Typekit and the Problem with Web Fonts

Being a text-based place, you might expect there to be a wide range of fonts used around the world wide web. Perhaps you’ve noticed that in actuality you’re almost always looking at Arial and Times. This of course drives web designers crazy, and they’ve been trying to get more fonts onto the web for years. The technical aspects of web-embedded fonts are more or less solved, but there’s still the basic problem that font foundries aren’t willing to put their intellectual property into the most copyable place in the universe — the world wide web. Until we find ways around that, web designers are stuck with using the fonts they can count on already being on your computer, basically Arial, Times, Courier, Georgia, and Verdana.

There are certainly ways of putting fonts onto the web as images instead of text, but image-based text has problems around searchability, copy-and-pastability, archivability, translatability, download speed, and access for the visually impaired. So to heck with that (except maybe for titles, maybe). Another option has been to use fonts which are in the public domain, open source, or otherwise licensed for web use. I’ve seen one or two sites that use that approach, but the current limit is the availability of freely usable high quality fonts. I expect to see that limit loosen as more indie and even commercial foundries release web-licensed giveaways, either to be helpful or to get known. I’m also predicting that foundries will start to freely license one or two variants of a font family — say the medium and bold variants — to promote the sale of the professional full-family bundles. For now however, quality free fonts are scarce.

Enter Typekit, which has gone live and large as of this morning. Typekit is a font service for web sites. It doesn’t create images, and it’s not just free fonts. It embeds a copy of a real, licensed typeface definition onto a webpage, allowing browsers to translate the honest-to-god plain text on that site into honest-to-god rendered screen font on user’s screens. So that’s good. In return the website owner pays Typekit a subscription fee, and Typekit pays some of that back to the font foundries they license from. That sounds fair. But I hope it’s not the only long-term solution, because I don’t like the idea of the typography of my websites collapsing back to Arial and Times if the Typekit server ever goes flaky, or if my wallet ever goes flaky. I’m not totally comfortable with the Typekit approach, but as of today it may fairly be said that there are more than five fonts on the internet.

There’s another problem with web typography I didn’t mention above: the low resolution of modern computer screens (roughly 100 dots per inch) makes type look jaggy and blurry compared with good-quality paper printing (roughly 300dpi), but that problem is getting solved in drips and drops every year as screen resolution gradually floats upwards faster than screen sizes do. It’s a slow process, but it will solve itself in the next ten years or so. So that’s something for us all to look forward to: crisp clean screen text, possibly before the mars landing.

beta.nfb.ca Becomes nfb.ca

I posted earlier regarding beta.nfb.ca, the well-executed online video distribution service from the National Film Board. I subsequently emailed them with some feature requests, and I’ve received an email in reply, in which Matt (“Social Media Manager”) confirmed that the new version of their video player does everything I had hoped it would, and that furthermore they have recently gone into full release mode. The new site is thus simply www.nfb.ca, just as it should be. If you’re a public film institution, your principal online presence should be about getting film into the eyes of the public. Love it.

I’m hoping their next improvement is to implement a suggestion from Paul Coyle, who commented on my first post:

“My only criticism would be that it appears that they’re streaming the videos through Flash Media Server which is slightly restrictive in that it uses Adobe’s proprietary FLV format. I would love to see them post up some MPEG4 versions of the videos for direct download.”


Update — Matt Responds:

I totally agree. The problem with downloads is another rights issue. We were able to acquire the rights to the films (from music, actors unions, etc) for streaming but not downloads.

We’ll be offering paid downloads through iTunes soon and hopefully through the site in phase 2.

Cheers and please keep in touch,


Sometime in July the National Film Board opened up a test site for playing videos from their archives. There’s a lot of content, and much of it is feature length. It was all paid for by taxpayers back when it was made, so distributing it freely is exactly the right plan. There’s new stuff and old.

Video quality is excellent (multiple levels are available) and it’s embeddable, as above.

Publicly funded media is perpendicular to all worries about ownership and licensing and remixing and making sure there’s a profit transaction every time somebody look at it, and so on. The NFB and the CBC should be leveraging hell out of their archives, throwing it up on the web, getting it out of the vaults, giving people a chance to filter and tag and redistribute and build on it. This is a huge advantage that these public organizations have over their for-profit neighbours, and if they’re worried about their utility in some new information saturated age they should be exploiting it. Looks like the NFB is on it. CBC?

You Put Your Data in Their Cloud

Here’s a video of Danny O’Brien convincing you not to put your data in cloud computing services, like 3rd party email, web document editors, photo hosting sites, social networking sites, and the like. He argues a) why would you give your own data, including your most personal data, to an anonymous corporate mediator to store in any case and b) we can probably get the same always-on effortless sharing and still store our data on our own boxes through the magic of technology. The video is terrible. But the idea seems awfully good.

And here’s a guy who makes heavy use of Google’s online services, such as Picasa and Google Docs and Gmail, who has been suddenly, silently and inexplicably shut out of the Google cloud.

I’ve decided to start spelling Google with a capital G again, to remind myself that Google and Google services are not randomly beneficent forces of nature. Google is a company, and it lives a corporate life. Is that (or Yahoo, or Facebook or whomever) the cloud where you want to keep all your stuff?

Open Access Spatial Data Could Have Bumped Australian GDP 7%

This seems a little hard to credit at first blush, but a report from somebody called the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information is claiming that lack of open access to spatial information might have cost the Australian GDP about 7%. Damn. Here’s Open Access New reporting on the subject.

Emailing My Representative About the Proposed Canadian DMCA

To: [email protected]
CC: [email protected]
Subject: pending copyright legislation

Hi Denise,

I’m informed by the internets that Minister Prentice is preparing to re-introduce his copyright legislation bill. Although details are scarce, previews suggest that Minister Prentice has succumbed to the temptation of lobby money to write a law which would entrench the obsolete business models of the music industry and other content middlemen at the expense of the production and exchange of art, culture and education.

Resistance by Canadian people has been overwhelming, despite a lack of formal public input. All of the support for the bill appears to come from international corporations and their representatives, who have purchased access to the political process. As my representative, I know I can count on you to push back against the criminalization of art, culture and innovation.

thanks much,


Reference to 10 000 Academic Journal’s Self-Archiving Policy

Here’s a great reference if you’ve published or are planning to publish in an academic journal: a reference to the self-archiving policies of many, many journals. Basically it answers the question, “can I put a free download of my paper on my personal/university website?”.

Click here to see all of them at once, but that would take a while. According to Open Access News, there are 10 000 journals in the database. And the short answer is: yes. 91% of them support self-archiving. That’s very good news.

There’s some jargon around this issue. I think “green” open access means authors can voluntarily choose to distribute their own papers for free but the journal itself (which is where most search engines are likely to find the article) requires a subscription to access them. “Gold” open access means the journal doesn’t require a reader to pay to see the research. The RoMEO database also breaks it up into blue and yellow. Oh boy.

Looks like Remote Sensing of Environment does allow post-print archiving. Yay!

New Kleptones Live Album

The Kleptones have a new album out! Strangely enough for a band of remix laptop audio pirates, it’s a live album. And there’s a bunch of associated A/V content. I’ve never been a big fan of “musical experiences” which couple music with other sensory aesthetic pleasures. Mostly I find the whole to be less than the sum of the parts. But that’s just me, whatever. And the music is the music, and the music is there.

The Kleptones veer back and forth from a basic formula of layering hip hop lyrics onto remixed pop and rock riffs, peppered with movie soundbites. Formulaic or not, they do it real well.

Here’s the announcement.

Here’s the download site.

Warning: playing kleptones on your home stereo system can give Mitch Bainwol a headache, even though he doesn’t know why it’s happening. Dan Glickman too, for that matter.

Also, turns out Eric and Jim from the “band” have a radio podcast and associated music blog.

update: The album is a mix of old material thoroughly reworked plus lots of stuff I haven’t heard before. And they really seem to have moved away from the central theme of recontextualizing hip hop lyrics into a much freer flowing mix of madhattery. (although if you’re yearning for more too-black rhymes over more too-white guitar and synth licks, fear not, they’re in there.) Mashup music is rarely an emotional or otherwise artistic experience. It’s more about fun and craft than art. It’s a celebration of the masher’s experience of music — which all great music probably is in part, but mashup mostly stops there and ‘great’ music keeps going. But for shear musical what the hellness, this particular mashup music is hard to beat. And try sitting still through it. Go on. Try.

Basement Dwelling Filepunks Make A Movie Famous

Releaselog gives daily reports about movies and games which have recently been copied for distribution over filesharing networks. A few days ago they covered the release of a fairly obscure indie film called Man From Earth. I watched it, and watching it was fun. It’s an ideas film and works pretty well, if you don’t expect too much.

The producer of the film emailed releaselog. But not for the reason you might think.

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Eric D. Wilkinson and I am the producer of a small independent film called “Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth” (our review).

I am sending you this email after realizing that our website has had nearly 23,000 hits in the last 12 days, much of it coming from your website. In addition, our trailer, both on the www.manfromearth.com site and other sites like YouTube, MySpace and AOL has been watched nearly 20,000 times AND what’s most impressive is our ranking on IMDb went from being the 11,235th most popular movie, to the 5th most popular movie in 2 weeks (we are also the #1 independent film on IMDb & the #1 science fiction film on IMDb). How did this all happen? Two words: Torrent / File Sharing sites (well, four words and a slash).

More specifically, RLSLOG.net. Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download. After that happened, people were watching it and started posting mostly all positive reviews on IMDb, Amazon and other places. Most of the feedback from everyone who has downloaded “The Man From Earth” has been overwhelmingly positive. People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the net!

And so on.

In the comment storm that follows, the film’s director adds:

It seems that more than 2000 people have downloaded the film, and the vast majority (I’d say 85-90%) seem to like or love the movie.

Most of these people live outside the US, and so the DVD is not officially for sale in their country, and frankly we have no idea when it will be. Same goes for any sort of TV sale.

So we had the idea (truth be told, my wife had the idea) to pull a Radiohead… to reach out to the online community and say, “If you downloaded this movie and liked it, please buy the DVD; and if you can’t buy the DVD where you live, please send us some money.”

There is a theory of optimal piracy, or actually several theories suggesting that for one reason or another, your total sales will benefit if some people are freely copying your material. Taken to the extreme you get situations like Cory Doctorow and his fellow authors who actively release their books as free downloads, and argue that they reap the rewards in increased paper-copy sales, freelance writing contracts, speaking gigs and so on. Plenty of new bands do the same, releasing some or all of their tunes and hoping for people to talk them up and come to their gigs. As a DJ I sure wish more acts did that, so I could play them when I want to. It’s a sign that you’ve gone serious when you turn off the “download” option on the music player for your band’s myspace page.

In the case of the of The Man from Earth, what strikes me is that the success of an entire film appears to have hinged on the random decision of some random basement dweller to post it and give it a positive review. Releaselog isn’t a professional undertaking, in either the quality or, I suspect, the money sense. Their “editors” are whoever happens to respond when they occasionally post asking for volunteer editors. Thanks to the wonky dynamics of the peer-to-peer gray market, this ragtag posse of international teenagers is the best at what they do, or close enough that 10s of 1000s of people visit their site daily. And if one of them likes an indie film, it’s the “5th most popular movie” in the world, a week later.

Finally, the self-picture the of the producer in front of an internet browser with rlslog.net up, to prove that the email really was from a movie producer and not a 12 year old girl or a dog or something, is a lovely twist on a classic internet meme.

Jammie Thomas: Crown of Thorns in the Side of the RIAA

The music industry was obsolete 10 years ago, and kind of corrupt and exploitative 10 years, 20 years, and 100 years ago. There are existing technologies and candidate business models for having a thriving, artist-centric music scene where we all get to hear what we want and pay the artists for hearing it, instead of hearing what Big Content let us and paying them so they might pay the artist if they feel like it, a little, possibly not. Indie labels are halfway there already. The RIAA and it’s governing cabal of entrenched transnationals are determined keep up their rent-seeking as long as they can, and since they don’t have any legitimate logistical reasons to exist anymore, they’ve turned to political clout and legal warfare as a substitute. We all know this. I can shut up now. I could have shut up at the start of the paragraph.

Jammie Starr is the first of the (3000? 30 000? depends who you ask) victims of the RIAA’s industrial-scale blackmail program to fight back. The court case went against her and the jury, prompted by some dubious directions from the judge and a bizarre set of copyright rules, have pegged her with $222 000 in penalties. Because by “making available for download” a couple of dozen music files she did $220 000 dollars worth of crime. Seems fair.

She’s going to appeal. She has, in a calm and friendly tone, announced herself a lifelong “thorn in the side of the RIAA”. Lawyers bills t0 date are estimated in the $100 000 + range (yay blind justice!) and now they’re going to go up. She’s taking donations. Jammie died for all our sins. Kick a little something her way to cover the bills.

update: between 8:30am and 10:30pm today, the tally went from $500 and change to just shy of 4 large. The lady needs some crucifix money. Keep it coming.

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