You won’t find this on iTunes

I like the iTunes music store as much as the next person, but the selection is poor when it comes to the ‘world music‘ category.

For music that is other-than-English-language-pop (also known as ‘world,’ ‘global, or ‘international’ music — in other words, the vast majority of the music produced on this planet), you might want to try Calabashmusic.com.

The selection is outstanding, it’s DRM-free, tunes are cheap and it’s based on fair trade (50 percent of each sale goes back to the artist). For audiophiles, the sound quality is pretty good — downloads range from 160-192kbps. The files are in MP3 format so you can play them on any player. You can also return to Calabash at anytime and re-download your purchased music.

Did I mention the selection is outstanding? Calabash organizes their large music collection in two ways: browse by regions of the world or sift through scores of musical genres (Portuguese Fado, anyone? How about Afro-Peruvian?). Once you find something that interests you, try out a 60-second preview. They also offer 10 free downloads a week, which is a great way to start exploring new music.

I bring this up now because the folks over at Calabash are trying to launch a peer-to-peer microcredit program for international artists. Their goal is to raise $100,000 by May 31 so they can get it off the ground. You may have heard of Kiva.org. This is the same idea, but for struggling artists around the globe. I think it’s a great idea. Peer-to-peer microfinancing is one of the more interesting, innovative and positive things made possible by the social web.

If you love music from around the globe, also check out National Geographic’s online music section. The music content for this site is provided by Calabash, but it’s packaged a bit differently here. They strive for a more contextual, cultural focus as you might expect. Some of the content also comes from PRI (producer’s of The World, a great news program that daily highlights the global music scene, often in a political context) and Afropop Worldwide (the show that started me on my international music path back in the 1990s). One more: check out the BBC’s world music offerings.

Footnote: I love world music, but why do we have to call it ‘world music?’ Isn’t all music from this world? It makes no sense. David Byrne wrote a really good editorial way back in 1999 for the New York Times that gets to the root of the issue. It’s called ‘I Hate World Music.

The Glass Bead Network

Here’s an interesting online game: The Glass Bead Network. A short message about this new venture appeared at the end of an email message received from my web host this evening:

Casual gaming just got a lot smarter. Players on the Glass Bead Network compete by connecting ideas in creative ways using know-how, imagination, and even the web itself to help them play the game.

How could I pass that up? I spent an hour or so checking it out and decided to sign up (free). So far, I’ve only observed others at play — it helps to watch a game in progress to get the lay of the land.

Here’s the object: each online player (a max of four people for one game) is dealt a hand of ‘beads.’ Each bead is a picture of a person, place, thing. The object is to place one of your beads on the board next to another bead to form a connection. It’s up to you to decide how the beads are connected. Once you conjure up a connection, you present it for the other players to evaluate. The other players then either approve your connection or reject it. If your connection is challenged, you may refine it until all agree it’s a valid ‘linkage.’

The hard part is that you only have a finite amount of time to make a connection that all players agree is valid (the amount of time you have to form a link is determined in the game setup). If you can’t come up with a good link, you pass to the next player. The first player to place all of his/her beads (or, if the board is filled up, the player with the least number of beads remaining in hand) wins.

I like the open-ended nature of the game. The most ingenious part of the play is that the players must form a sort of social contract to decide if a play is valid or not. This agreement-based gameplay reminds me of a philosophy book I read long ago called Infinite and Finite Games by James P. Carse.

Sidenote: I didn’t find a reference to this on the game site, but the name and inspiration for this game must come from The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

in tip | 384 Words

Twitter? Hmm.

Ok, I have a Twitter account now. Many people really enjoy this service, so I’m ready to give it a shot. But I have a confession: I don’t really get it.

Is this just a passing fad? Is it a revolutionary mode of communication? Or is just fun? Why should I invest the time?

An any rate, I’ve posted my first short message to tell the world what I’m up to. I have microblogged. By ‘the world’ I mean that I am currently following/followed by only two people: a friend of mine in San Diego…and Barack Obama.

Actually, I just added Obama to my list because, well, why not. He’s surely in friend-acceptance mode right now and I support his candidacy. Don’t mind getting updates about what he’s up to. And I’m sure he will eagerly read my tweet. Right.

Anyhow, I have more questions:

Why is Twitter substantively different or better than instant messaging? Why not send an email? Is it about networking? Is it about popularity? Is it about exchange of information? And here’s the real question on my mind: is there such a thing as being too connected?

I can see that what sets a microblog apart from email or chat is universal availability/viewability across time. In other words, it links ‘friends’ together with added benefits: anyone can peek in to read the posts of others (which encourages networking among like-minded people, I assume) and it’s a sort of time-logged journal. By this, I mean it’s like a shared microjournal among peers that persists in a thread across time into web eternity (I guess that’s why it’s called a microblog — no big revelations here). Is this a good thing? Maybe.

Whatever is behind this phenomenon, I’m going to try to get into the social web thing a bit more. I’m still pondering, though, the limits of sharing personal information.

Are you a Twitter user? What do you get out of it? Why do you do it?

ImageWell and the Low Cost Image Editor

ImageWell, a lightweight image editor for the Mac, is no longer offered as a free download. With today’s launch of version 3.5, the developers now offer only one choice: a paid full-feature version for $19.95. Prior to 3.5, a limited version of the app was offered for free with an upgrade option to unlock more powerful features.

ImageWell excels at quick and simple processing (aimed primarily for images heading for the web). It specializes in watermarking, adding annotations, creating shaped borders, taking screenshots, and batch processing. It’s not a bad option for a fast, easy to use, tiny little app if your image editing needs are light.

ImageWell offers a lot of what you will find with Skitch. In fact, you may find that the free Skitch beta serves up more choice, flexibility and options if your main interests are capturing screenshots, marking them up, and sharing them online. However, you’ll get more image editing functionality with ImageWell. In this respect, it’s most similar to Flying Meat’s Acorn in that both emphasize lightness, low cost, and simplicity and strive to meet most of your basic image editing and image sharing needs.

Perhaps the developers of ImageWell are making a smart move by staking out the low end of the Mac image editing field. The feature set and the price are not bad. I think the developers are trying to head for that sweet spot between Skitch and Acorn: not as much power as Acorn, but more features than Skitch, for the relatively low price of $19.95. Sure, the user interface is not as elegant as Acorn’s and it’s not free like Skitch (and who knows if Skitch will be free once it leaves Beta status) but it’s cheap and it offers a lot of tools. Acorn offers more image editing possibilities and is easier to use. Of course, it costs $30 more than ImageWell, too — a pretty big price gap.

I’ll be curious to see how this change in strategy pans out for the ImageWell developers.

If you’re looking for a cheap, simple editor (cheaper and simpler than, say, Photoshop) but think your image editing needs may grow over time, take a look at some of the other low cost desktop apps out there like Pixelmator ($60) and GraphicConvertor ($35) before you make a decision. Of course, you could also see if the various free online editors meet your needs. If all you want is a quick drag-and-drop tool to create nice thumbnail images for your blog or website, you may also want to try Thumbscrew (free).