"Old Man Shakes Fist at Algorythm", but Scorsese has a point, and is WebMo an answer?
So I finally hit the big time and moved up a decimal place in my daily Web Monetization payouts.
As I mentioned last month I've added Web Monetization here and a few other sites (FundYourFilm.com, Visuali.st – my work site, and screen.is). After a daily trickle of a penny or two, I got an email on the 15th "You received 1.77612 XRP from Interledger Network", which based on today's price of the cryptocurrency XRP/Ripple (another blogpost), is $0.98. Because reporting is currently pretty basic with WebMo (to avoid the z/s issue and use fewer characters?), I can't be 100% sure, but I think it came from one link, in one one forum comment by Mark Boas here from the day before, pointing to this page, where I'm using Mark's Hyperaudio to link the video from an event I helped organise last year, to its transcript. A dollar from one external link in one day is more than I would have expected, given the only people currently with Coil subscriptions I know are people testing out the technology.
Much to my shame I'm late to signup to Mubi.
There's already so much to see on Netflix, and once you add Prime, iPlayer if you're in the UK, then that NowTV sub hanging around since the GoT finale the proved worthwhile when Chernobyl came out - and finally Disney Plus because their films aren't anywhere else. I never got round to adding Mubi because, I proclaimed, I didn't have time – but it's might be more to wanting to get my junk food entertainment fix over 'serious cinema'. Mubi is the closest in lockdown of visiting a good film festival where you're presented with a choice of films most of whom I've not heard of, seasons by directors I've maybe only seen one of, strands and themes, and programme notes. It's personal and clearly not generated by algorithms – and all the better for it – Netflix seemed to take years to learn that just because I'd watched Stranger Things I don't share the US obsession with TV set at high-school (although Ragnorok was rather splended and is keeping me hungry for season 2). Amazon still hasn't picked up on the fact I've never watched one episode of Top Gear. Highlights so far include Pablo Larain's Ema, Todd Solonz's Weiner Dog and revisiting Michael Mann's Heat after a few decade's absence.
So when Martin Scorsese claimed recently that alrgorithmic curation was undermining the art of cinema, and devaluing us the audience to mere content consumers and 'eyeballs' I was surprised to see any serious disagreement. The films on Mubi are not for mass audiences, but the personalisation improves the experience many times over. And it's clear what people love about the Influencers they follow on YouTube, is that personal perspective. The director of Casino, the King of Comedy and Kundun made a reasonable point, was quickly reduced to 'old man shouts at technology he doesn't understand' by people maybe still hurt he'd dare suggest Marvel films weren't the pinacle of cinema. Even the BBC played along - look at their choice of photos topping their article on the subject (crotchety old man vs happy couple just wanting to enjoy watching something).
But maybe part of the backlash is the same as I get when I tell an open source developer I don't like something about an interface that is way beyond their control – it's all very well being a critic, but what's the answer? (There's probably also some of what Jaron Lannier has raised in recent years in the social media storms – that those of us using those platforms daily are addicted, so we show many of the side effects - short-temperedness, impatience, mood-swings, etc – associated with addiction). Because any centralised curatorial system – even Mubi – is going to hit limits. You might have your favourite film festival – but would you want only that film festival choosing what was shown around the world?
Web Monetisation allows for a single subscription to exist across multiple websites.
If we suffering from a lack of human curation – from a bigger diversity of people than any one streaming platform's buyers and editors could ever offer – WebMo presents a future where a single subscription can have potentially unlimited curators. While it doesn't yet have an infrastructure for high-end feature film distribution and revenue collection, in principle, I could of an evening watch films recommended and presented by my old local cinema the Rio, or the Krakow Film Festival, or Steven Soderbergh's Twitter feed. My subscription would still be with the same provider – be it Coil, or Mubi, Netflix, or even my BBC License Fee or Guardian subscription – but it travels with me, letting me invisibly pay for films as I travel around the web.
Obviously this is a long way off for most feature films – but for shorts, archive, world-cinema, obscure and undistributed films that can't be found on any of the big subscription services, there's a clear gap between watching it free and unofficially on Vimeo/YouTube, and pay-per-view. On which subject there was an interesting story in the last few weeks about sometimes Netribution blogger Dan Hartley, the 'Rogue Runner' – his film Lad: A Yorkshire Story, has just after 10 years found viral success after someone posted it to YouTube – and is now doing really well on Prime (as covered here on BBC Breakfast).
NB - An update on other Netribution writers creative projects: Elio Espana (behind the launch issue Soderbergh interview, 21 years ago) now has a blog at Medium – and Suchandrika Chakrabarti has a newsletter and a great podcast for freelancers - now at edition 48.