Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, May 26, 2006

Portable Media Storage Devices To Become Key Personal Content And Software Application Servers

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While flashy iPods hog the billboards and street posters in may urban centers, the quiet revolution is not in proprietary mobile devices but in the rise of pervasive memory sticks that are affordable and increasingly roomy.

Photo credit: Bruno Neves

Why lock your library of premium content into one expensive mobile gizmo when you can hook up all of your favorite devices to one common storage device that travels with you as you please?

Publishers that have gone the old "license the platform" route for electronic content are going to have to adjust rapidly to portable storage media that will be far better at putting publishers in a direct relationship with their audiences.

The device known as a phonograph was a nifty invention in its early days. It combined the genius of Thomas Edison's inventive mind with affordable equipment and what passed in that era as high-performance portable media. Pop in a tin foil cylinder impressed with an analog recording into Edison's phonograph, crank it up to spin the cylinder underneath a stylus, and out burbled "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and other early recording hits from the attached megaphone. The device carried Edison patents, of course, which limited the growth of recorded sound in its early days.

Photo credit: Peter Zelei

Once disk-based media for portable music became standardized and open to other producers, though, the recording industry as we know it today was born.

Today's iPods
are direct descendants of this pioneering experiment in portable media, shoehorning state-of-the-art storage into a proprietary platform. While the iPod's growth has been impressive by all accounts, what's beginning to be at least as impressive is the growth of portable media unattached to any platform.

500 megabytes of storage on a solid-state USB memory stick goes for under ten U.S. dollars in many outlets and 2GB on a stick now goes for USD 60 or less. If you're worried about backup, just park Seagate's affordable new 750GB drive to your home network and store the content from your sticks along with a few PCs and a TiVo's worth of video to boot.


All this and more strongly indicate that "portable storage" can likely become the new platform of choice for content products.

With the explosion of portable devices available in the marketplace today, the memory stick is becoming the medium of choice to keep consumers from getting their content libraries locked into one gizmo or another.

Lexar has taken this one step further and created a device that loads a memory stick with a piece of software that can be run on any PC to allow one to look at the device as if it were one's own PC desktop. This is billed as a nifty tool for users of cybercafes who don't want to load personal content onto a public machine - a major plus in Asian markets - but the implications of this product are clear: personal storage devices are becoming personal content and software application servers.

While there's a lot of life yet to be extracted from innovative all-in-one platforms such as iPods and other handhelds, the content industry is now faced with the opportunity to build relationships with their clientele through personal storage devices in a way that is likely to have an explosive force similar to the migration of recorded content from proprietary phonograph cylinders to more universally adaptable discs. This of course would imply that content companies were ready to license content effectively independent of specific devices.

Unfortunately, there's the rub for many.

Content licensors keep themselves very busy these days trying to lock down deals for specific mobile platforms when they could take that same energy and build relationships directly with their audiences by enabling users to manage their content independent of any single given platform.

The media is there, the methods are maturing, and the motives are clear: why deal with portable device manufacturers when you could be dealing with the portable "me?"

Here are a few quick reasons why this is likely to be coming to a memory stick near you sooner rather than later:

  • Smart memory manufacturers.

    Photo credit: Artzone

    For much of the digital era storage devices have been the dutiful servants of operating systems and device manufacturers, providing affordable background support for computer sales. But in both consumer and enterprise markets storage specialists have been developing increasingly sophisticated products that compete directly with computer systems suppliers and mobile device manufacturers. If software can provide portable desktops on a memory stick, it's not a far stretch to see a wide range of specialized applications that can work easily with standard portable media on a wide variety of devices. Toss in wireless personal area networks that can link personal devices on or near you and you have personal libraries can sit in our pockets or local luggage and which can connect with any of our personal mobile devices.

  • Improved rights management.

    Photo credit: Sergio Ianni

    Digital rights management software still leaves a bad taste in many consumers' mouths, but a new generation of solutions is being deployed that offers hope for people wanting device-independent personal libraries. An interesting example is Navio's new AV Commerce 2.0 system, which offers not only cross-platform functionality but as well the ability to offer "super bundles" of various kinds of content to enable sophisticated packaging of content and a rights management system that separates rights management from media files. With consumer entertainment suppliers figuring out how to manage rights effectively the pressure will be on suppliers of other types of content to transition from dealing with platforms to dealing with highly portable media suppliers.

  • A broader emphasis on personalized search.

    Photo credit: Yarik Mission

    Having tons of content floating around on personal media could be a hassle if it weren't for the development of personal-scaled search software sophisticated enough to satisfy a generation raised on Google and other major search engines. With effective search tools acquiring major personal libraries becomes less of a hassle - especially as content gets labeled with effective metadata via Google Co-op, social tagging services and proprietary services. Today's announcement that Dell is now loading Google's personal search software onto its PCs along with other Google applications underscores the importance of search-centric platforms connecting users with personal content on a myriad of devices.

As is so often the case, many new technologies are now fighting in new forms the same battles fought years ago by other technologies. Such is the case with portable media and the issues that are fomenting around content licensing in today's tangled fabric of portable devices.

Focusing licensing efforts away from device platforms and towards all-purpose portable media will enable publishers of all kinds to move towards a much more productive relationship with today's content purchasers and users.

The portable "me" is upon us; will your content be ready?

Originally written by John Blossom as part of his News Analysis section
original title: "
The Portable Me: A New Generation of Portable Media Redefines Personal Libraries"
May 25th 2006

Read more about John Blossom qualified views and reporting on the content publishing and distribution business at

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Reference: Shore [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Friday, May 26 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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