Thursday, September 28, 2000

The Cyber Scene in Portland

Ian Clarke, the 23-year old Dublin-born wunderkind enlightened and entertained an audience of freethinkers as he discussed his file-sharing network Freenet in a conversational interview with's LA-based senior correspondent Bruce Haring. Throughout the ninety-minute discussion he pointed out Freenet's advantages over other file-sharing programs under scrutiny like Napster and Gnutella. Freenet hasn't been free of controversy, but this decentralized, efficient network solves many of the problems brought up in connection with Gnutella, even though it was designed and completed before Gnutella launched. His system used "TCP/IP the way it was meant to be used" and uses "collaborative filtering" (a system that finds things based on what you search and download). This is the sort of system that will give unknown bands an opportunity to gain more exposure. Similar to's book recommendations, if you search on Tori Amos, U2 and Placebo (Clarke's current favorite listening choices), the results will also call up other bands the system thinks you'll like based on those initial choices. In response to a question on decoy songs placed in other free file-sharing systems, Freenet has a subspace that is a "trusted" space for file exchange.

Focusing on the music industry, Clarke stated the current copyright system doesn't work for signed artists and that the music industry knows this, that it needs to change, but they don't know what should change or how. He acknowledged that of course the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) feels threatened by the Internet and new developments that challenge copyright because they hold a monopoly that's not right. He also defended accusations that Freenet would be taken advantage of by child pornographers by noting that this crime has existed for decades before the Internet and Freenet. To abolish Freenet because of this would be to cut your nose off to spit your face. He considers source code speech, as in speech for computers, and warrants the same protection under copyright law. When addressing the fear hackers present in these free file-sharing systems, Clarke divulged that most are rarely the image of the crazed hacker using wild mathematical equations and is usually some someone posing as a phony tech support person calling in to get the password. Clarke went on to answer questions on the music industry, copyright and his efficient Freenet.

Other noteworthy speakers at the NXNW were Jennifer Toomey from Washington, DC's Coalition for the Future of Music on "Web Basics: You got Internet on my Record Business;" Margaret Saadi owner of West Hollywood, CA-based Muscle Music spoke on the panel addressing heroin use and "Keeping the Band Alive;" Portland, OR-based Willamette Week editor Mark Zusman moderated a panel on sex and how the new Digital Millenium Copyright Act affects all industries; features editor Frank Sennett of Liberty Lake, WA spoke on the panel of who will survive the wake of the Napster decision. Paula Batson, of N2K history and now NY-based spoke on a panel with SF-based director Caroline Frye on "Analog to Digital Case Studies: Moving to a Wired Career;" AOL/Spinner's VP music programming Chris Douridas spoke on "The State of Internet Radio" and DreamWorks' A&R executive Luke Wood and Atlantic Records' director of A&R spoke on a panel of other noted reps on "A&R: Why You'll Need us Now More than Ever." Opening remarks were from's Jerry Harrison and this conference marked the inaugural Digital Video Festival, replicating SXSW's popular offerings of Film, Music and Interactive during the week in Austin. More than 40 videos (all under 15 minutes) from around the world were shown.

The booths were typical setups of music-industry labels, CD-makers, streaming technology and local organizations. Sunnyvale, CA-based Preview Systems was handing out ear-piece radios, (which owns had free branded-disposable cameras and the most different booth I'd ever seen was the Sex Workers booth. With their zines (Danzine et al) and programs on safe sex and helping promote a safe community for educating and raising awareness for people who work in the sex industry, I was struck by the heroin and AIDs brochures and condoms on the table.


Portland is one of those towns where East meets West in a disarmingly friendly metorpolitan town. East in the sense that it's similar to other Northwest locales with it's close proximity to Asia, the large Asian population and the people from states east of Oregon flock to this town of 1.7 million people for its quality living features. I learned a lot about Portland while there on this quick trip. First, it's pronounced "or-gon" and if you say "or-e-gon," as I did, Oregonians will quickly but friendly-like correct you. The town is nestled between two rivers, the Columbia and Willamette, which Portland-ites will quickly correct as Will-AM-ette, not Will-iam-ette. Manhattan-ites with their distinction of Houston Street being pronounced Hew-ston will appreciate that Couch Street Fish (CHECK NAME) is not pronounced like the sofa we sit on but like "kooch." My pal Augi Garred (CHECK SPELLING) (more on this fine chap later) also pointed out that Matt Groenig, creator of The Simpsons and who hails from Portland, named characters after city streets. There is Burnside, for Mr. Burns and a Flanders street.

The city's layout is a marvel of urban design. Divided in quadrants (NE, NW, SE, SW), the avenues are numbered and the streets are alphabetically named after Portland's founders and other key figures. Although I only took taxis and a pedestrian ricksaw, their public transportation is a marvel with free service in the inner city and a bang-for-your-buck fare to the outer burbs. I thought this advanced city's Smart Parks were technology centers, but found out it's just their park and ride system.