GetGlue is a foisting machine

In the last week or so I’ve been playing around with GetGlue, a new recommendation and social networking site that covers all media (i.e. film, TV, books, music, general topics). After my abortive research into film recommendation sites – and I really should update my earlier post, as I ended up leaving Jinni in favour of Criticker, which still has plenty of failings – this feels like it could become the site for me.

There are several main draws to GetGlue. The first seems trivial but is central – you gain virtual stickers for various activities – for example, rating 50 TV shows. These stickers show up on user profiles, working as boasts similar to Xbox achievements. There are also mentions of becoming applicable to receive ‘hard-copy’ stickers for free, but this doesn’t seem to be the big sell.

The other USP is that GetGlue distinguishes between recommendations and ‘checking in’ – i.e. letting users know what you’re currently watching, reading, listening to or thinking about. This feature’s obviously inspired heavily by Facebook updates, and indeed you can publish each comment directly on Facebook (or Twitter) – you could actually use GetGlue as a portal for social-media updates related to your likes or dislikes.

Finally, and the feature that’s got me hooked, is the ability for users to become ‘gurus’ of particular subjects, achieved through posting reviews and users voting. Guru status bestows the user with page-editing privileges and also the ability to hardwire particular recommendations to that page. The temptation to foist obscure but related books, films and music onto casual browsers is huge, I’m discovering. I’m disproportionately proud to be guru of 10 things, currently: The Last Man on Earth, The Drums’ Summertime!, Dungen, Viktor Vaughn’s Vaudeville Villain, Lonnie Donegan, The Research, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Electrelane’s The Power Out, The Hired Sportsmen and 13 & God.

As with my earlier comparison post, here are my thoughts about GetGlue, distilled:

Pros:

  • Impressively wide catalogue due to links with specialist websites e.g. Last.fm and imdb
  • Ability to add to index from selected sites
  • Covers music, film, books, topics
  • Clean, clear interface
  • Guru status offers Wikipedia-like editing rights, plus ability to make recommendations
  • Stickers encourage exploration and are strangely compelling
  • Distinction between ‘checking in’ and liking things
  • There’s a linked iphone app
  • Links to Facebook and Twitter

Wishlist:

  • User profiles by default show a Facebook-like ‘stream’ rather than a definitive overview of that person (favourites are more enlightening but are buried away)
  • Favourites can’t be split into media type, so can become messy and unrepresentative
  • Can’t reorder favourites or lists
  • ‘Saved’ items could be made into more useful ‘to read’/’to watch’ lists, so could become a reminder tool
  • The iphone app only allows you to ‘check in’ rather than rate favourite items
  • Recommended items are literal-minded and uninspired (e.g. if you like an album by an artist, you’ll like other albums by the same artist), and only relate to a single item rather than a combination of items
  • Inability to add extra comments to a page once you’ve reviewed – even if you’re the guru
  • ‘Check in’ seems different to ‘currently reading’ etc – it’d be nice if user profiles could show media that the user is currently immersed in…
  • Only three tiers of rating: ‘favourite’, ‘like’ and ‘don’t like’ (perhaps, though, this is a ‘pro’, as it’s much lessy fussy than, say, Cricticker)
  • Can’t embed stream or favourites in non-Javascript blog (like this one)
  • Can’t easily browse recommendations – quite limited categories (e.g. 1970s)
  • This is entirely trivial, but I’d love to see the stickers feed into a meta-game or measureable tally of ‘progress’ – probably irrelevant for most people though!

You can see my GetGlue profile here.

Doctor Who – The Lack of Time

I’ve been resisting this.

Since its return in 2005 I’ve followed Doctor Who, on and off. Like many fans of the ‘classic’ series, I wasn’t too sure about the form the regenerated show had taken. First Christopher Eccleston’s wild pantomime and then Russell T. Davies’ increasingly sloppy series arc plotting kept me holding the show at arm’s length.

Again, like many fans of the original series, I had high hopes for this year’s sort-of reset, with highly dependable Steven Moffat in the script editor and executive producer role, and Matt Smith as the Doctor. And, I feel that we now have what we wanted. Series 5 has far more of the hallmarks of classic Doctor Who, it appears to be gradually unravelling RTD’s more questionable decisions, and I see in Matt Smith flashes of Patrick Troughton and even (he was my Doctor) Sylvester McCoy.

But it’ll never be quite right, and I think I now see what’s wrong.

At first I thought it was just the cliffhangers. Watching the recent 2-parter ‘The Time of Angels’ / ‘Flesh and Stone’ and last week’s ‘The Hungry Earth’, it’s obvious that Doctor Who revels in leaving the audience hanging. In classic serials, much of the time in each episode was spent engineering a tantalisingly open ending (often hastily resolved in the next episode, I’ll admit). It’s a huge shame that the showrunners allow themselves this luxury in just a few stories each series.

But more and more, I feel sure that the real obstacle is the 45-minute run time for each episode. Recent, much-hyped, episodes such as ‘Victory of the Daleks’ and ‘Vampires of Venice’ have felt rushed beyond belief, allowing 20 minutes to set up the scenario, 15 minutes mid-crisis, then madly racing about to wrap up the story within the final 10 minutes.

Far more successful have been the 2-parters, for good reason: approximately 25 minutes set-up, 50 minutes crisis, 25 minutes resolution. The scripts have room to breathe and there’s time for character interaction rather than just plot-furthering.

Equally successful, in my opinion, are many of the ‘minor’ episodes in recent years. While perhaps now seen as a scene-setter for the full invasion at the end of Series 1, for me the most effective recent Dalek episode has been Rob Shearman’s punchy, lone-Dalek story, ‘Dalek’. ‘Father’s Day’, ‘Blink’, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and ‘Amy’s Choice’ are all terrific and, I‘d say, some of the best standalone episodes that the new series has to offer. But they’re very unlike most classic Doctor Who serials: they play to the strengths of the time restriction. The number of stories in the past that restricted themselves to this time limit can be counted on one hand (I think): for example, ‘Black Orchid’, ‘The Edge of Destruction’ – both similarly curbing the ambition of the stories to fit the timescale. Conversely, many New-Who stories have appeared to cram a full 90-minute tale into half the time.

Russell T. Davies and now Steven Moffat have taken the approach of introducing series arc, presumably to counter the briefness of each episode, to allow a story to take shape over several episodes. RTD’s arcs were largely spurious – lazy signposting that led to surprise, deus ex machina conclusions; Steven Moffat’s first attempt may yet prove more coherent. As well as the series arcs, both script editors have ensured that characters, especially the Doctor’s companions, have matured and adapted to circumstances. Much of the discussion on fan forums and podcasts revolves around character relationships and revelations (‘Does Amy prefer the Doctor to Rory?’, ‘Is River Song really the Doctor’s wife?’), which is all well and good. Modern Doctor Who is excellent at exploring the mythology of the programme, and, increasingly, prodding at characters’ motivations, including the Doctor’s.

But it’s a shock to realise that what Doctor Who doesn’t do at all well any more is adventure.

Finding a Last.fm for films

I love lists. I love films. Surely there exists an online application that allows me to log the films I’ve watched, which then recommends other films I’d probably like?

Last.fm has fulfilled my nitpicky needs for music, and frankly, I would never keep a manual log of music I’ve listened to. However, I do keep a handwritten diary of films that I’ve watched (and I’m comfortable with the image you may have of me after that confession!). The downside of a handwritten record is that, in this age of remix culture and endless tweaking, I can’t analyze the list in any way. So begins my search for the ‘Last.fm for films’.

My criteria include:

  • a satisfying ratings feedback system (rating films must be fast and decisive)
  • ability to filter, export and display list data (to display on this blog)
  • a comprehensive list of film titles
  • a solid and reliable recommendation system

I’m not trying to be impartial – this is a search for the best tool for me alone. Extra points will be awarded for:

  • being UK-centred or at least not wholly USA-centric
  • inclusion of social features (finding people with similar tastes in order to ‘steal’ recommendations from their lists)

I tested each website using a similar technique – I added ratings for a bunch of films (most of the sites require 10 ratings before any recommendations are made). As far as possible, I rated the same films on each website (a mix of my favourites e.g. ‘Rear Window’, ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’, ‘Bigger than Life’, a selection of non-English-language films e.g. ‘The American Friend’, ‘Il Divo’, and popular films that I disliked e.g. ‘Once’, ‘Revolutionary Road’). Judging the ease of adding the ratings and the resultant recommendations informed the bulk of these conclusions.

Click ‘Read more’ below to read the full reviews of each of the websites.

Continue reading Finding a Last.fm for films

Grass Widow (Grass Widow, 2009)

For the last couple of months Grass Widow has been on my list of great bands that I failed to discover during 2009, and only came across during a trawl of Top 100 lists at the end of December. After an awful lot of repeated listens I’ve promoted the album ‘Grass Widow’ to one of my absolute favourites of 2009. Like The Drums’ ‘Summertime’, every track feels like the centre of the album. Grass Widow songs have the raw feel of first-attempt rehearsals, and evoke the naive joy of the much-missed Brighton trio Electrelane and the discordant mishmash of early Deerhoof.

They’re brilliant. And while I’m happy to have found them now, the question for me remains: how does one find out about new music these days? I sign up to plenty of blog RSS feeds, (over)use Spotify and read Boomkat newsletters – but in the absence of a trusted print music magazine or the Peel show, I still feel at a loss how to avoid missing a new band like Grass Widow.

Listen to Grass Widow on Spotify.

And while I’m ranting… I’m inordinately happy that Spotify have developed an update to their Spotify iphone app, currently with Apple for approval. The update will add Last.fm scrobbling functionality to the mobile app, meaning that my Last.fm profile should soon be a far better reflection of what I’m actually listening to. That I’m so pleased by this is, I realise, troublingly sad.

Lost John (Lonnie Donegan, 1956)

Lonnie Donegan’s 1956 recording of the traditional song ‘Lost John’ contains more wonderful moments than most artists manage in a whole career. Donegan was a lovably inclusive singer, treating his band and his listeners as part of the gang, as this intro to the song shows: ‘Now this here’s the story about an escaped convict called Long Gone Lost John / It’s got a nice chorus so if anybody wanna join in, here’s the way it goes…’ His band rattle and yelp through the tune and Donegan morphs from a jovial variety performer into a frenzied rock and roller, the recording equipment struggling to capture his rasping shouts.

The song is doubly significant to me. I was introduced to Donegan’s music when I avidly listened to, and recorded, Peel’s Radio 1 show around the millennium. Peel could hardly contain his glee when he contrived to play a Lonnie Donegan recording such as (my own favourite) ‘Ham ‘n’ Eggs’. When the singer was admitted to hospital in 2002 with heart problems, Peel visited him at his bedside, which I suspect was a pilgrimage of sorts for the DJ – Peel once remarked that in his opinion of rock and roll history, ‘Lonnie Donegan pushed the button that started it all’. When Donegan passed away in November of that year, Peel tearfully recounted the visit during one of his shows. He had sat at Donegan’s side and chatted, and together they had sung Peel’s favourite lyrics from ‘Lost John’:

Now Lost John made a pair of shoes of his own
Finest shoes that ever were born
Heels on the front, heels behind
So nobody know which way Lost John g’wine

…which, in fairness, are some of the finest lyrics I can think of too.

In the radio shows immediately following Donegan’s death, Peel could barely hold himself together. During the first show, he didn’t manage to speak in between songs and choked on his words each time he tried to talk about the singer. Even by the following week, Peel only stopped playing Donegan songs because his wife Sheila warned him not to.

When John Peel died in October 2004, the song ‘Lost John’ obviously took on an extra significance, not just because of the titular character, but because of the attachment that Peel himself had to the song and his favourite singer. To me, the song has become a celebration of both Donegan and Peel – two of my musical heroes.

You really must listen to ‘Lost John’ – click here to listen to it on Spotify. In fact, work your way through at least the first CD of Castle Music’s ‘Rock Island Line: The Singles Anthology 1955-1967’.

As the man said: ‘If anybody asks you who sung the song / Tell ‘em Lonnie Donegan been here and gone’.

Nicolas Moulin, Blindness and deserted streets

Via BLDGBLOG, I’ve just discovered Nicolas Moulin’s computer-altered images of Paris, with streets emptied of all life and the ground floors of each building sealed with concrete. You can see more of Moulin’s stunning work here.

One commenter on the BLDGBLOG post referenced the opening scenes of Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later’ – but these images are perhaps even more affecting, as all traces of human life has been removed. I spent last night watching Fernando Meirelles faithful adaptation of José Saramago’s novel ‘Blindness’, and was particularly impressed/horrified at the scenes depicting the city, Sao Paulo, after the population has become blind. The streets are strewn with rubbish, but also with families, animals and bodies. While much of this speaks of death, it also shows that the city is resolutely full of life, even after the blindness epidemic has affected everyone.

I find Nicolas Moulin’s images compelling and disturbing precisely because of the lack of life, and because the comprehensive removal of all traces of humanity seems premeditated.

Spotify playlist: 30 Year Old Man (March 2010)

I’m terribly self-indulgent. This summer I’ll turn 30, and as I’m currently feeling more positive about my life than I ever have before, this playlist celebrates all the things that I’m not.

1. 30 century man – Scott Walker
2. Mr suit – Wire
3. You’re getting old on your job – Lonnie Johnson with Clara Smith
4. I’m a worried man – Johnny Cash
5. Look back in anger – Television Personalities
6. Shadows of tomorrow – Madvillian / Lord Quas
7. 50 year old man – The Fall
8. Getting old blues – Johnnie Temple
9. Working for the man – Roy Orbison
10. Dull life – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
11. Headache – Frank Black
12. Funny how time slips away – Elvis Presley & The Jordanaires & The Imperials Quartet
13. Sleepy man blues – Bukka White
14. Jack o’ diamonds – Lonnie Donegan
15. Getting old and gray – Howlin’ Wolf
16. Timothy – Henry Mancini
17. Tomorrow never knows – Jad Fair

And curse you Spotify for the lack of ‘Dignified and Old’ by The Modern Lovers.

Click here to listen to 30 Year Old Man on Spotify.

Tim Major – writer & editor

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