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Joost TV – a new twist in online television
There are times when we want to share with our readers not only just-another review or a market breakdown, but something more than that. To put it simply, tell you about things that barely concern the field we work in or miss it completely. However, this desire becomes so strong, that we can’t get over it.
For these purposes we are establishing a new column – “Editorial” – where we will be sharing with your our thoughts and opinions on various matters at hand, recount the things we are keen on. And it is all left to your judgment.
Skype phenomenon – “The whole world can talk for free”
Any industry, any business has its own leaders, outsiders and those in between. It is all this simple: most active and aggressive forge into the lead, other end up lagging behind. However, there are also industries, where there can’t be one winning player, and the reasons are many: tough competition that hampers all those fighting their way up; relatively young market or niche; or, simply, no sustainable players.
Until recently that was the case for the market of IP-telephony, which was sorely slow and passive in its development. The market players were quite slowly-tempered, everyone was happy with the market state. But then Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis came to stir it up, the men who had previously shone with the infamous and vastly popular P2P client – KaZaA. The announcement of their project, a client for Internet calls via P2P technologies – Skype – was given a cold welcome. Over the first months, nobody treated then unsophisticated application seriously…
Today “Skype” is the Internet telephony market’s undisputable leader and starting to knock out other major operators in this segment. The idea of free user-to-user communication brought up by Skype has grown into dozens of P2P-based services and additional modules tacked onto Skype. The number of subscribers has long since crushed the mark of 195 million, while the “Currently online” counter rarely falls below 8 million. For many this client has already replaced ICQ, and these days a lot of newcomers join the community not only due to its ease of use, but, just think of it, because it is all the rage. This application, being a plain communication client, over a few years have morphed into a cult in Europe and the US, and continues to grow and conquer new grounds in other regions, including Russia.
Having taken “Skype” to the skies, the creators sold it for 2,5 bln. USD and got their hands on a new project.
«The Venice Project»
When it had been still in the works, the application was codenamed “The Venice Project”, but it debuted as “Joost”. While the testing stage is technically closed, everyone can lend a hand – in order to do so, you need to receive and invitation and download the application’s beta version. The only problem is that these invitation letters are spread by those already into the beta-testing and are thin on the ground in the Internet. This feature made for the project’s popularity at early stages: users found out that there was a new online television service emerging and run into the barrier, for they could not check it out straight away. Then they set on a search for people already contributing to the project, passed some letters to them with requests to send back an invitation. And a quite natural desire to “get a peek” gave the reason for these searches. This system of invitations lends the application a touch of exclusiveness, so every new user, who receives this craved invitation, feels like participating in a real closed testing.
But this scheme is nothing new – it has already been proven. One of the most notable and successful practitioners of the invitation system was Gmail service by Goolge. When it all started, one could grab hold of a @gmail.com account only upon getting an invitations from those chosen ones. This is actually one of the reasons why Gmail is the world’s most popular mail service.
Wrapping it all up, these invitations have done a lot of good to Joost, and technically “beta-testing” is a mere word, since no special requirements are to be met by the users. You can simply take a plunge into what the application offers without bothering yourself with reports or something.
Joost gears – “how does it work”?
If we were to give Joost a two-word characteristic it would be “an application for watching movies, clip and various TV channels on your PC”. Not particularly a two-word, isn’t it? Well then, it would be “online television”.
The program still revolves around P2P protocol employed by Skype and Kazaa. Long story short, first users get data from the server and then others can take it from them. An obvious advantage of this approach is that overloaded serves are nearly out of question.
Today the project is still at the beta-testing stage and boasts only 25 channels. And that’s where all flavor is – in fact, Joost is not “television” in the way we have come to expect, you can’t just pick a channel from what is offered.
First up, you will need an invitation I mentioned above. In this letter-invitation you get a link to the page where you can register and become a member of the beta-testing team. The next step implies uploading the application (the client is about 10 Mb in size), and after installing it and logging in you actually enter the world of Joost.
There is no point in giving you a rundown on the interface – everyone has own vision of ease-of-use. The only thing I’m going to mention is that all menus and settings are pretty much straightforward, being tweaked to please the users who don’t want to any waste time on studying the menu structure and delving into the application’s finest settings. From the technical point of view not everything is smooth, but Joost aims primarily at regions with high-bandwidth connections – your internet access should be at least 1 Mbit/s, advisably – 2 Mbit/s and faster. With bandwidth lower than 1 Mbit/s forget about installing it at this very moment. The picture quality, depending on bandwidth, ranges from mediocre (artifacts, blockiness) to good (full-screen mode, crisp image).
In essence, Joost stands next to YouTube or Google Video services, but it is different – the client starts up not in your browser’s window, but gets right onto your PC. The core of this service relies on the following: every channel comprises clips or short episodes, so if it’s a music channel, there will be interviews, fragments of live-concerts and clips. Those about nature will feature short documentaries and some sketches. But of all channels, those that really appealed to me were few, specifically then channel on PC and console games, where they put up reviews, charts etc. However, honestly, at this stage, Joost doesn’t offer a multitude of channels.
The final version of Joost will step up its channel set and offer a lot more options to choose from. That’s what is already set to happen, for the developers have already signed some major studios and agencies. The company intends to reach the goal YouTube could never take on – shows and episodes which keep popping up over at YouTube, violating the copyright laws (which might become a real problem in the US and Europe). In this sense, Joost sets the standard in a way – how it all should look like. The company signs up loads of contacts and thus gets the right to release corresponding content, which was previously shared in illegal fashion.
Though, there isn’t much hope that Joost will feature Russian channels – in this region, the number of potential users of this service is thin on the ground, with Internet connection speed and traffic being one of the reasons. Take note, that on action-filled sessions, Joost hogs about 300-400 Mb per hour.
Joost builds upon an open engine - Gecko, which is in the core of such vastly popular open-source projects as Mozilla Firefox browser or Mozilla Thunderbird mail client. And since Joost shares the platform with other Gecko-powered applications, it bears some generic traits of this platform as well – for example, Extras (which can be brought by the developer or the users themselves). At this stage, Joost shows off only a few minute extras, namely clock, notes, RSS reader and others.
But judging by the previous experience, there has never been shortage of volunteers up for writing extras to Gecko-powered applications. Examples abound: can you count how many utilities and tools are currently available for Mozilla Firefox? Thousands, and no one seems to get bored putting up new extras. Therefore, Joost is very unlikely to run into lack of add-ons.
Idea and outlook
Today the Internet is swarming with reviews and articles on Joost – some just share their thoughts, others give a rundown of its features, and there are also people who just steamroll it (or want to believe they are doing this), claiming that getting television into PCs hardly makes any sense or serves any particular purpose. What I really want to do now is dispel the myth that Joost will be a counterpart to your telly. By no means, and “why” was described some paragraphs above. They have invested enormous (for an online project) sum of money into the project and it would strange to see the creators of Joost abandoning it, without taking care of its future.
To grasp the idea behind Joost, we need to look towards Skype once more. Surpsiginly, the vast majority of users have never turned to its paid services. Moreover, none of them has ever seen any kind of so-irritating ads over there, Skype simply does not have it. But still, it manages to remain interesting and popular among a wide range of companies, which are ready to support it, invest into it and push its boundaries. Today Skype earns its creators and the owner a lot of money.
And Joost is just like Skype. The people behind it have this goal in mind – get big companies interested, and involved into the project. Joost should never become a replacement for television, its main idea lies in a different field – making television a more flexible service, more appealing to the users. As of today, the developers are negotiating with sustainable players on the market of computer systems, home theatres, on embedding Joost into their products in future. Perhaps, it won’t be long before we see Joost on consoles and handsets. Basically, the service’s near-term goal is further expansion of its presence on the market. The end-users will pay nothing for online television in this form, however, there is a chance that it will be enhanced with paid services.
Naturally, it is a bit to early to make any conclusions on Joost’s popularity or commercial success. But, seemingly, nothing stands on its way – the field picked by the developers seems to be the right thing. A good testament to this is the activity emerged on the online television market shorlty after the inauguration of Joost – remember, several years ago, Skype had gone through just the same.
I will now try to specify the good and the bad things about this application and the concept of online television itself for us, common users, compared to the television we are all used to. If your opinion is different – you will be most welcome on our forum.
Published 09 August 2007
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