Imagine the Possibilities

I recently gave this keynote at the EdTechteam Cape Town Summit, titled “Imagine the Possibilities”. I’ve actually given this talk a number of times at Summits and other events all over the world, but this is likely the last time I’ll use it, so I’m posting it here just for posterity.

Technology is amoral

I ‘ve been asked to present a keynote and workshop at the National Education Summit in Melbourne in August. The organisers of the event wanted to do an interview and ask a few questions as a way of promoting the event, which I did via email. This has been published elsewhere, but I thought I’d crosspost it here for the record.


1. What are some of the important messages for teachers in your presentation ‘The Track of the Storm’ at the National Education Summit in Melbourne?

The title “Track of the Storm” was inspired by Part 3 of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”. The book opens with the famous lines …

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

As soon as I read that opening paragraph it instantly resonated with how I see technology impacting us today. We continually see amazing new technologies being used to solve seemingly impossible problems, connecting people globally in ways we could barely even imagine a few years ago, and offering endless opportunities to democratise knowledge so that everyone has the opportunity to share and participate.  At the same time, these tools we have created have also enabled a unprecedented polarisation of political and social worldviews, created oceans of fake news and online vitriol, and has provided a powerful platform for some of the worst aspects of humanity. 

Essentially, technology is amoral. It is neither good nor bad. It neither loves nor hates. It neither empowers nor destroys. It simply enables and amplifies that which we use it for.

2.  In your view, what are the most significant emerging challenges for schools and teachers when considering the impact of digital technology use in classrooms and schools generally?

Many schools think about technology in term of tools and applications, hardware and software, in order to enable learning. And while that is certainly a conversation that needs to be had at some point, I think it’s far from the most important one. Too often, I see schools seeing technology as some sort of panacea that will fix all their problems – if only we can choose the right platform, the right devices, the right apps – then we can succeed with technology. But remember, technology is amoral. Unless you rethink a few things, it will just give you more of what you already have. 

The biggest challenge facing most schools, in my opinion, is their general inability to question the status quo.  To step back and ask some fundamental questions about learning, about teaching, about schools, about students, about teachers.  To question the way they have always done things.  To learn, unlearn and relearn. To redesign their processes and procedures, to rethink their rules and assumptions about “the way we do things around here”. 

There is little point introducing technology into the experience of school without rethinking what that experience of school could look like. Because if we just do what we have always done, except with a computer, very little changes.  You want digital technology to have an impact? Be prepared to change what you use it for.

3. Drawing from your experience, what are some of the strategies that can be used in schools to effectively use digital technologies to deepen learning and support educational outcomes?

Notwithstanding my previous answer, which I think underlies everything else, the best strategies that schools can use to effectively use digital technologies is to design learning experiences that provide choice and voice for their students. If we start from an assumption that all students are different, with unique talents, abilities, interests and expectations, and we design the learning experiences in ways that respect and acknowledge those differences, that offer flexible pathways for students to acquire knowledge, express knowledge and validate knowledge, then we are on the right track. 

Reduce the rigidity, without reducing the rigour. Maintain high expectations for what students do, but be flexible about the the ways they can execute on that learning. 

4. In your experience, what practical strategies can schools use to ensure digital technologies are used in an engaging and creative way?

Before cameras became digital, they used film. Good photographers made good photos by understanding the underlying principles of design that created good photos. They understood the essential principles of composition, the rule of thirds, contrast, balance, interest, light, colour, shape. But these essential principles were not just useful for photos taken only on film, they applied regardless of the kind of technology used to make the photos. So when the technology used in cameras moved from film to digital, these same visual design principles remained as true as ever. Digital photography changed many things about the way we take and share photos, but good photographers still apply these design principles regardless of whether they shoot on film or digital, because the principles are based on enduring truths about the way visual design works.

Teaching also has some enduring truths. These include things like building relationships of trust between teachers and students. Having authenticity in the way we interact with students. Caring for for their well-being. Engaging their interests. Bringing humour, laughter, care and respect to every class. These are some of the very human things about teaching that don’t change.  And just like the way that the shift from film to digital changes photography forever, the introduction of digital technologies into our classrooms has opened up fabulous new opportunities for the way we can do things, but it should not change these enduring truths about teaching.

You want digital technologies to be used in engaging and creative ways? Teach well. Care about your students. Build relationships. Be authentic. 

Question everything else.

5. Are there any resources you would recommend for teachers wishing to implement or improve their use of digital technologies within the learning environment?

First, the best resources are other people. Engage with online communities, and surround yourself with other people who can be great resources for you (and you for them). There are so many communities online to tap into, and the very best teachers I know all take advantage of online communities.  All of us are smarter than any of us, and there truly is wisdom in the crowd.

Secondly, choose flexible, powerful, collaborative tools for your students. Learn to use them. Maybe even consider certifying yourself in their effective use, to really prove you know how to use them. Being a confident and competent user of digital tools is incredibly empowering.   But remember that whatever shiny new app you love using today, it probably won’t be around forever. Don’t fall in love with specific tools to the point where you can’t let them go. Love the verb, not the noun.

Finally, learn to use search to effectively to find the answers you need. Teach your students how to search too.  Not just type in a keyword and hope for the best, but to genuinely use search to find answers. We live in a world where there is no excuse for being ignorant about anything. So be curious, ask questions and find answers. Being able to independently find the answer to a question, or the solution to a problem, may be the best skill you can ever possess.


For more information and to register, visit nationaleducationsummit.com.au
National Education Summit, MELBOURNE
Friday 30 August – Saturday 31 August 2019
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
Early Bird registrations available until June 30

This article was originally posted in School News. I’ve crossposted and lightly re-edited here.

March – Jehovah’s Witnesses

March is month three of my Beyond Belief project, and I was sitting at home debating which religion I should check out this month. As if by some kind of divine intervention, my doorbell rang and I answered it to find two ladies standing there. It’s as though religions are now being delivered to my door, like some kind of divine Deliveroo!

They introduced themselves as Sandra and Beverley., and they thrust a brochure into my hands and asked if I knew about Jehovah’s plan for me.  I said I didn’t, and that I was a confirmed atheist, but that I was doing a project this year to learn about 12 different religions in 12 months. I suggested that they should tell me all about theirs, which turned out to be the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were a little taken aback (in a good way) at the idea of someone trying a different religion each month and said they wished more people could be more open minded about religion.

We stood at the door for quite a while discussing what the Jehovah’s Witnesses are all about.  I mentioned that I had a great aunt who became a “Joho” and that it didn’t make her very popular with the rest of the family. I learned that Jehovah is just God’s actual name, and that, if he is your best friend (and why wouldn’t he be?) they surely you’d call him by his name, Jehovah, not his title, “God”.  That sounds way too formal, right?

These two women knew their stuff when it came to the bible (I later found out how). They were quoting passages left and right, and then Sandra pulled out a bible app on her phone and showed me that they were not just making these quotes up.  Apparently God really DOES love me. The bible clearly says so.

The Jehovah’s Witness religion is like many other strict bible-based religions I’ve come across, in that it uses the bible as a fundamental and canonical source of truth. Their logic suggests that everything in the bible is true because it’s in the bible. To me, that’s always been a very circular argument…  I can’t quite reconcile the idea that the proof of a thing being true is simply because the thing itself says so. So when I hear people quoting the bible and then looking at me like I should be instantly convinced because the bible says so…. Yeah, nah. It don’t think it works like that. Maybe God loves me (I’m pretty lovable after all), but using the bible as “proof” of  that presumes I believe there’s a God and that I am willing to believe because some book says it that it must be true. That reasoning does not get a QED from me.

Regardless, they were nice ladies, and far be it from me to deny them the right to believe whatever they want to believe. (Can you imagine what a different world this would be if we all just let other people believe whatever they want to believe, without condemning them for it?)

Anyway, we spoke at the door for a while, and I said I wanted to learn more, so they invited me to a bible study evening at the local JW Kingdom Hall. I’m in.

So I rock up to the bible study group a few days later, not quite knowing what to expect. First of all, I’m a little surprised at how well dressed everyone is for a Thursday night. I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Nobody told me there was a dress code.  Oh well, good thing God loves me anyway.

I enter the building and am greeted by a guy who ushers me into the main room and seats me next to a “buddy” to look after me. There’s a guy talking on the stage, digging into a passage from the bible, and leading some Q&A about it. This goes on for a while, again, using the bible as proof of the bible which, as I said, I don’t really get. The passage being studied was focused on how we should all be obedient and subservient to God, sorry, Jehovah, and that we need to live good clean lives without sin. They went on to explain that if we have friends or know people who don’t live good clean lives without sin then we need to break ties with them and cut them out of our lives. Because God loves everyone; but those people, not so much. Moreover, what do you do if you’re the one not living the good clean life? How do I cut myself out of my own life?

This discussion was followed by something I didn’t expect… some role playing about what to do on the “second return visit”.  You know when you get a knock on the door from your friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses? That scenario does not just happen, it is very well rehearsed.  At this meeting they were practising what to say and how to handle the conversation when they return to talk with you for the second time. What to say, what questions to ask, how to respond to objections, etc.  It was like a well designed sales course. There was a structured set of notes, supporting videos, and a whole curriculum to follow in executing these door to door visits. Many of these resources are illustrated with what can only be described as “Jehovah’s Witness art”, which is mostly full of happy looking white people in a 1950s Disney movie, living the happy shiny life God made for them. I applaud them on being so organised, gosh darn it, I just didn’t expect that.

Following that there were more conversations about the next part of that same bible passage studied earlier, with more sharing of ideas about what it meant, and how we should live our lives based on it. My buddy seated next to me handed me a bible so I could follow along, and even lent me his phone with a special JW bible study app on it for further detail of the passage. I tried to keep an open mind, and take in the teachings being discussed, which at their core, are reasonable ideas. I think you can probably sum up the main message of the bible as “let’s all try to be nice to one another”.

At the end of the evening (after about 2 hours) it wrapped up and there was some socialising and chatting of the people in attendance. Sandra, who initially invited me, found me and came over to say how glad she was that I was there. We chatted a bit, and I was introduced to some other people. They all seemed like very nice people, super friendly, and I was told I could even keep the copy of the bible which I’d been using. It was nice to observe the sense of fellowship that existed in this group.

A few weeks later I had a follow-up visit from Sandr, when she popped by just to see how I was, and what I thought of the experience. (This was the first return visit, not the second return visit, so I can’t grade her on how well she did). To be honest, I’m still not really sure what I thought, except that I know this religion is not one for me. I can’t quite accept the whole “it’s in the bible so it must be true” thinking, and I still see far too many contradictions in it… like being told to ditch your friends if they are not living what you consider to be a wholesome life, while Jesus gets to hang out with prostitutes and other unsavoury characters. How does that work?

So, to sum up, definitely not a religion that attracts me at all (not that I’m looking) but it was still interesting to learn more about it.

February – Sikhism

This is part two of my Beyond Belief project, where every month during 2019 I plan to experience a different religion that I know nothing about. This month its Sikhism. I have to admit, this one I knew absolutely nothing about.

There is a large temple-looking place not far from where I live so I dropped in the other day to see what it was about. Turns out it is a gurdwara, which is a temple for Sikhs. The only thing I really knew about Sikhs was that they typically come from Northern India and they wear turbans (at least the men do). I’d never really thought that being Sikh was a stand-alone religion, and just assumed it was some offshoot of Hinduism. That’s definitely not the case.

When I dropped into the gurdwara to take a look, there was a guy with a beard and turban near the entrance measuring up a noticeboard, so I approached and explained that I am trying a different religion every month this year. He put down his measuring tape, then spent the next 90 minutes showing me around, explaining the religion and telling me about the beliefs. His name was Padam, and he was super helpful. He pointed out the large TV screen near the entrance that displayed a piece of scripture for the day, and Iearned that it came from the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the Sikh holy book. It displays a different piece of scripture each day, which is made available from “the opening” of the book at 4am each morning, until 8pm each night. Padam suggested that if I read it, it would contain a personal message that I needed to hear because of me turning up on this day at this time. I read it and maybe I just missed it, because I’m not sure I gleaned anything particular. Maybe it’s just me.

I took off my shoes and put on a head covering and we went into the gurdwara, knelt in front of the holy area where the Guru Granth Sahib was kept, and Padam told me lots and lots of stuff about the Sikh religion.

He stressed that the Sikh religion is extremely egalitarian, and treats every human with respect and reverence. A good Sikh, he told me, is peace-loving and is blind to race, to colour, to nationality, to gender. Every human, regardless of who they are, is equal and welcome. Sikhs are welcoming to all other religions, and even though they have been persecuted and even executed over the centuries by Muslim and Mughal invaders, they still harbour no ill feelings towards other religions or races.

I learned that the word “Sikh” actually translates as “learner”. Does that make me a Sikh? Probably not. But I was definitely learning. I learned that Sikhism is a monotheistic religion (one god) but that god is a universal god, acknowledged as the same spiritual creative force as recognised by other religions. The message of this god is communicated through Gurus, starting with the first one, Guru Nanak in the 1500s, and then a succession of other Gurus who became the messengers of this god on earth. The holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, was steadily edited and extended by the successive line of gurus that followed, each adding more wisdom to it. I asked Padam who the current living guru was and he pointed to the book, which I didn’t really understand right away, but it turns out that the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, named the book as his successor, and the book itself has been “the Guru” ever since. (India is famous for outsourcing, but I never expected something like this!) The book is treated as a real living human person, complete with a real funeral when a copy gets too old to keep using.

The other thing I learned about was “The 5 Ks”, or the symbols that every practicing Sikh carries with them at all times. They are kēs (uncut hair, which is why most Sikh men have beards and under the turban usually long hair), kaṅghā (a small wooden comb kept in the hair), kaṛā (circular steel or iron bracelet designed to both represent the eternal nature of god, but also to represent a handcuff, connecting them to god), kirpān (a small sword or dagger carried on their person. Padam said that Sikhs have special permission to carry the dagger under Australian law), and kacchera (the special underpants designed to remind them of chastity and faithfulness).

Things must come in fives because there are also five things that Sikhs try to avoid. They are referred to as the “Five Thieves” – Lust, Anger, Greed, Attachment, and Ego. Padam spent quite a bit of time explaining the meaning of these and the effect it has on the way they approach life, but I probably can’t do it justice in this blog post, which is already getting long! The wikipedia article about Sikhism is very good if you want to learn more.

Before I left, Padam invited me to come back on Sunday to experience part of the Kirtan certemony and stay for Langar. I turned up at about 12:00pm and sat in on the holy prayers being sung, then the scriptures being read, before heading downstairs to join Langar. Langar is a community meal, provided free to anyone who turns up. You sit on the floor with rows of other people, with a large metal dish in front of you, and people come around and put food on it. It’s all vegetarian, with dhaal, flatbread, rice, aloo, and salad. It’s quite the communal experience.

So that’s my investigation to Sikhism. It struck me as a really nice religion that has a whole lot of interesting traditions, history and beliefs, and some very friendly and welcoming people. I’m not about to convert (to this or any other religion) but I’m glad I checked it out and know a little bit more about it now.

Now, which religion will I try next month? Leave a comment with your ideas! Also, I’d love your comments on this project of trying a different religion each month. Is it a good idea? A dumb idea? Is there something you think I should do differently?

January – Balinese Hinduism

Here we go with part one of my Beyond Belief Project, where I plan to experience and learn about a different religion every month for all of 2019. I’m a little late posting this one, as it was for January, but better late than never.

I spent nearly five week in Bali over the December/January period, so Balinese Hinduism seems like an obvious place to start. As part of Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, Bali is a religious outlier with nearly 85% of the island’s population identifying as Hindu. Its version of Hinduism is a little different to that traditionally found in India, which is polytheistic (believing in many gods), and it has quite a different feel to the other Muslim parts of Indonesia. Balinese Hinduism claims to be monotheistic, with only one god, although it seems to me that in practice this is not always the case, based on so many different statues I saw everywhere. There were statues of Vishnu and Ganesha and many, many others that I didn’t recognise, so I’m not totally sure how the monotheistic thing applies.

As used to be the case in India, there is a caste system in place in Bali, with priests and holy people (mostly men) called the Brahmanas at the top. Below that are the Satrias, Wesias and Sudras. The Sudras are the common class of people, and make up 90% of the population – these are your farmers, workers, etc. There are all kinds of specific rules and conventions that get applied to you depending on what caste you belong to. For example, the Sudra caste are given a name based on their birth order – first born is named Wayan, Putu or Gede. The second born is named Made or Kadek, the third goes by Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth is named Ketut. If a family has more than four children, the cycle repeats and the next ‘Wayan’ may be called Wayan Balik, which loosely translates to ‘another Wayan’. I met a lot of people with these names!

You also can’t miss the temples in Bali; they are absolutely everywhere. In fact, as well as the really big major temples, each area or village has several mid-sized temples serving the locals, and most people’s houses even have a small temple within the family compound. You honestly cannot walk more than a few hundred metres without seeing a temple. At the temples you see lots of offerings being made all the time, giving thanks to the god(s), and praying for good luck. The Balinese people seem to be deeply spiritual, and the culture is fairly traditional in its expectations. There are so many rules about how life should work, defining the different roles that men and women take on within society, how the structures of marriage and family should work, how lineage is passed down, and so on. The expectations of what men and women are supposed to be and do seem quite conservative (to me) but they are clearly very entrenched and valued by the Balinese people.

As I mentioned, you see offerings everywhere! Known as Canang sari, these are usually small baskets woven from strips of palm leaves filled with rice, flowers, incense or other things, and left out in front of houses, shops, temples, beaches, in fact everywhere that needs blessing. One morning while I was in Ubud, I went to get on my scooter and there was an offering sitting on the handlebars of my bike, and every other bike in the street. These offerings have great importance and happen several times a day, and are mostly managed by the women. They are offered every day as a form of thanks for the peace given to the world. The philosophy behind the offering is self-sacrifice in that they take time and effort to prepare. I was talking to one of my AirBNB hosts who said that they go through about 50 of these offering baskets every day. They get put in front of pretty much everything, and there are times when you literally have to step over bunches of them in the streets. They are obviously really important to the people and their beliefs.

One of the more major temples I visited was Tanah Lot, a spectacularly beautiful temple on the west coast of Bali. It’s built on a rocky outcrop that juts into the ocean but at low tide, you can wade across the water to the actual temple. There you can, for a small donation, get a blessing from the holy men. You need to wash your hands and feet, then they stuck rice onto your forehead. No idea what the purpose it, but they all seemed pretty reverent about it. I would have liked to have explored the actual temple but it was closed off to the public.

I happened to be in Bali during two of the biggest religious festivals of the year, Galungan and Kuningan. During this time, the temples get dressed up, there are big baskets of offerings being given, flowers are used to decorate the temples, etc. All the statues get dressed up in black and white checkered sarongs. The streets get decorated with big bamboo poles. And the people gather together in the temples to celebrate, talk, play music, and give thanks. It’s all rather beautiful.

I visited a biggish local temple just outside Ubud during the Kuningan festival and stayed for about an hour just to watch what was going on there. The women sat gathered together in groups, all dressed in traditional costumes of a sarong and a traditional lace top. The men stayed in their groups, also dressed in sarongs and mostly white shirts. There was music being played on traditional instruments – mostly percussive instruments, so to an untrained ear it does tend to sound like a lot of banging and crashing noise – and although the banging can sound a bit random, the musicians all clearly knew what was coming next as they stayed in time and tempo and knew exactly when to vary the intensity of their contributions. Although I wore a sarong and tried to be discreet as I wandered around the temple, I felt a little conspicuous being there. People were very welcoming though. It was quite amazing to experience.

Another fascinating temple was Tirta Gangga, on the way up to Amed on the the north coast. I believe the name translates as Water Palace, and it was probably one of the most beautiful temples I saw. and quite different in style to the others. there were lots of statues everywhere, but the main feature was the beautiful waterways and ponds filled with fish.

One insightful moment I had about the effect of religion on the culture was when I was talking with the caretaker of another of my AirBNBs, a delightful Balinese woman named Patliany. I mentioned to her how much I liked the villa I was staying in and how nice the layout of the space was. She laughed and said she had just had a conversation with another guest from an identical villa who was complaining that the open design was insecure and that he was concerned that people would be able to break in and steal his belongings. Patliany said to him “This is Bali. We are Hindu and we believe in karma. Nobody is going to steal your things.” (Ironically, the guy complaining was from India, and also a Hindu!)

That really summed up a lot to me about the impact that Hinduism has on these people. There is a genuine sense of kindness and helpfulness from the Balinese people that, I think, largely stems from this idea of karma… that whatever you do to other people and however you treat other people, it will eventually come back to you. The Balinese have a beautiful spirit, and I can’t help but think their Hindu beliefs about life and the world play an important role in the way they think and act.

The other interesting fun fact I learned about the way Hindu beliefs influence the culture was with the doorways. Balinese doors often have a series of steps that lead up to the entryway, and as you step through the door, there are more steps going down the other side. Basically, you have to climb up and down to go through a door. It struck me as somewhat odd… my western brain, trained to always aim for efficiency above all else, thought “why not just have no steps up and no steps down, so you can just walk through the door easily?” Apparently these steps are symbolic of the Hindu belief that everything in life involves some kind of struggle and reward. To get through the doorway, you have to climb up – the struggle – and then go down – the reward. Once I learned this, I noticed it everywhere. (I also didn’t see many people in wheelchairs either!)

So there you go, that’s my experience with Balinese Hinduism. Stay tuned for next month where I pick another religion to check out!

Une leçon de Creative Commons

The article from Le Republicain Lorraine

For many years, we had a beautiful Golden retriever named Buzz.  He was a really lovely dog. We got him through Golden Retriever Rescue NSW and he was pretty special to us. He eventually  became quite old and unwell, and we had to put him down last year just before Christmas.

I was a little surprised today when I saw an article on a French news site about a Golden Retriever. It was a fairly sad story of a Golden who went to the vet for an operation and was accidentally euthanised.

Whilst it was a sad story that brought back some painful memories of the night we lost our Golden boy, I was a little surprised that the photo being used was one of my own, taken of Buzz a few years ago. Because I believe in sharing as a default, I published the photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons BY SA licence, as nearly all of my photos are. So this French news site has every right to use my photo as long as they respect the CC guidelines under which I published it, namely the BY (Attribution) and the SA (Share Alike).

While I am very happy to share, and I enjoy seeing my photos being used by others, the CC licence (and general politeness!) requires that I receive attribution and acknowledgement for their use of my image. While they did indeed do this by mentioning my name, it is also usually expected that they would link to the source of the image, in this case the photo on Flickr. This did not happen even though this is the normal thing to do on the Internet when using someone else’s image.

But I was especially not impressed when I clicked the “Photo HD” button to find that they have placed intrusive watermarks all over my photo to prevent anyone else from using it, with a note above it saying “L’accès aux photos HD sans filigrane est réservé aux abonnés”, which translates as “Access to HD photos without watermark is reserved for subscribers”.

This kind of pisses me off, because they do NOT have the rights to restrict access to my image like this, especially when they make it a subscription access thing. Whilst I choose not to use the NC (Non Commercial) aspect of the Creative Commons licensing system – which mean that people can indeed make money from using my photos if they wish – the SA (Share Alike) component means that they must publish under the same licence as they got it. In practical terms, this does effectively mean that my photos cannot be used commercially, since anyone using them has to make them freely available in the same way that I did. But what they are definitely not allowed to do is to restrict others from using them in any way, including watermarks or paywalls.  I see this as a clear breach of the terms of my Creative Commons licence.

Anyway, here’s a copy of the email I wrote to them. Let’s see what happens…


Bonjour,

I noticed that you used one of my Flickr images on your story about Golden Retrievers.  (https://www.republicain-lorrain.fr/france-monde/2016/12/19/le-veterinaire-euthanasie-un-chien-par-erreur)
The photo is licensed on Flickr under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence, which means you are allowed to use it, but only under two conditions that must be met…

  1. ATTRIBUTION – You acknowledge the owner of the image.  While you have done this by mentioning my name, the more usual way to acknowledge this is to also provide a link to the source of the image.  

  2. SHARE ALIKE – You publish it under the same terms as you got it, and you do not prevent anyone else from using the image.  In the screenshot below, I notice that you have covered the HD version of image in watermarks, with a message saying “Access to HD photos without watermark is reserved for subscribers”. This effectively prevents anyone else from using the image without making a payment to you. Because this image is published under a Share Alike licence, you do NOT have the rights to restrict access to it by others, or to suggest that a payment is required.

These conditions are clearly marked on the Flickr page where you found the image.
Those of us who publish our content under a Creative Commons license do so in good faith that our copyright will be respected under the terms of the CC licence we choose to publish with. It is frustrating to find that mainstream media publishers such as yourself either do not understand the requirements of using a CC image, or choose to ignore them.
I am ok with you continuing to use the image, but please remove the watermarks and restrictions in your HD image preview, and provide a link back to the original work. If you cannot do this, then kindly cease using the image.

Please reply to let me know how you plan to deal with this.

Choosing a Music Streaming Service

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that the music industry was still resisting any attempt at allowing consumers to access music in any way other that buying CDs. So many other industries have been disrupted by digital technology, and while a few notable ones stuck doggedly to their “principles” until they literally vanished (I’m looking at you Kodak and Blockbuster), most industries either embraced the disruption or eventually waved the white flag and gave in.

One of the industries that probably should have most logically embraced the opportunities of being digital was the music business. After all, with a product that is essentially just a collection of digital bits, the decision to move those bits directly to consumers via the Internet should have been a no brainer. Yet the record company cartels fought the inevitable digital transition for years.  Rarely have I seen such a group of people with so little vision for the future be so obstinate about protecting their incumbency.

Thanks in large part the disruption of Apple and the iTunes Store in popularising the idea of moving music off plastic disks and making it into downloadable files, the door was opened to companies like Spotify to avoid all that messy iTunes syncing nonsense and just let you listen to music directly on your device as a stream of bits.  And of course, without the pirate attitude of early filesharing services like Napster, it may have taken a lot longer to get to that point.

So here we are in 2018, and we are now almost spoilt for choice when it comes to streaming music services. Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music seem to be the popular choices, but there are plenty of others to explore like Deezer, Pandora, IHeartRadio, and more.

I’ve been using Google Play Music for a while now, and I quite like it. While it was a bit rough when it started, it has definitely improved it’s recommendation algorithms over the past year or so (although sometime the stuff it serves up based on my apparent listening tastes still seem quite bizarre).  As a paid subscriber I also get access to YouTube Red, which apart from access to special YouTube Red limited content (which I don’t really watch anyway) it’s nice to not have ads appearing in YouTube.

My biggest gripe with Google Play Music is that it’s tied to a single Google account (my Gmail account), so it’s a nuisance when I’m logged in to another account, like my work account.  Yes I know can have multiple windows open, I understand that, but I think this idea that my content (files, music, photos, etc) is tied to an account and not an identity is ridiculous and a major problem with the way Google handles these things.  I am still me, and my content is still mine, regardless of which account I am logged into.

Like many people, I also have a free Spotify account.  Because it’s free I have to put up with ads, so I’ve tended not to use it as much as Play Music. But the predictions and recommendations of Spotify seemed to be quite good, and it’s a great way to discover new music or hear old favourites. However, what I really like with Spotify, is that I’m allowed to be just me. I can log into Spotify completely independently of any other accounts I may or may not be logged into. I like that a lot.

That independence carries across to devices as well, with Spotify also playing nicely with most major hardware platforms.  It plays nicely with Chromecast, which is important to me, but also with many other services and devices. And of course, because it’s so widely used by so many people, it’s pretty easy to share and access playlists with friends. I signed up for the three month trial and am digging it so far.

That said, it’s not perfect. For example, there is no option to upload your own music. I have a number of files that are simply not available online because they are not commercially available.  Old singles, obscure bands, recording of my kids when they were little, songs recorded by my musically talented daughter, and so on.  None of these are available online. Spotify has a Local Files option, so I could theoretically access these things from my local drive, but the files don’t sync across devices, so I’d have to copy them to every device I own, which not an ideal solution.  With Google Play I can simply upload these tracks to the service and access them via Play, so that’s a definite benefit.

I’m trying to decide which of these pros and cons are most important to me as I think about which streaming music service I want to continue using going forward.

I also need to factor in that Google Play Music is going away soon and is being replaced with a new service called YouTube Music.  I have been given an early look at YouTube Music and I’m not sure it’s grabbing me yet. The new pricing model removes the Ad-free YouTube option unless I pay more. I also don’t have the option to upload my own tracks (although I hear that feature may be coming). And while it can be used just an audio playing service, there’s also a focus on music videos which I don’t particularly care about. The interface also seems a little unintuitive (although maybe I just need to get used to it). Overall I haven’t warmed to YouTube Music yet.  It’s possibly another case of Google being too late to the music party – a party that is well and truly being led by Spotify at this point in time – with yet another confused strategy of multiple semi-great apps all competing for our attention.

There are other services I could consider, like Apple Music, but to be honest I am actively avoiding getting sucked into any ecosystem that Apple runs simply because of their proprietary approach to most things.  Deezer has the biggest library of music, and works on my Fitbit Ionic (if you consider the way Fitbit expects you to get music on the device to be “working”). And Amazon?  Meh. Probably not.

Right now, given that Google Play Music is going away, I’m leaning towards a switch to Spotify. Although if the New YouTube Music service adds the ability to upload my own files, then I could be swayed to stay in Google land, even if they do want an extra $2 a month to remove the ads from YouTube.

Wikipedia has a good comparison table of all the streaming music services if you’re interested.

Decisions, decisions!  So tell me… what do you use? And what advice do you have for me?  I’d love you to take the poll about your choice and leave me your thoughts in the Comments!

Which streaming music service do you prefer?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Header Image CC BY-SA:  Ian Hunter Rant Band on Flickr by bobistravelling