their social DNA. Put bluntly: the only people being restricted by copy protections are those who don't care one way or the other, those who don't know the basics of how to break it (the innocent or computer illiterate), or those (like me) whose computers are so old that they don't have recordable DVD drives. Copy protection isn't doing a thing about piracy. It has become an archaic annoyance.

One topic noticeable by its absence during the week's e-mail dialogue was my suggestion of running a contest regarding re-designing the site. I believe that idea generated a single e-mail, and it was from someone who said he wouldn't participate because he only knows html. Given the lack of interest, I have decided to reconsider the contest. I have started doing "deep" research so I can accomplish a re-design that will hopefully make the site appear more professional (without losing the ease of functionality) and integrate the ads in a less clumsy fashion. How radical will the changes appear? That remains to be seen. It will probably take me several months before I put together some alternate designs. At that point, I may open a "beta" site to select readers so they can comment on how things look and work.

Advertising was another big e-mail topic of discussion this week, likely as a holdover from last week. A number of readers are promoting the idea of allowing donations. My feeling about this is that it's an alternative to advertising, not a complement. I think it's a little tacky to ask for donations and advertise. For me, it's one or the other, and advertising, although impacted by how much attention readers pay to it and what the rates are, is more stable than donations. So I'll continue to rely on ads and hope that readers don't religiously ignore them due to ad blindness. If the ad market crashes and burns, then maybe donations will be the way to go but, at the moment, I don't feel comfortable with them.

With respect to the Kontera ads (the double-underlined blue text), I am probably as dissatisfied with them as a number of my readers. It's not the blue text or the underlining that bothers me; it's the quality of the links provided. Kontera is supposed to be "contextual," which means the links should theoretically be related to the words they are linked to. However, I have recently seen "Jack Black" linked to a gambling site (blackjack) and "Penny Lane" to "J.C. Penny." I like the idea of well targeted in-text ads since they can potentially match a reader with a related site. But these irrelevant links are crap, and I have told Kontera as much. They have a couple of months to get things straightened out. If this unacceptable behavior continues, I'll drop them as part of the re-design regardless of how well they pay. I am concerned about quality and many of the moves forward are designed to make the advertising less obtrusive.

Finally, a reader suggested doing a weekly/daily/several-times-per-week audio "minute." It's an intriguing idea and it would bring a little multimedia to the site. Again, that's the kind of thing that could enhance the re-designed site, so it's worth consideration. I have plenty of experience with radio and public speaking so my voice is well trained. (A video blog is also a possibility although, at this point, it's a little beyond my technical capabilities.)

Tomorrow in ReelThoughts: Do movie-goers really want film characters to talk the same way real people do?