Fair warning -- this is a major geek-out. I'll forgive anyone who doesn't want to slog through it, and I don't expect many comments.
But, I'll go ahead. As often comes up in comments to posts here, this is a freakin' fantastic site. Most recently this comment has come up in response to the video of David playing "Giant Steps", but the awesomeness has many dimensions, including the contributions of the star players, the working pros, the students and the people just trying to make the best music they can.
Since my day job is developing Internet protocols and products, I tend to think about why this site is so awesome, looking for general principles. One of the key things that makes it so awesome is the devotion Tony brings, and that's a difficult thing to generalize. Another thing is as a group the members/subscribers seem to be an unusually constructive bunch. Though while it does seem more common for Internet-gathered groups to tend toward the vitriolic, there are plenty of groups that reach a more constructive tone. I think the small size of the interested audience and the pay gate contribute to weaning out the destructive among us.
But many of the people involved here were/are also involved with thevibe.net. That site is great too, but it really hasn't reached the heights that this site has. I felt since the beginning that one of the major technical reasons for this was the decision to include audio and video uploads. Talking about music only gets you so far; you need to hear, and hearing and seeing is even better.
Which gets me to the thing that prompted me to make this post. Leave it to Chris Anderson (Wired Magazine editor, founder of TED Talks, coiner of the "long tail" and "freemium") to hit the nail on the head. His recent article on Wired (see http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/12/ff_tedvideos/) is about the power of video content to spur "crowd accelerated innovation" (his new phrase).
He uses TED Talks and the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD) to illustrate how groups dispersed over wide geographical areas can come together and accelerate innovation. Some of his points are independent of the mode of that communication, but his main point is video communication speeds things up the most.
This innovation happens in the "long tail" of content -- people in the short head risk more by innovating so less of it goes on there. Many people grouse about getting lost in the long tail -- infinite choice means too much work to find anything. But Anderson points out methods that are emerging to sift through the sludge and find the nuggets based on roles members of the community take on -- trend-spotter, evangelist, superspreader, skeptic.
These things have a lot to do with why I'm generally optimistic that after the music industry gets emotionally over the business crash caused by the way the record companies mishandled the Internet challenge we'll have an industry that allows broader and more diverse participation than before.