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Friday, January 19, 2007

Joost Beta review from Platfuls


Yes, I have been testing the application since January 10, and trust me, it’s truly amazing.



It’s quite extraordinary to just think that I have probably been among the very few people in the world (around 200) who had the chance of testing the Venice Project from the beginning of the beta tests (except for its developers, of course).

The story goes like this: when the first rumors about the Venice Project came out, I immediately visited the previous official site (theveniceproject.com) and filled in the form for a beta-tester account (that was somewhere in October).

After that I have had no news from them until last week. On January 10 I received an e-mail which informed me that my request has been accepted and that I can now log in with the e-mail ID and the password included in the e-mail.

Of course, I immediately downloaded the 9.54 MB application from the site and logged in. Unfortunately, there was a glitch: I could not disclose any information about my experience with the TVP (the name of the application) because of the famous NDA (non disclosure agreement), Just as the e-mail said:

“Today, we're inviting you to take a sneak preview of our work and take part in The Venice Project's first beta testing phase. This is a private, invitation-only beta test and the software is still in the early stages, but we would greatly value your opinions. We ask that you agree to abide by our terms and conditions and privacy policy as part of your participation in the beta program. So please don't give the application to anybody else, or even show it to them. It's very early days for us, and we want to make sure that the right people see the right software, at the right time.”

It was somehow frustrating not to be able to share with anyone the extraordinary experience Joost offers. But the agreement stated clear: “during the period commencing on the date you agree to these terms and ending on the date that the Platform becomes generally available […] you hereby agree to keep confidential and to not disclose to any third party any information or data that you receive, directly or indirectly, related to the Platform or its technology, and/or the business, operations, projects, goods and, services, plans and activities, or the existence of the trial” (damn lawyers…).

Since the Skype founders launched the new site (joost.com) I thought the NDA is no longer in action so I e-mailed them this morning. Fortunately, Kate Larkin, from the veniceproject.com responded in due time, confirming not only their full support for my early review of the TVP, but also begging me to excuse them for the “variety of technical problems with the site” from last night (I haven’t had any problems last night with Joost but had there been any, I would have blamed my ISP rather than their servers)

Ok, that was the introduction that should clear out any legal problems I might have.

So what is so special about Joost? Well, to be honest, everything. The fact that you have access to any TV program you like (of course, we’re talking about TV channels that have agreed to stream their content in the beta-version of Joost) is simply amazing. Music, documentaries, sports, you name it. And all this while you read a .pdf document or archive a folder. That’s right: you can resize the window of Joost/TVP to fit in just one corner of your PC’s screen; you can then concentrate on something else, with your earphones on, listening to the music from MTV or hearing what Bush has to say about Iraq (I personally enjoyed a making-of-video documentary about Paris Hilton featured on MTV, in which she said she has brains…).

The menus inside the Joost application have a nice, glass-like effect (something that you also see in the Aero or XGL desktop) and allow you to clearly see what is “underneath”. I guess some of you have already seen the pictures provided on the joost.com site or those previously posted on flickr.com
The highlighted feature turns orange and you have some additional buttons: a small i, for information about the program/show you are watching and a small arrow which indicates that there is even more to learn about the program (click on the target, Enter or simply push the right arrow button on your keyboard).

The scrolling between channels is easy and intuitive, and very responsive (but I don’t know how responsive it will be when the TV streaming in the background will overlap with gathering the infos about new channels or the existing ones).

What I mostly liked was the social Internet-TV experience you get: as you can see in one of the photos, everyone will have access to a “My Venice” (or My Joost) feature. You will be able to rate the channel (and hopefully, even a particular show-that will be one of my propositions for them) that you are viewing, while in the same time talking on Channel Talk or Google Talk (yeah, they are present here too) which are two different IM channels. You also get your news delivered in real time thanks to the News Ticker you see in the pics. All these windows (including a clock) are transparent, and can be moved on the screen.

You can also search for specific channels (but the search still needs some serious improvements) and in the future we will probably have the possibility to search for specific shows. Everything works on the same basis as Kazaa or Skype: every logged-in user becomes a signal-carrier for others. The more users are connected, the better the signal. Of course, it is recommended to have a broaband Internet connection, but the application is said to work fine even on sluggish networks (I didn't test that, but it was specified on the site). The P2P network will be ad-driven (I have already seens some advertisement to T-mobile).

My overall impression is that despite what other news agencies have said (probably without having access to the real TVP client) Joost is NOT a YouTube killer. Most likely they will continue to co-exist for a long time, simply because Joost is a P2P TV application while YouTube is a user generated video site, where everyone posts (almost) whatever they want (which you cannot do on TV). Joost doesn't bring a better alternative to the Internet video, it brings TV to the Internet, thus becoming complementary to YouTube, rather than its rival.ç

Thanks to Playfuls for the excellent review

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