Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 29/8/2006 I am roused from deep sleep by my mobile. "Hello?
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Tuesday 29/8/2006

I am roused from deep sleep by my mobile.

"Hello?" I mumble.

"Spiral Frog," says the voice.

Perhaps I'm dreaming. Perhaps this is the key phrase inserted by my programmer during that lost summer of '88, which upon hearing turns me into a single-minded killer zombie. Perhaps it's mobile phone voice spam, the first of millions that will render our civilisation mute and paralysed.

"Pardon?" I say.

"Spiral Frog. What do you think of it?"

Um. I'm still (unexpectedly) in Edinburgh. I was up late last night. It is now early in the morning. I think of nothing.

"Um," I say.

"Oh, sorry, it's early. It's Joanne at BBC News 24, there's a new music download service called Spiral Frog, it's free to the user and supported by advertising. Backed by Universal. Is that something you could talk about?"

I promise to come up with something sensible just as soon as I'm able to pass the Turing Test — estimated time to consciousness: three cups of coffee and half an hour. I consider whether it might be an idea to build a portable Turing Test machine, to be carried by the Net police and deployed during flame wars when one or more of the correspondents is being particularly stupid. "Excuse me, sir, have you been thinking? Please type into this window... that's right, take a long sentence... oh dear, your rhetoric levels are far too high for the supporting logic. I'm afraid I'm going to have to confiscate your keyboard."

Some digging later, and the Spiral Frog lies dissected in front of me. It is indeed Universal, which will give you free music provided you endure 90 seconds of advert per tune — and keep coming back for more, 'cos if you don't log on for your fix, your music will go away. It is, of course, Microsoft DRM'd, meaning it won't play on iPods — hey, let's exclude 80 percent of the market! — and you can't burn CDs with the music. This is tempting to the punters because? Let's look at the press release.

""Offering young consumers an easy-to-use alternative to pirated music sites will be compelling," said Robin Kent, SpiralFrog's chief exec. "SpiralFrog will offer those consumers a better experience and environment than they can get from any pirate site." Kent highlighted some key factors — legal digital files with no viruses or spyware in a controlled client-server architecture, quick downloading, and quality songs and music videos by great artists as among the primary benefits users will gain."

Works for me. I know all the young people of today are worried by viruses and spyware in their MP3s — it's such a problem — and constantly sigh after controlled client-server architecture. They're all more than willing to watch adverts time and time again, in exchange for music they can't play in the car.

Spiralfrog also goes on about releasing users from "piracy shame", which is where I fear it really has left the planet. There is no such thing. People think the same about downloading files from peer-to-peer services as their parents did about taping songs from the radio — who loses? Oddly, the RIAA suing schoolchildren and grandmothers hasn't really shaken that belief.

So it's yet another example of the music industry not getting it. I don't know how many times that's been said, but they're not listening. Suitably caffeinated, I leap into a cab and hit the BBC studios in Edinburgh.

Someone who is listening as I pontificate on News 24 is Chris Long of Click Online. He looks up from his desk in London to see me blethering on, and phones me "just to check that you've got your mobile off". Evil man. Still, the BBC has the last laugh: before I'm allowed out of the studio, they get me to repeat the business for Radio Scotland's drivetime programme going out later that day. Sometime during the afternoon, a researcher phones the office to ask: "How should we describe your chap, er, Rudolph Goodwins?"

"Very shiny," came the response.

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