( nks feed nks@nks.sh )

lockin on the bbc

The jingle for BBC radio used to say something like "Online, on digital, and on eighty-eight to ninety-one fm". (That was for radio 2). Now, it says "On the BBC Sounds app, on your smart speaker, and on eighty-eight to ninety-one fm". Hmm. So they've updated their transmission mediums, so what? Let's talk about that.

The nice thing about fm radio is that it's really trivial to build a receiver. I received a kit when I was 8. I could listen to BBC radio 4 on something I had built myself. My dad used to be a teacher, and he could pick up radio 5 Live on the taut wire between his computer and the whiteboard.

What am I getting at? FM is easy. The broadcaster broadcasts a single signal, and anyone who wants to listen tunes in. They can use what they want to tune in. This is great from a freedom standpoint, an also from an energy standpoint - no more energy is required to broadcast to a thousand people than two people.

Maybe you can see where I'm going with this. Online is in a similar boat. Anyone with an internet-connected device can listen via the website. There's also (I believe) a protocol so that you can stick a link in your music program and it will stream the radio through that. Ingenius! Such a system doesn't have the energy efficiency benefits of fm, because now the system relies on the infrastructure that comes with computers. But there's still not much in the way of lockin. I can listen online on Windows, or something good. Nice.

I don't know much about DAB, but from what I can tell it's similar to fm with higher quality transmissions. I won't linger because I haven't studied it much. What I do know is that it can be accessed from any device with support built in. This is good too.

Now, the BBC Sounds app. First up, I hate the word "app". I think it has very negative connotations, although I'm just a backwards, nerd - I'm probably biased. Apps are not good because they imply an app store, and app stores limit are used to control people.

(Obviously app stores can be designed in a user-friendly way, see Linux package managers or F-Droid or something, but generally, app stores are a single point of entry for software, which is never a positive thing.)

If you want to listen via the BBC Sounds app, you must download an app. This puts you at the mercy of the owners of the app store - that's not even the BBC! Online streaming has the same higher energy impact as well. You can't be anonymous listening via the BBC Sounds app.

Anyway, the worst thing in the new phrase is the "smart speaker" part. Smart speakers are terrifying. Apparently something like a quarter of Americans won't use one, and I think that says something. I've spoken to people who find them disconcerting. I find them disconcerting. Some hot shot at Google said that you should tell your visitors if you've got one.

Smart speakers don't give you, the consumer, any control. They really do represent the start of a dystopia, which isn't even hyperbole - this stuff is all over the place in cyberpunk, sci-fi, and the like.

I guess what I really wanted to say, was fm radio and online radio put the user in control. The new distribution mediums mentioned really don't. It's funny how the times change.

October 26, 2019