In search of the final format

Now I may be showing my age, but I have a couple of much-loved albums on the following formats: vinyl, cassette, CD, minidisc, WMA and MP3 ( i'll leave you guessing which albums and artists!). The fact that I no longer have a record player, and the only tape deck available in my household is in my car, makes me wonder if there is truly a format for storing, music, video or any other data that will beat obsolescence.

When my four-year-old nephew found a cassette, he asked, "What's this?" On being told it was something that had music on it, his response was "Don't be silly!". For him music has always arrived on something round and shiny, or via a box with headphones attached. I often wonder what the future will be like for someone like him, someone who has never known a world without CDs, remote controls, mobile phones and the internet.

That's why I was interested in this article about turning old music into digital formats. Apart from rescuing my music collection, I also want to archive my own recordings I made as a radio journalist. At the moment, they're on cassette and minidisc, and I can rapidly see the day approaching when I can play neither. I'm already wondering how I can get a lead from the car to the PC to re-format those cassettes, or whether I could do it with a wi-fi connection.

And it's not just music that's in danger of being lost to the advances of technology. By the time our family finally rented a video recorder, the first format war of VHS v Betamax had been won. But I'm already a victim of the follow up conflict, with shelves full of videos which I can no longer watch. And if I did want to get hold of a VCR to transfer something what would I transfer it onto, DVD, CDR? Who is to say how long they will last in the wake of hard disc recorders and digital downloads?

Having done a bit of geneology research, I know it's something that concerns historians with far more precious documents and recordings to preserve than my own. And digital technology has done much to enable people to search and view historical documents online. But still I ask, what will last?

I've just finished a book called Darwin and the Barnacle by Rebecca Stott, in which the author traces Darwin's life up to the publication of "On the Origin of the Species". For me, the most touching episode occurs in the epigraph, when she visits the Cambridge Zoology museum. There she not only sees the preserved octopus gathered by Darwin during his voyage onboard the Beagle in 1832, but also views microscopic slides prepared by his own hand. But while many of the slide specimens are now damaged, the irony is that, his handwriting, the simplest of recordings of ink on paper, can still be seen.

Maybe those aboriginal rock artists had the right idea all along… 

Crystal ball gazing

One of the reasons I want to keep this blog is to help me keep track of the numerous interesting features I read about new media technologies and to pass them onto others who may find them useful. It should make it a lot easier to compile a list of related material next time I'm asked to give a presentation or lecture too. I must have spent hours searching for dimly remembered news articles weeks after I originally read them!
I've also been thinking about the next big thing. Isn't that what everyone wants to know? What will be the big changes, the key buzzwords in new media and on the internet in 2006?
For me, two key areas which have come to the fore in the latter part of 2005 are podcasting and citizen journalism. I remember referring to podcasting at the beginning of the year during a lecture I gave to Media students at the University of Sunderland, on the day that the BBC announced it was going to launch several trial podcasts. The term has been declared Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary and it's not just major broadcasters like the BBC that are podcasting – it seems everyone's at it, even the tourist guides in Edinburgh. So I definitely think we'll see more podcasting and more interesting and unusual ways of using it. 

Citizen journalism hit the headlines in the wake of some of the biggest news stories of the year, with US news sites using blogs to tell the stories of hurricane survivors, and the BBC being bombarded with stills, and video taken from mobile phones following the terrorist attacks on the London transport network in July.
Citizen Journalism raises a lot of thorny questions for traditional broadcasters. In the past many would have paid for the best shots from photo or news agencies. How will the citizen journalists react when they realise they could make money from their images captured on mobile phones? Sites like Scoopt are already making this easy and attractive. Will the desire to offer public information be outweighed by greed?
And what of the ethics of such newsgathering? Is there a danger that citizens will be tempted to gather what they think broadcasters want to see. We've already been introduced to the concept of "happy slapping" – where assaults are videod and shared by mobile phone. What other evils could be filmed and shared?
But after starting this blog entry off in the spirit of sharing, I don't want to end on such a pessimistic note. For surely it is in the potential of the blog and the wiki to help bring people together, to share common interests, to debate and to open up dialogue. In recent local elections in the UK, we've seen candidates stand on one issue – to save a local hospital or school. How powerful could the blog be as an engine of social change?
I read something recently about a campaign group who wants to get some parking laws changed in their local area and they've been using blogs to get people together, talking about the issue and suggesting solutions, using it as a tool to lobby their local councils. Of course, now I've mentioned it – I can't remember where I read it. And that's why I need to keep on blogging!
Updated: Just read on Robert Scoble's blog that the 80 year old inventor of the mouse may be about to start blogging!

Getting to grips with the blog

This feels similar to early adventures in writing computer code. Remember the days of the ZX spectrum and typing something along these lines on your rubber keyboard:
10 TYPE "Hello World"
20 GOTO 10
For someone who professes to be interested in new technology and the web, I've been incredibly slow to try and catch up with the blogging bandwagon.
I've heard the word, and vaguely understood the concept, but I'm afraid, until now, I've regarded blogs and bloggers in the same light as some of those early personal webpages – vanity publishing.
To me, a blog seemed like the modern day equivalent of the letter you would write in a bid to attract a penpal, desperate to make yourself sound exciting and interesting. The thought made me cringe.
But over the past few days, in a bid to get my head around the whole subject of blogs, I've started to read and subscribe to some. In a way it's been a similar experience to my first excursions onto the internet. I found a couple of sites which looked interesting, which lead on to others, which, in turn, lead to a few more and pretty soon I was leaving a breadcrumb trail all over the internet. Sometimes I got lost, sometimes I saw signs I didn't understand, sometimes what was there wasn't worth the trouble it took to seek it out, but every so often, on the myriad of paths, I found a nugget of gold and added it to my favourites.
And that's how I've explored until now, as a daily or weekly visitor to familiar spots, relying on them to guide me to new and interesting places. Blogs have opened up a whole new vista and I think I'm beginning to understand their value and potential.
So, as a way of learning and understanding more, I'm starting my own blogging exploration. It feels a bit ironic that the subject of my first blog should be blogging itself. It sounds like the start of a joke – what do you call a blog about blogging? Is it an uber blog? Or a meta blog? I have a lot of exploring to do!