It's hard to say these days

$1 for your feed

clock January 31, 2008 08:46 by author Tom

Allen Stern has a post over on CenterNetworks where he suggests charging $1 for web feeds in an attempt to monetize blogging.  He goes further by suggesting that like minded blogs could be grouped by category and offered for a discount.

Here's the quote...

In my model, the $1 per month would allow you to take the feed with you on any device or reader you'd like. So you could read it at home on your computer, take it with you on your iPhone, mobile, etc. If you look at ReadWriteWeb, they show 159,000 subsribers. Let's assume that 10% would buy the feed, the other 90% would move to the free partial feed. That's would amount to a net cash flow of nearly $200,000 for the year. All because readers enjoy the content on RWW enough to send in $1 a month. Heck, there's more cash than that in your couch right now!

Let's take this a bit further and look at bundle offerings. I believe bundles would be where this model really shows its strength based on the pricing. A few sample bundles you could subscribe to the following "bundles" for $4.95 a month

It isn't a bad idea really but it'll never work. 

This comes back to something I call the Web 1.0 rule.  During the boom most of the startups thought they could use the massive amounts of available money to build a service, give that service away for free, and then start charging for it once it was mature.  Needless to say it didn't work. 

The can't charge for something that people have gotten used to getting for free.  People have attached a value to blog feeds in their minds and that value is "free".  So trying to charge money for them now is next to impossible.  The kindle delivers feeds over a free wireless connection and people complained about THAT subscription fee so the idea of charging a fee to get feeds via your own DSL connection is a non-starter. 

The lesson to take away from this, in my opinion, is that you should be very careful when choosing what you give away for free.  Because once you make that decision it's almost impossible to roll back.  I think that's an important lesson to keep in mind as more and more startups learn that advertisement based monetization isn't always a guarantee of profit. 

0 to 2000 readers in just three months...maybe not

clock January 30, 2008 00:35 by author Tom

I found an interesting article on which was written by a woman named Tina Su who is the author of  The article basically describes how she went from 0 to 2135 in 3 months.  Here's the quote...

Hi, my name is Tina. I started a little blog called Think Simple Now on September 27th, 2007 with zero experience in blogging, internet marketing or writing. By the time Christmas came, 3 months later, I had 2135 subscribers.


I often get asked how I did it, and I decided to compile this article as a record of my experience with hope that others might benefit from what I’ve learned. I want to show you that it is possible to achieve your blogging goals starting from scratch, using my case as a live example. I’ve learned that there are no real secrets to blogging success, all it really takes is a deep desire to do so, along with an urge to action.

Now, my blog has only been public for about a month and a half but unless my 2nd month is much more successful than my first (e.g. 2110 readers somehow pop out of the woodwork) I'm not going to do as well as she did.  That said, I just can't bring myself to follow a lot of her advice.

Basically she suggests a very focused approach to blogging.  Have goals, create content with your audience in mind, etc...  It isn't bad advice.

But for me, that is where the line is.  I'm not saying either philosophy is bad but there are two types of bloggers, the entertainers and the sharers.  The entertainers are trying to cultivate an audience the sharers are just trying to connect with whoever might be interested in the same things they are.  Mrs Su is an entertainer, I'm most definitely not.

Beyond that some of the stuff she suggests just feels dishonest to me (even though I know it really isn't).  Stuff like commenting on other people's blogs to get their attention feels wrong to me.  If I comment on your blog I think I owe it to you to be focused on what you said and not be trying to get you to read my blog (she makes a specific point of saying you shouldn't spam just for the record).

In fact, I've found that my commenting policy is just the opposite.  To take two examples off my link blog there is virtually no chance Matthew Ingram will ever subscribe to this blog because (based on his link blog) he doesn't bother reading anyone who disagrees with him.  But I do often times disagree with him so he's probably who I comment on the most.  On the other end of the spectrum I know for a fact that Aaron Stannard does subscribe to this blog but I rarely comment on his blog because I agree with him so darn much.

Anyway, even though it wasn't for me it is a good read and I'd suggest everyone head over there and take a look.  If it matches up with your goals as a blogger you'd be a fool not to take her advice to heart.  But it just doesn't fit me.  What I want from this blog is to get smart people reading it so I can say something and they'll be there to say "your completely right" or "your being an idiot and here's why".  Every indication I have says I'm on the road to that so I'm happy.  If that means never getting 2000 readers so be it.

I'll happily leave the mass audiences to the Robert Scoble's and Tina Su's of the world if I get the intelligent ones.

An Important Piece of Advice

clock January 29, 2008 21:39 by author Tom

If you ever find yourself in a cabin in the middle of the woods where you can't access the Internet either by land line or cell. phone your best course of action is just to get the hell out of there.  Its a bad omen!  Trust me on this.  I know. 

Don't ask me how I know, I don't want to talk about it... proves Publishing 1.0 still has some life in it

clock January 27, 2008 07:49 by author Tom

The Wall Street Journal's decision to stay a paid site has been the focus of a lot of blogger ire in the last week.  Scott Karp just posted an article on it entitled " Remains A Paid Site And Bets On The Value Of Its Niche Audience".  The article is a good read and basically lays out how the Wall Street Journal has a niche market that is extremely valuable to advertisers which is why the subscription model makes sense.   But what makes Mr Karp's post amazing (and a little disturbing) is that he lays out tons of evidence as to why made the right decision and then does a 180 at the end of the post saying this...

It seems unlikely that WSJ can retain its high-value audience profile long-term against the lure of the larger web — that is so long as WSJ only offers its own original content.

Imagine the power the WSJ brand would have to point people to the best financial content across the web — just as the New York Times admitted it couldn’t be the last word in technology coverage when it started aggregating technology headlines from across the web.

Would a new generation of executives and active investors pay the WSJ to be the best source of not only original reporting but ALL reporting in their niche?

This seems like an example of someone so set in a certain way of thinking that they are missing the forest for the trees. 

Here's the thing, in the Web as in real life there is going to be more than one business model that works.  So there is no reason why subscription based content can't coexist with free content.  What determines whether a subscription model will work is the quality of the content being offered by subscription.

This brings me to the NY Times example which bloggers are so fond of these days.  Yes, the New York times stopped being a subscription based site and Yes I believe that was the right decision.  But the reason for that is because, to be blunt, the NY Times quality of writing has fallen drastically in recent years.  It really has come to the point where some of the quality political bloggers out there are as good if not better than the columnists employed by the NY Times.

So the NY Times no longer had any unique value to offer the consumer which is why their subscription model was failing miserably.  The Wall Street Journal still manages to employ industry leading columnists and editors who report exclusively for  As long as they can continue to keep access to those people behind the pay wall I don't think they'll have any trouble competing against the web as a whole. 

There are many smart people out there with blogs just as in the pre-blog world there were many smart people at newspapers other than the Wall Street Journal.  But the paper WSJ continued to sell because they focused on having the best people write for them and I don't see why can't thrive by doing the same. 

Quick Note: Facebook's Opening Up

clock January 27, 2008 07:01 by author Tom

For the record, I certainly didn't miss the Facebook news but I can't seem to find any decent coverage on what exactly Facebook will be offering so I'm withholding judgement.

I also want to see how other people in the blogosphere react which is often the most interesting part of any Facebook news.

In particular I'm curious to hear Dare Obasanjo's take on the whole thing because it almost seems like Facebook is copying what Microsoft (and Dare in his day job) has been working on for the last year or more.  It wouldn't be the first time that Microsoft has had a feature before everyone else and not gotten credit for it but if I'm right it would be one of the more frustrating examples. 

Addendum: Dare's thoughts can be found here.  He doesn't mention Live or how Microsoft has been trying to extend presence beyond the social network since day one but perhaps that isn't the point of this on Facebook's part.  Like I said earlier in this post the blogosphere tends to distort Facebook news and having not had time to actually look at the API documentation I'm having trouble matching the reality to the hype.  In the end, all Facebook has to offer is a repository of personal information and a list of contacts.  So technology wise I don't see how what Facebook is doing now is anything other than an inferior version of Microsoft and others have done before (I realize Facebook's userbase makes their participation more valuable but I'm just speaking from a capabilities standpoint).  It just seems to me like everyone is holding up the ability to create information aware widgets as if Facebook had invented it.

I also have to admit to not completely seeing how the fact that this "doesn't require any server side code" is at all relevant.  The attitude among pundits seems to be that this now empowers people with no programming skills to start whipping up Facebook apps like it was nothing.  I don't think that's going to happen. 

Anyway, I'm going to look into this more.  I've long intended to jump into Facebook APIs and really get educated about it so maybe this can serve as the motivation for that.  I'll be the first to admit to a certain amount of ignorance on the subject but right now this just seems  to be a lot to do about nothing.

My92 - Following Up

clock January 26, 2008 21:46 by author Tom

About a month ago I wrote this post about KGBY, my favorite Sacramento radio station, firing all their DJs and switching to a completely automated format.  Its still a point of curiosity to me and this post on reminded me that it had been exactly a month since my last post which seemed like a good time for a follow up.

This is barely tech related so I'll ask forgiveness as I stray a bit. 

The first thing I have to grudgingly say is that I don't think the mix is that bad.  I don't know how much user input had to do with it but the station does manage to produce a good song more often than not.  Beyond that the station hasn't changed much.  Its still just songs with a robotic voice following each song to tell you what the song was and who was singing it.  I thought they'd try to mimic JackFM more in that Jack does a really good job of imbuing the station itself with personality (using sly ads with callers who call in to say random things to "Jack") but My92 seems to think the completely automated approach will work instead.  We'll see. 

On the website, it has changed quite a bit. 


One of the things Clear Channel has done right (at least conceptually) is to create some generalized content and then create local web sites around that content.   Most music news for example is universal no matter where you live so there's no point in having each station make their own web site.  

That said, I think its a mistake in My92's case.  If you are going to push your station as an interactive one and specifically mention your web presence than you need to have a specialized web site. 

So that, in a nutshell, is what I think of the new My92.  Still a poor excuse for everything it said it was trying to accomplish but not a terrible radio station when all is said and done.  That said, there's an old adage in the radio business that says people claim they want radio without DJs but always stop listening when the DJs are taken away.  My92 isn't a bad mix but I'm not sure its dramatically better than its competition and its competition has actual people on the air.  So I'm real curious to see the ratings book for the next quarter. 

Addendum: I wanted to throw out a couple things that just really shocked me while listening but were too random to fit the flow of the post...

Things that surprise me

Employing former DJs in lesser positions: I don't want to be too critical of this, it is nice of them not to put her out on the street, but I have to admit to feeling a little weird about the former mid-day host Heather Lee now being the traffic reporter.  Its sort of like firing your Senior VP and then offering to hire them back as the Janitor.  There's nothing wrong with being a Janitor but if you used to be the Senior VP in the same company it feels more like kicking sand in the person's face.

Former DJs doing Commercials: Call me crazy, but if I'm going to fire all the DJs from a station then I'm also going to get my sponsors to re-record their Ads even if I have to pay for it out of my own pocket.  Listeners already feel a little disloyal for not leaving the station when their favorite DJ was fired so having the disembodied voice of that DJ on a commercial every 1/2 hour only exacerbates the guilt.  I know it made me want to turn the station off.

Contests: Something about having no people on the air and still having contests seems contradictory to me.  Contests and DJs are sort of interlinked and having contests without DJs seems to draw attention to the mechanical nature of the station. 

My Midday MyPod: The station's primary contest seems to be the "Midday MyPod" where a listener gets to pick 5 songs that are played at noon.  I find it kind of funny that a radio station is tying its branding so closely to the iPod being the reason most people rarely listen to the radio anymore is because they have iPods.  Seems counterproductive to me. (on top of that, the one time I listened specifically for this contest they didn't start until about 12:15pm which is just sloppy)

The Asian My925: The station goes by "My925" but a quick trip over to shows the domain is actually owned by a jewelry store in China.  They actually re-branded their station, which is supposed to be interactive with a focus on the web, with a name that they couldn't get the web address to.  That's stupid.

Building a Better Record Label (Pt. 2)

clock January 24, 2008 16:32 by author Tom

Yesterday I went over how I think the music industry got itself into the trouble that it is in now.  Today I'll give you my attempt at fixing those problems.  Below is my advice on how the industry can make a few necessary changes that will allow them to not only survive the digital revolution but prosper in it.

I should say there are two basic principles that run through all of these suggestions.  First, the record industry needs better management from the top down.  Second, file sharing can't be stopped completely but by giving people most of what they want (e.g. the ability to share music) while cracking down on those who really are thieves you can dissuade the great majority of people from trading (which should be good enough for your bottom line)

That said, here is my advice to anyone who runs or would like to run a Record Label in the future.

Streamline the Business: As I laid out yesterday I think the record industry has been badly mismanaged in the last decade or two.  Very much so. 

I'm told there are departments with hundreds of people who deal with booking concert venues alone.  That's ridiculous.  A computer program could do that for gods sakes, it requires at best one person.  There are only so many venues and the people running those venues will decide what acts they want.  All the label needs to do is work out the scheduling.

The record labels are rife with these examples.  As I've said before I don't think most acts are going to go without the record labels.  But the fact that a few artists could go without them shows just how little they are doing right now and just how much they could be streamlined. 

Share Expenses Where Possible: There are few things that the record industry does well but one of those things is collaboration with their competitors.  This is something that should be pursued further.  There are things like manufacturing which every record label does EXACTLY the same and which get cheaper as you scale up. 

Labels should identify those things and collaborate on them just as they do when funding things like the RIAA. 

Cut Costs on Your Product: Look, the last couple decades were good times.  I know.  But now everyone knows a CD only costs a $1 to physically manufacture and if you streamline your business it shouldn't cost that much on the back end either.  Time to face the reality, prices need to come down.  If you haven't managed to streamline down enough to get the cost of a song to at least $.69 than you need to try harder. 

Redesign Your Product: I hate to be the one to say this but the reality is that the days of CDs with full color booklets and fancy packaging is over.  Record Labels need to lower the cost of their physical product by as much as possible.  Still make it look good, but maybe just an insert rather than a booklet. 

That said, they need to listen to the words of Radio Head's lead singer and realize that people want a physical product! But here's the trick...they also want instant gratification.  So give them both, use the physical product to sell your digital downloads.  Make songs available for $.69 per track or allow people to buy (and download) the whole digital album and then have the CD shipped to them for a little more.  Customers get everything they want and the record labels get people to start buying whole albums again rather than individual songs.  Everyone wins.

Make Music Available for Free (but NOT downloadable): People like to share music  and people sharing music MAKES MONEY for the record labels.  As long as those songs aren't being stolen while they are being shared.  The record labels' task is to make their music available far and wide just as long as it can't be downloaded.  They need to stream in a way that makes it easy to send, embed, share, and in any and every way distribute (again, as long as it isn't downloaded)

In fact, they need to go further. 

There are plenty of companies out there doing innovative things with music.  Buy or emulate companies like and make some money while you are at it.  This is one of the only items on this list that will cost the labels money but its the most important and there are plenty of ways to make money off it if they try.

Bottom line: all a person should need is a computer and an Internet connection to access and share every song available for purchase.  But if they want to walk away from the PC, they have to buy it.

Use Watermarks & ISP Filtering: Labels need to watermark their music.  No if, and, or but about it there is no reason that a law abiding legal purchaser of music should have a problem with a watermark as long as its just that.  Not something that tries to transmit data back or anything like that, just a mark.  Labels need to earn the purchaser's trust and that means a watermark that is benign.

Then they need to spend some money and hire people to create a filtering mechanism for ISPs.  Software that they will then GIVE to the ISPs for FREE.  Don't expect the ISP to protect the label's product, they need to create a division of their business that works with ISPs to filter music.  In fact they should pay the ISP to do it!  Then, if they fight it, the label can sue them for aiding pirates! 

Carrot and a Stick. 

That said, they can't go overboard.  Filter p2p networks and that's it.  If someone e-mails a song to a friend they need to let it be (unless the person is making a mailing list or something).  Be reasonable with your customers (by giving them a wide berth) and they will be reasonable with you (by paying you instead of trading) 

Sue, Sue, Sue...but give on "out": I'm pro-lawsuit in the music industry.  That's big for me too because I'm a big proponent of Tort Reform.  But File Sharing (now that DRM is all but gone) IS stealing and I have no problem with people who steal being sued for it.  But for it to be effective you have to do it right and that means not looking greedy.  Most people like justice and most people believe file sharing is stealing but no one likes revenge and no one likes greed. 

The irony of the RIAA suits is that the record labels come across as greedy when they really never see the money.  The Defendant's don't have that kind of money so they just declare bankruptcy which means the person's life is ruined (to an extent) while the record industry looks greedy for getting no money.  Its stupid. 

So my advice is this: Sue people's pants off.  Dramatically increase the lawsuits both in how many people you sue and in how much you ask for in penalties...and then give the person an out.  Make the law suits massive to send the message that p2p IS WRONG but then let people off by having them do (a lot of) community service.  It still reinforces that p2p is wrong but it also helps the community, allows the traders to go on with their lives and keeps the record labels from looking greedy.  Everyone wins.

Plead Your Case: Most people know that things don't come for free and most people don't have a problem with that.  Further, those who do have a problem with that will never be convinced.  So focus on putting serious effort into explaining the logic behind paying for music to those you can convince.  Maintain a list of artists who have been dropped from their label because they had poor sales and remind people that p2p deprives fans of music when this happens because these artists will probably never release another album.  Map out every conceivable way that p2p hurts the industry and detail it for people. 

If you sell your product for a reasonable price (see above) and you spend some marketing dollars pleading your case most people will side with you in the end.

Support Alternate Uses: Things like remixes SELL the record labels' product and need to be embraced.  There is a problem in that a remix that is too close to the original product is a bad thing but labels still need to empower these people in every way possible.  Perhaps a review process or something like that would do the trick but whatever it takes the labels need to make it so that these people can do their thing. 

Addendum: For the record, when I said "p2p is wrong" above I meant "if the people selling the music don't agree to it".  I don't know of anyone who has tried to make their money off the p2p model (a.k.a. giving away their music for free in order to make it off other revenue like concerts and other items) but if they did I wouldn't have a problem with it.  My issue is with people who use p2p against the wishes of the people who created the content.

Building a Better Record Label (Pt. 1)

clock January 23, 2008 18:45 by author Tom

There's an article by Simon Napier-Bell over at the Guardian where he essentially says he realized record companies were useless in the 60s and nothing has changed.  I'm not going to quote from it because, to be blunt, its foolish.   The idea that the industry of the 60s is anything like the industry of today is contrary to everything I have ever heard (from people with more to their credit than "I managed Wham! for a few months").  The fact that they look the same from his limited position shows just how little he knows about what is really going on. 

But for the record...Are there fools in every industry?  Yes.  Do record companies take advantage of new acts before those acts gain enough popularity to dictate terms?  Absolutely.  But that's about where his insight ends. 

His article did get me to thinking though...

One regret I have over all the RIAA talk on this blog is that I've never gotten the chance to say what I think the Industry should do to save itself. 

Due to the circles I travel in I've had the opportunity to talk to record execs, starving artists trying to get signed and everyone in between.  So I have a pretty good idea of what is going on and how I think it could be best fixed.  But I've never got a chance to put it into words.    

Which brings us to this.  I had planned on only one post but there's too much to say so today is what I think went wrong and tomorrow will be how I'd fix it.

All that said I think the reality of the situation, from all I've been able to find, is that the Record Labels are in trouble because they have been badly managed in the last decade or two.  Not because of file sharing or p2p as many would have you believe.  The music industry became so big in the 60s and 70s that it essentially become procedural by the 80s.  It has come to the point where there are whole business units for every step of the process.  Which is why the business practically ran itself for the next couple decades and, as successful businesses that need little management tend to do, became even more bloated.

This is something you see in every business or industry where there isn't much innovation.  The tech industry saw it with early IBM when they essentially sat on their laurels and just became bigger and bigger for years.

Anyway, by the late 90s this had caused the management to be poor.  When the business runs itself the people who rise to the top only need to know how to suck up to board members to be successful. 

So you get situations like the ones revealed in the purchase of EMI where spending was so out of control that they were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on "Fruits and Flowers" (whatever that means).  Or the CEO of Universal saying "he couldn't find a good technology person" (this was at a time when Computer Science was the fastest growing major in existence).  I could go on and on but the bottom line was that the music industries' fall was a result of bad management not technological innovation.  It is hard to keep revenues rising when you are spending like a drunken sailor and doing absolutely nothing to innovate.

But in the same way that bad management got them into this mess I firmly believe that good management could get them out of it.  In fact, I believe the music industry can not only survive but be reinvigorated by digital technology.  But that, is for tomorrow...

Short Addendum: Since this is a technology blog I wanted to address file trading specifically.

I don't believe file trading had that much to do with the industry's downfall.  There's no question that it costs the labels money though and what bothers me is that so much focus is on kids trading songs

Kids have always made copies of music without paying for it and they would have continued to do so in the digital age.  The only thing that changed is the media.  But by not embracing digital distribution early on (another sign of bad management) the labels forced adults to take up file sharing which has led to most of the losses that file sharing has produced. 

Adults were in the habit of paying for music before the labels forced them into the hands of Napster 1.0.   That's now the problem because people will pay for what they have always paid for but will resist paying for what was once free.  Music now fits into the "was once free" category.

That said, I think good management and a little marketing could stop 99% of file trading and I plan to cover that (along with other stuff) tomorrow.

Twitter News: As Journalism Hits a New Low

clock January 21, 2008 23:01 by author Tom

The Twitter Blog directed me to a NY Times article today entitled "Campaign Reporting in  Under 140 Taps".  The article details how one reporter is using Twitter to report from the campaign trail.  Here's the quote...

“NASHUA: Just saw Bill O’reily misbehaving at Obama rallly. Shoving Obama staffer.”

With these sloppily spelled words, sent Jan. 5 by text message by John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate, did microjournalism come of age.

The encounter between Mr. O’Reilly, the Fox News host, and the campaign aide did become actual news, kind of, for a day (a brief item ran in The New York Times, for example). But it first emerged from a high school gym in New Hampshire via Mr. Dickerson’s BlackBerry.

He uses Twitter — one of a number of so-called microblogging services — to distribute his text-message reporting to his Facebook friends, as well as his readers at Slate, which reprints recent Twitter items alongside his longer-form writing.

I want to throw one last quote out before going on.  This is from later in the article...

Way back in early December, Mr. Dickerson was a solitary figure microblogging from the campaign trail, and there was less breaking news to report, so his posts ran the gamut from trenchant (before the Republican debate in Johnston, Iowa: “Alan Keyes is here. There will be yelling.”), the self-referential (“Happy the Marriott Des Moines upgraded their gym.”) to the maudlin (“Bing Crosby is singing Noel and Barack Obama is on the TV not pitting red america against Blue America all while I try to eat my 5 O’clo. ...”). The strict 140-character limit apparently took some getting used to.

The above twitter quotes make my point better than I ever will.  But allow me to elaborate a little. 

One of the most societally damaging and ultimately self-destructive things modern day journalists have done is to forget they're supposed to be impartial and that they have a duty to present the story from every angle.  Modern Journalists instead seem to believe their opinions are more valuable than the truth or their duty to try to present it.

The above quotes are just another example of that.  Reporters so enamored with themselves that rather than attempt impartiality they choose to use Twitter to throw out 140 character quips.  This "Journalistic Narcissism" (if you will) has led to a world where people don't even bother with traditional news outlets anymore but instead get their information from more polarized sources such as the Internet or Talk Radio.

The attitude among the public now seems to be "if I'm going to have to listen to someone's personal opinion it might as well be someone I agree with."  So people stop seeking the truth.  Moreover with no difference remaining between the journalist and the hack, people abandon the journalist and Journalism itself slowly dies. 

When the profession that is supposed to be dedicated to seeking the truth is no longer sought after we should all be a little worried.

That is why this story is so scary to me.  Truth requires depth and depth doesn't come in 140 characters.  The great men (and women) of the world have, at best, a handful of quotes attributed to them meaning that even they could only manage to say a few things that were both short and profound in their life.  If reporters believe its acceptable to use Twitter to cover the news its a very disturbing sign of things to come.

I'm not against using twitter for certain purposes (such as keeping track of friends) but it is a shallow means of communication and it shouldn't be used to transfer any information that is not shallow.

Quick Note: NSimpleDB and an intro to Amazon's SimpleDB

clock January 20, 2008 07:31 by author Tom

Ralf's Sudelb├╝cher has a great series of posts on SimpleDB.  Though designed as an introduction to his Opensource, .Net based desktop clone of SimpleDB called NSimpleDB (short for .NET SimpleDB) it actually serves as an excellent introduction to SimpleDB itself.

Part 1 and 2 don't even deal with NSimpleDB but instead act as a nice high level introduction to the concepts and implementation of SimpleDB itself.  In that capacity I think its worth everyone checking out.  All that is required to understand those parts is a basic knowledge of relational databases. 

As for NSimpleDB, I'm not sure I'll ever use it but I think its nice that someone made it available.  With Amazon reportedly taking weeks to grant SimpleDB test accounts this seems to be the best alternative for .Net developers to get a handle on this new type of data storage. 

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