Wow: Lists of Bests is back, kinda.

That was quick. The new Lists of Bests is up and (aside from some Ruby on Rails related error messages earlier this evening), seems to be cooler than ever. User created lists, clean design…

Um. Waitaminit. My login from the old Lists of Bests site is gone. Hope that’s a temporary thing, guys, but it would be cool if you had a FAQ for us old users to tell us what’s up.

Fortunately the Robot Coop team is looking for comments, so go check it out and post your feedback.

How not to capture the digital music market

A week or so ago, when Apple announced its iPod Hi-Fi speaker system, the Wall Street Journal published a fairly penetrating article about the impact of digital music on the hi-fi audio market. Interesting points: customers seem to value portability over sound quality (home audio equipment sales dropped 18% in 2005 while digital music player sales tripled).

As someone who’s doing a lossless ripping project to turn all his CDs into digital music files, who has spent some time and money connecting his home audio system to his wireless network, and who owns an iPod, I think there are several explanations for this. First, a lot of people can’t tell the difference. Really. Second, the convenience of searching by song on services like iTunes and Rhapsody (but not, ironically, eMusic, whose text-searching facility is horrible), encourages digital downloads for impulse purchases at the expense of other music purchases (no more buying an album just because you liked the single, or a greatest hits compilation because it reminds you of high school). Third, it’s not out of the question that people might want multiple iPods. I keep being tempted by those $99 1 GB Shuffles, for instance. Fourth, there are real advantages to being able to take the music that you listen to on your home system with you on your iPod in the car, on the subway, and on a plane.

Which may explain the last paragraph of the article, which describes a new service, MusicGiants Inc., that sells “lossless” downloads from “the same major-label content sold by services like the iTunes Music Store” for a 30 cent premium. Except, of course, that the files are encoded as lossless Windows Media Audio files (version 9 encoder), which won’t play on an iPod or a Mac and carry Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM; the service is only available for Windows XP computers; major independent acts like Spoon, whose entire back catalog is digitally available elsewhere, or even Sleater-Kinney, are absent from the service

All this goes a long way toward explaining the last sentence: “Sales,” says the Wall Street Journal dryly, “have been slow so far.” Well, duh. Fighting iTunes’ DRM with someone else’s DRM isn’t the way to go. I would go so far as to say that the only other horses in the race are eMusic, which sells relatively high quality VBR MP3s of independent music with no DRM attached for around $0.25 a track (based on 40 tracks for $9.99 a month), and Rhapsody, who have a deep catalog and an all you can eat business model (albeit with draconian DRM: if you stop paying for the service, your tunes stop working). Those are different business models with different benefits to the customer. The digital music market is big, but so far it’s not big enough to support undifferentiated services offering the same content, only with different DRM.

GTD with Outlook Pt 2: Task views

I’ve spent another week and change on GTDsince implementing good search in Outlook. I’ve spent it exploring the core concepts: capturing all (most) of the stuff that’s been floating around in my brain waiting to be done or dealt with. Discovery number 1: while it’s a relief to capture all (most) of the stuff into lists so I’m not spending all the time panicking about things I’ve forgotten, I’ve learned that I’ve made a lot of commitments that need to be fulfilled. Hence my relatively light blogging as I regain some balance.

My capture systems are just now starting to get in shape. I spent much of my airplane time between here and Vegas (and back) setting up some of the systems and have some progress to report.

First thing: my new favorite view in Outlook (XP version) is the Calendar view, with the small Task pane to the side. Something about having the task view shrunk to a manageable size is really helpful in preventing it from being terrifyingly unmanageable. But the out of the box view, which features only in progress tasks ordered by no particular mechanism and ungrouped, needs work. We can do this.

If you right click on the view title (“Tasks”), you can edit the view definition. I found it most helpful to group it by status. The out-of-box statuses (statii?) in Outlook are Not Started, In Progress, Completed, Waiting for Someone Else, and Deferred. That turns out to be just about perfect for GTD task organization. I have yet to use the Deferred status; I keep the Completed group collapsed and open it when I need motivation. That leaves Not Started, In Progress, and Waiting for Someone Else. Email “next actions” that need responses go to Waiting and everything else keeps getting worked.

Okay, but what about when you need better statuses? This is where Categories come into play. I did a quick listing of categories that made sense from a “next action” perspective: phone, email, mail, computer, research, writing, errands. Then I went to the main Tasks folder, went down the list adding categories, and grouped the whole shebang by Status and Category. I also set the view to show the long description column when present, so I could glance at the list and see information like, for instance, phone numbers. Advantage: the main Tasks view can become a printable view to bring with you for errands and phone calls.

Next up: project lists and how there’s not a perfect system for tracking them in Outlook… yet. (But how one kind of project list freed me from keeping project names in the Category field.)

Farewell to the Source: Ali Farka Touré, 1939? – 2006

I was going to write an obituary to Ali Farka Touré, the amazing Mali guitarist, farmer, and village leader who passed away last month (and whose death is just being made public this week). I was beaten to it by a friend in the radio industry who wrote: “Malian musician Ali Farke Toure has died. I play his music a lot at the station, which is how I was introduced to him. It sucks that this great musician played for so many years and I had to actually go work at a radio station to learn about him. We should have two moments of silence: one, for the passing of Farke Toure, and another, for the humungous blinders that shut America off from most world music.”

I feel the same way and feel as though I’m part of the problem. I’ve known of Touré’s music for at least ten years, since the 1994 release of his Grammy-winning collaboration with Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu. But I haven’t proselytized him the way I have other musicians like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or Youssou N’Dour, or even Kathryn Tickell. I haven’t even put his music on a mix.

There is a great remembrance of Touré on Blogcritics today which gives some impressions of the man himself; well worth reading.