Archive for January, 2009

Guinness si, records meh

Ben Worthen asks at Wall Street Journal about Guinness Records and downloads. Lots of us raised the issue at the time — see Ryan, Ben, and I know I commented on the irony in some places I can’t search up at the moment — but the overall feeling at Adobe, as Adrian says more delicately at the WSJ, was “whatever”. The goal is to get smart communication tools more available to more people, and other debates aren’t as important.

Platform adoption, Jan09

Big news out of MAX Japan today… Player 10 at 55% consumer support eight weeks after release… AIR with a hundred million successful installations… 1,000,000+ AIR SDK downloads.

That Player info is great, although dated… Player 10 was released Oct 15, and this consumer testing was done early-to-mid-December, about 8 weeks in. Now we’re in the last week of January, about 15 weeks in. Looks to be on-track to 80% consumer-support in the very near future. Amazing. Use these features now.

(These quarterly consumer audits have been going on for years, consistent methodology, one of the best measures. Your particular audience may differ from overall consumer norms, but the rates-of-change should be similar.)

AIR may be the more significant surprise. People are familiar with updating plugins & browsers. AIR is a different type of thing, a desktop shell for web apps. When people first see it, they have to stop, and think about those strange black dialogs. And yet it had — not only a hundred million downloads — but a hundred million separate experiences when it fully downloaded, then successfully installed, and then said “hello i’m here!” to the Adobe cloud. Some are undoubtedly multiple installations on the same machine — we don’t yet know unique users. But still, a hundred million successful installations, of something bizarrely new, all in its first year… that’s also amazing. (About one hundred million people visit YouTube each month.)

Million SDK downloads? There’s a lot of AJAX developers out there, a lot of Flash developers out there, a lot of other developers who find Flex easy to approach. Makes sense. A lot of people have been exposed to these possibilities; let’s see what each person decides to do.

It’s too early to tell now, but this may be the point to which we look back and say “Adobe did establish the Flash Platform, and those were the early days of AIR.” We don’t yet know the end of the story, but the signs out there seem to be exceptionally positive.

The greater context: We’re at a period of economic contraction. People are looking hard at what works. And meanwhile consumers are responding very, very strongly to richer experiences, consistent across environments. The capabilities are advancing very quickly. It’s a good time to make a bet.

And how did it happen? There’s been some great engineering, but it would not have happened with the wide ecosystem of support. A lot of people make their own best choices, and it works out to the good of everyone. It’s a group effort.

Related: The thing about Player 10, Oct 2008.

A Video Tale

Once upon a time there was a sad little digital video file. She had no dress to attend the Web Browser Ball!

Sir Rob of Seattle said “I’ll save you! My dress will give you innovative capability, where anyone can publish, and anyone can see. And, best of all, it’s Progressive!”

The sad little digital video file said “Oh thank you, Sir Rob of Seattle! You have truly innovated! I shall be happy to wear your dress to the ball!”

Then a little apple said “You should wear my dress, because it gives you practical production support — everyone already edits video in a quick time. And, oh, one more thing, I’m very stylish.”

The sad little digital video file said, “Oh, thank you, little apple! Now I have two dresses to choose among, but at least I have standard authoring tool support! And yes, I do think you are very stylish.”

A cube-like borg suddenly appeared! “oh we have that too. but, better. be-cause” (and here the borg hovered closer and whispered, as best it could) “only rich people see the apple’s dress! your dress must be seen by commoners too! so… so… so… so… starting installation now.”

The sad little digital video file grew concerned. “Oh! Now I have three marvelous dresses, how shall I wear them all? Some will want to see me in this gown, others in those shoes, some will want to see me in this hat, oh dear what shall I do?”

The sad little digital video file grew sadder and sadder, as she thought of some people at the ball not seeing her dress.

But just then a flash of red zipped into the room! “You’ve got a problem, I understand, and think I can help. Here, examine this dress — it gives you innovative capability, a full ecosystem of production support, and everyone can see it, no hassle. All the problems of the past will disappear, and you’ll see an explosion of video on the Web. Have fun! Bye!” And zoom he sped off!

The sad little digital video file’s eyes grew wide as she said “Wow, yes, there is an explosion of video on the Web! No one’s disenfranchised, everyone can create, and those handy HTML page addresses can hold every video I’d like to distribute! ooh, a webcam, metadata support, and a pixel-shader language and oh gosh this is fun! I’ll wear the dress from the flash of red!”

And the Web Browser Ball was a beautiful affair, and the sad little digital video file was sad no longer.

But — when she got home — she found King Gecko the Righteous booming from behind the bushes. “You should switch to my dress because it is not proprietary. Proprietary, proprietary, proprietary. Proprietary! The proprietary proprietariness of the open web is itself proprietary, and therefore non-proprietary proprietarituitude is the only correct way to propitiate the proprietary proprietarienesses, and of course it goes without further elaboration that the basic proprietary nature of the proprietary implies further proprietary proprietarienieties, and wait give it up for me developers-developers-proprietary-developers, means more proprietary proprietaries for proprietarily proprietarying you, you, you… you proprietary proprietar, you!”

The now-happy little digital video file thought King Gecko the Righteous rather strange.

But, smiling, she went inside to sleep, after her wonderful, wonderful night, all at the Web Browser Ball.

[I’ll update this post with a link when the FAQ from the video team goes live. I agree with the desirability of a patent-unencumbered codec, but just think the level of rhetoric is rather high.]

The eternalization of ephemera

How much of the past will you give up? How many Web Archives do we need? Should national libraries diversify this task? What about archiving photos citizens take? Or distributing Beatles tunes? Should taxpayers archive TV shows?

When ephemera goes digital, how might we think of preserving some of it?

These are some of the questions asked by Lynne Brindley, head of the British Library, in The Observer today.

The Web breaks a lot… gossamer strands of hyperlinked documents, built over months and years, linkrotted in a blink. It’s wonderful to look at today’s Web, but yesterday’s Web has already been torn away, discarded.

The Internet Archive has been saving the Web for over a decade now. It works by regularly spidering, timestamping, and storing the Web. Enter an URL and you’ll see all the archived pages.

They already collect movies and other ephemera as well as webpages… one early media archive was the Macromedia Collection, a listing of the 1990s multimedia CD-ROMs submitted to the “Made With Macromedia” program.

In 2003 its beta search engine offered a way to trace word occurrences back through time, similar to Google Labs’ timeline view offered for webpages alive today. It would still be nice to search back through every bit of info that’s ever been part of The Web though… the Zoetrope project [PDF] at the Adobe Advanced Technology Labs shows possible interfaces for such engines. We may not have a search engine for the full timebased Web yet, but at least we’ve got one archive.

The Internet Archive is essential, but single-sourcing history is scary. This effort lives on donations. It is mirrored, but one big earthquake could halt the archiving process.

It would be very good to have multiple groups, in multiple regions, archiving as much of the Web as each can handle. It shouldn’t be left up to one group. There’s a risk of politicalization if it’s all politically funded — what to monitor, what to feed to the memory hole — so diversity among archivers seems desirable. We definitely need to be able to search the Web as it was.

If the British Library can archive .UK websites during the London 2012 Games, that would be a great help.

But at bottom is the question: “How much of our digital lives should we preserve, and how much should we let just float away?” I’m definitely concerned about “Saving the Web”, and have always admired the Internet Archive folks for getting up and doing something about it.

But “think of those thousands of digital photographs that lie hidden on our computers” doesn’t seem to me as vital — the good photos usually get on the Web at some point. And “a right to the Beatles”, that’s sounding rather grandiose. Start small, archive the Web as it tears apart each day, that seems more important.

I don’t know… do you ever feel a guilty pang about not archiving a hard drive before tossing it away? How much of our bits should we keep?

“Social TV” in use, and notes on this week’s video

Big video online this week… lots of discussion about how much, and whether congestion was at servers or on “last mile” delivery, and so on. But I’m particularly interested in how people used video in new ways, and the joint project from CNN and Facebook sparked a lot of novel conversation.

(I put “Social TV” in quotes above, because yesterday’s work was really on the “Social PC”… the big home wall screen differs from yesterday’s hunched-over-the-laptop solitary experience, and the focus this week was still on visiting a separate webpage instead of integrating the social layer into video feed. It will be awhile yet until we have the SoCS to make actual Social TV, but that day will come. Bottom line: It ain’t “Social TV” if there ain’t no TV.)

I’ve been reading lots of commentary, and pulled out some quotes where people responded particularly positively to the ability to watch and comment on a live event with remote friends. My own top takeaways:

  • There’s definitely interest in synchronous viewing of live events. And people definitely respond to social viewing too. Don’t bet against this trend.
  • Flash enabled friction-free viewing. Anyone could write to it, distribute it, read it, and costs for each participant were very, very low. If there was ever any question about live Flash streaming, yesterday answered it.
  • The desktop screen, the main home display screen, the personal pocket screen, the shared environmental screen, as well as those temporarily without a screen, or who cannot physically see a screen… all experiences must work together. Your friends should not be segregated into bins depending on what brand of device they prefer, or whether they’re members of a particular website.

There’s a selection of favorite testimonials up top, followed by discussions of some of the business drivers, and some additional interesting ideas towards the bottom.

Disclaimer: Internet-enabled TVs don’t really exist yet. Closest we have is connectivity via settop or console — close, and many of the same dynamics, but the device-dependence is not yet as open as it will become. Sitting alone at the PC is definitely a different experience than sitting back in front of the TV with other people, and the latter experience is not quite here yet. If you’re looking for financial compensation during 2009, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking to be an early mover in what promises to be a high-growth market, it can be worth your while to think through these possibilities now.

Copyright: I’m taking the liberty of republishing others’ words without their knowledge and consent. But unlike other cases, these words are already in the public domain, and I’ve provided links to source citations. Still, if you find your words here unexpectedly, please let me know and I’ll remove them, thanks.

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TESTIMONIALS

“I thought it was awesome ‘watching’ the inauguration with my twitter buddies – it was like having all my friends around to joke around and share comments. LOVED it! Way to go! So, what do we watchnext? Friends?”
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/inaugurating-social-tv/

“[Facebook’s] deal with CNN to broadcast the big day by having the status updates run alongside the live streaming video from Washington was a game-changer. The ability to see what your ‘friends’ were saying and being able to switch to see what everyone else was saying enabled us all to get beyond the fishbowl. It was an amazing blend of traditional mass media reporting and everyone’s individual point-of-view collected in one location. Opinions, emotions and even contrary perspectives were public, available and accessible. Plus, if you had something more to add (relevant, idiotic or different), all opinions were equal.”
http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/open/

“Twitter was huge and held together – was this not Twitter’s Performance Waterloo? – I found it a wonderful adjunct to my TV and my web watching. I limited my stream to those people that I knew and cared for and it was as if I was there side by side with them. This amplified the whole experience. Some were on the ground in Washington – their collective Tweets were like a composite eye – in aggregate they gave me a sense of being there.”
” . . . I was joined by millions who wanted to make their computer the centre of their experience. I wanted this because I could add more layers to what was going on. I cannot do this with TV where all I can do is shift channels. I could use Twitter – I could have several streams open at the same time – I could chat – the list goes on.”
” . . . So if you produce content for TV and you have not made up your mind that the web will be your primary arena you are no longer in the game. Adding conversation with friends and enabling filtering of this group is the icing on the web TV cake.”
http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2009/01/21/post-inaugeration-thoughts-about-social-media/

“For all the digital dollars spent by CNN, the network seemed to score more points with its CNN.com video/Facebook mashup. At least, most of my Facebook friends thought so, and not just the ones who still work at CNN. Clicking on a link gave you a double-window, with live video on one side and a scrolling stream of Facebook status updates on the other. No expensive special imagery and certainly no value-added journalistic insight, just real-time reactions from all over the world to the history being made in Washington. That stream included this piece of layman’s criticism: a person ‘wondering why the anchors on CNN on the TV are so much more interesting and articulate than what I’m seeing on the Facebook streaming’.”
” . . . For all the diversity of content found online, the growth of streaming video consumption and the rise of social networks as news sources, I still thought that this major event was best delivered and consumed via television — and high-definition TV in particular. The sight of all those people on the Mall was certainly awe-inspiring, but switching back and forth from 480p to 1080i on a large-screen TV was like making the jump from impulse power to warp speed.
http://www.technewsworld.com/story/65908.html

“I walked into the Green Wagon just as Barack Obama began his speech. Proprietor Jen Casales smiled and said, “I’m glad I’m not watching this alone.” She was watching the speech on her Mac via CNN Online with Facebook, and her friends’ comments scrolled up the screen, like Twitter. That could actually inspire me to someday do a Facebook page.”
http://blogs.nashvillescene.com/bites/2009/01/inaugural_visit_to_the_green_w.php

“I am so impressed with the CNN Live & Facebook Integration that I had to fire up the video camera and share my thoughts with the world. This changes things. The fact that I don’t HAVE to turn on my television if I don’t want to. The fact that I can share the experience with friends around the globe in real time. The fact that this is another step towards social viewing. I’m impressed and believe this changes the game quite a bit. Where does it go from here?”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/

“I thought the CNN/Facebook integration was great, but I kept wishing it was CNN/Twitter integration. To me that stream of conversation would have made more sense than constantly updating your Facebook status. Now I’m wishing for Twitter integration for every site I can imagine!”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/#comment-47483

“The living room area, where the family congregates to watch tv, is set up around the television. The computer, on the other hand, is usually in a separate room; an office, a den, etc. since our social habits in the living are set up around a tv, it will be difficult getting the cultural consciousness to move from tv to internet. That said, i agree w/you that if there is an integrated functionality on my tv for my computer, it would open more avenues for me to sit on my rump and get fatter.”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/#comment-47519

“I had the same epiphany yesterday. I assumed I’d want to leave my office to go to be with some co-workers in front of a big TV, but once I got onto the CNN.com Live w/ FB integration feed, I was hooked & didn’t leave. I loved watching live TV with my friends all over the country, and saw this ‘non-Twitter crowd’ turn into a Twitter-like experience. I actually shut down TweetDeck and solely followed the FB feed of my friends. It was an awesome experience — game changing is right!”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/#comment-47527

“Great post! I think it’s a very very early evolution of the TV. I suspect the next step will be enabling live chat and Social Networking tools (non-Web) inside the Cable TV system. The current DVR box will be more and more ‘interactive’ as it’s currently passive, but will become active…which makes me wonder if that means yet another “closed” network? I watched on my 53″ TV with surround sound on..I really wanted to absorb the whole thing in a big way..was gonna Tweet but just got swept up!”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/#comment-47529

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BUSINESS ISSUES

  • Many stories in the press emphasized that interactive viewing was a big hit, and that non-interactive viewing satisfies only part of the demand:

    “Online TV Sites Battle for Viewers: Sites like TV.com, Hulu, and Joost that feature much of the same content are hoping that social-networking features will put them ahead of the crowd… On TV, content is king. But on the Web, community may reign supreme.”
    http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2009/tc20090119_442155.htm

  • Some focused on broadcast-style advertising… I suspect that there’s greater value in recommendations from friends:

    “Eventually, video socializing might also benefit advertisers. “As the prevalence of quality on these sites becomes broader, advertisers will be looking to drill down and target individual users,” says Mark Trefgarne, chief executive of LiveRail, a San Francisco-based startup that develops platforms for monetizing online videos. “If you put one commercial across the entire site, you might see an average click-through rate of 1%. If you’re targeting it down to those particular users on the site, you can very easily double that performance,” Trefgarne says.”
    http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2009/tc20090119_442155_page_2.htm

  • Some raised the valid point of wondering how social networks will be acquired. There’s definite sense in outsourcing this to an existing social site, but as comments prove, there’s also a desire to be independent of a particular social network host.

    “As CNN’s implementation of Facebook Connect proved, it’s much more effective to implement integration with an existing community than to build your own community when offering a platform for real-time conversation. I’m sure that open identity evangelists would say that users should be able to login no matter what platform they have a preference for.”
    http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/01/facebook-twitter-competition/

    In comments: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have online conversations without boundaries? Some applications allow us to post simultaneously to Twitter, Facebook, and more, but there must be a way to make online conversation even more seamless….”

  • A wildcard: The recent economic changes have split up old workgroups. Lots of people are starting projects now. They have a big advantage if they can over-step existing video brands. The timing of this technology shift with the timing of the economic shift points towards disruptive garage-band solutions, a Hewlett-Packard, a Google. Count on surprises.
  • A subthread: Suppose all our communications go through the Internet? Can we (or should we) discard cable/sat broadcast or mobile phone networks? I suspect that replacing one distribution channel with another is not as advisable as using them to supplement each other as appropriate. Our communication channels need such diversity to protect from failure during emergencies, and “Social TV” applications will need to accommodate people who play from local DVRs, from DVD or Blu-Ray, and from live sat/cable broadcast, not just Internet video.

    “When it comes to big live events with millions of people watching at the same time, traditional TV broadcasters have nothing to worry about. Right now, the Internet breaks at about one million simultaneous streams. That is nothing when it comes to the audience size for historic events, or even a big football game. The Internet simply does not shine when it is used as a broadcast medium. And yesterday proved it.”
    http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/21/the-day-live-web-video-streaming-failed-us/

  • I like this quote at NYT: “The Akamai Web tracker showed Internet traffic tapering off quickly as people pulled away from streaming news. On election night, the traffic was more sustained as people crisscrossed the Internet for hours.” Each type of “social video” event will have its own dynamics. It’s not just technology, but how people will spontaneously use the technology.
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/news-sites-struggle-to-stream-obamas-innaguration-speech/?em&apage=2

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OTHER THOUGHTS

  • I don’t think many people have yet noticed the new XMP Library for ActionScript up on Adobe Labs. But when you combine it with the video-to-text generation, Flash and AIR developers will be able to access text alongside the video, do local textsearch to pull up video segments, more.

    “This starts to get really exciting when we take advantage of the speech to text capabilities of the Production Premium CS4. The CS4 apps capture a lot of metadata during the production process and make it available in the final output of the FLV or F4V file. This means that these ‘intelligent’ video files contain rich information that can now be mined/liberated/accessed in AIR and Flex applications with the XMP AS libraries. A great example of this is a demo app we created internally called the karaoke app. It is a simple AIR application that reads the speech to text metadata markers stored in XMP in the video file and displays it automatically in synch with the playback of the video. Here is a screen shot….”
    http://blogs.adobe.com/gunar/2009/01/xmp_library_for_actionscript_on_labs_1.html

    Walkthrough of video metadata generation in CS4 aps:
    http://www.adobe.com/designcenter/cs4/articles/lrvid4104_xp.html

  • There will be great pressure to commercially “own” your conversations. Sites will want to host, to be your hub. I think the next generation of social technology only makes sense when your conversations are yours, and can be with anyone outside of a particular walled-garden. The website model says “you come to our place”; the widget model says “we will deliver our service to you”.
  • We need to adequately advise in the UI when the connectivity is insufficient. This commenter at NewTeeVee blamed the websites. A good video UI, whether desktop or TV or mobile, will give good feedback to the viewer when the pipes are clogged.
    “THEY ALL SUCKED. I tried EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. starting at 10:00 AM and they were all bogged down and laggy.”
    http://newteevee.com/2009/01/20/a-quick-review-of-obamas-inauguration-streams/#comment-252922

  • If one of your friends was in a taxicab, listening to a speech or sporting event on the radio, then they want to join in the fun while texting. We can’t be restricted to a single media feed — good “Social TV” apps will keep the media separate from the convo.

    I stopped in the local Mars Bar Tuesday evening, and they had a flat wall screen showing house specials (looked like Flash), and a few big flat wall-monitors that showed CNN. If the event were live, you’d want to communicate with friends on the mobile, even though they’re watching their home screen or their work screen and you’re watching a shared screen.

  • Finally, one of my favorite quotes of the day, showing despite how far we’ve come in 108 years, there’s still the hazard of dealing with the unpredictable:

    “On March 4, 1901, a lone cameraman in the employ of Thomas A. Edison was dispatched to capture the swearing in of William McKinley. To posterity he delivered a total of 44 seconds of grainy footage showing a white-haired man on the Capitol steps solemnly, if indistinctly, raising his right hand. The snippet lives in the archives of the Library of Congress along with a note apologizing for the Edison Co.’s picayune contribution to American history: ‘The rain began falling in torrents with almost the first words of the President’s speech, which of course prohibited our taking a greater length of film.'”
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/01/obama-inaugurat.html

Summary: Yesterday, many people proved how desirable it is to have a “social layer” working atop your PC’s web video. Over the next year we’ll start to see actual multi-screen “Social TV” start to appear, and it promises to be a game-changer.

Visualizing Social TV

Ever since last week’s explosion of CES announcements about new chips bringing the Internet and Adobe Flash Player to home televisions, I’ve been trying to see some of the implications, some of the possibilities. It’s exciting, but I don’t have a clear picture yet. Below are some of my early thoughts — can you help clarify them, refine them?

Main question: How would _you_ want to use Internet TV? Not “how would you like to develop for it?” but how would you like to be using your own home video display, a few years from now? Knowing all you know of The Internet, all that you’ve seen of web services and local clients, what types of screens would you like to see, what types of controls would you want to exert, what types of communications would you like to have?

What do you think “Social TV” might turn out to be? How would _you_ like it to evolve?

Or even better… if you know someone in elementary school today, how will they like to use their television during junior high?

(I apologize for how disconnectedly this is written… it’s mostly notes pulled together into five sections after a week of reading, and is definitely not a finished essay. If you’re in a hurry, there’s no real news here! If you’ve got time, though, then I need your help in thinking this through, tia.)

Timeline

I think the trend is towards greater control over what we watch, and that private viewing alone does not suffice. Look how things have changed over the past 120 years:

“The movies” were first, whether shown in a baroque theatre, or on a sheet between trees in the village square. People crowded in to watch, open-mouthed. Thirty years later “talkies” turned the popular industry upside-down. Going to the movies was clearly a social event.

After World War II television offered private viewing. Everyone watched everything at the same time — broadcast — but you could choose who to be sociable with, in a setting you could control.

Videocassettes introduced private on-demand viewing. Sex was a big motivator, but once the equipment was out there, people loved the convenience. You could watch whatever you wanted, when you wanted.

In the 1990s there were many experiments in interactive TV, but none really became popular. Towards the end some could access the World Wide Web, so you could mix pages into your screen. But pressing menus and buttons in itself doesn’t really mean much. Interactivity on isolated machines didn’t take off.

Now, with private viewing screens connected to The Internet, powered by clientside logic engines, we’re getting new options for “going to the movies”. But it’s not like trekking to a movie theatre today, with its sticky floors, bacteria-laden chairs, cellphone talkers and other bobo artifacts. You get to relax in your living room, and invite people on the screen (or in the room) that you like, know, and trust.

How do you think “watching the movies” will change in such a situation? When you’re in a safe and sane environment, and when you can communicate (either synchronously or asynchronously) with anyone you want, switching social situations as easily as you switch channels today. What happens then? How do you think people will want to use this?

And it’s a little bit more than that, too, when you add your pocket-device to this world. Your home social viewing situation will be able to move around with you. When you’re “in the cloud” of connected devices, it’s like a virtual cloud of your video/social life can also follow you around, focusing on business when you’re at your computer, focusing on richer experience when you’re in your living room. A virtual “experience sphere” will always be available, manifesting on your different devices, as appropriate.

“Web TV” vs Social TV

As an aside, that term “Web TV” in the newspapers sort of sets my teeth on edge. The World Wide Web is just one application of the Internet, and is not the entire Internet itself. This Web is woven of hyperlinked documents… pages of paper. Television is not a bunch of pages — it keeps going, it moves, it’s closer to the real world, things keep changing. In multimedia days we used to say “Hypercard was stop-until-move, Director was move-until-stop”… documents are either on or off, while real life keeps on moving.

Today’s video websites are webpages that you visit on your computer. Some of them are featuring native clients via AIR, yet still on a screen held eighteen inches away. But now we’re bringing the Internet into the television. Do “pages” make as much sense, away from the document-oriented computer?

The computer is a video screen, and can host video, but is oriented to documents. The World Wide Web is woven of interlinked documents. Computing workstations like pages. But wall displays like to be, well, “a window to another world”.

The computer display has boxy little document windows, but the television display is itself a window, showing you the real world from many places, many times.

You peer into the desktop windows, privately, alone. But a window on the world begs to be shared. Different feel.

The big wall display is becoming a communications device. It’s not like holding your phone up to your ears or your eyes. It’s not like working on a book at your desk. It’s like sitting back, relaxing, and looking out a window — at interesting and changing scenery — with your friends — and maybe Roger Ebert or Jon Stewart.

Screens from your pocket, desktop, and living room will work together, but will not look the same. How should they _act_?

I wouldn’t want to read email on a TV, probably not even “surf the web” because of the smaller input device and the differences in screen distance… I have other screens that are better for that. But I would like to call up text windows on the TV for information about a movie cast, or to check the history in a story. It’s possible to get that with today’s webpage format, but I have a feeling that a personal choice in widgets would work out better.

The question should not be “How can we bring today’s websites onto home TVs?” I think the more useful question is “Sitting back on the couch, in front of a big screen, maybe with a laptop or mobile at your side, what types of experiences would people find most useful?” We need to clear away automatic assumptions, take off our YouTube blinders.

“Yep, that Model T sure is pretty Mr. Ford, mighty futuristic, yep… but where do I hit it with the buggy whip to make it go faster?”

Scenarios

Lots of varied thoughts in this section, none of them completed…. ;-)

If you wanted to buy a video, would you want to fire up a web browser to surf through an online store? I wouldn’t — besides webpages being bloated and slow to load, being able to visit any page on the web means carrying along the whole patched-over security structure of today’s infectious web. I think I’d rather download sidebar widgets from stores and services I trust, and explore video catalogs that way.

There’s the whole issue of read/write TV. We see a little bit of it today with webcams on computers, and some striking use areas (much of the early interest in Flash Media Server was from adult sites), but when your TV changes from a dumb display receiving broadcasts to a luxury computer on the Internet, why shouldn’t you publish just as easily as consume, whether as text chat, audio, or full video?

Would a family separated by a business trip watch movies together, in synch, with live two-way communication? Adobe Connect is already popular for this, even without high-res movies playing at the same time. My bet’s “yes”.

Synchronized viewing makes sense for live events — say, watching football with old college friends, everyone with their friends’ webcams up. Lots of people watch American Idol or the Oscars too. Such content seems a little strange to me, but I’d bet some groups would take up the habit of watching such events with distant friends.

And I also suspect there’s market for asynchronous viewing of annotated video. There are already some video-commenting systems for browsers, but there the pro and consumer content are locked together, and one comment stream serves every audience — broadcast-style comments. But suppose your teacher’s annotation stream, or your friends’ chat session, was a remote XML feed that time-synch’d to the movie whether you got it from DVD, download, or cable?

Take it further… should dubs and translations be baked into the visual stream, or should there be an expandable variety of subsidiary files which can optionally accompany a video? There should be “opensource translation” of many videos, right?

I’d want sidebar notifications on my large-screen display… a little slideout widget that alerts me if a particular email arrives, or if a travel bargain is available. These would be set on the computer, stored in the cloud, and polled and displayed by the television. Makes sense, right?

There’s another implication of Internet TV, where the big display is always connected to communications from other devices. The price drop in flat-panel displays has increased their use in the ambient environment. You see them in restaurants, shops, transit areas, bank storefronts. Some of these show broadcast video, some of them have live weather conditions and advertising, some are in-house signage. These are digital displays, but ITV adds Internet connectivity. What happens when your pocket device talks with the kiosk map?

Other writings

Here are some of the discussions I’ve been reading the past week, while writing the above scenarios:

  • There was a “bloggers vs vloggers” discussion on Techmeme last week… some of this is about technology and media, but much of it is about personality… one of the easiest ways to garner responses online is to say something wrong, and text is easy to copy and respond to. No direct relevance to Social TV, but it shows how media types differ, satisfy different needs.

  • A press release from a signage company, announcing they’ll be using the Adobe Flash Player engine in their new devices. This isn’t the first such announcement, just timely. I wish I knew what percentage of ambient signage was already in Flash. It’s important to me because it means an interface can be portable across device types, even though it may need to be adjusted for the physical capabilities and social setting of that device.
  • An article oriented to the “web tv” perspective: “Here’s what I do want: The ability to use my TV to watch all the great video the Web makes available–actual TV shows and movies like ‘The Office’ on Hulu, ‘Lost’ on ABC.com, ‘No Country For Old Men’ on Netflix’s on-demand service.” That stuff doesn’t interest me personally, but I know lots of people do watch those shows, so I’m not seeing the whole picture. Still, I think the next generation of video will be something different than last decade’s Web and last century’s Broadcast mixed together.
  • At Slate Farhad Manjoo dissected the problems of adding together “WWW + TV”, instead of multiplying “TV * Internet * Flash”. Some cute lines like this: “Passivity is television’s main feature; we love it precisely because it asks so little of us.” I like background video too. But I think he’s seeing only part of the picture here: “Perhaps there are some ‘Lost’ fans who’d like to connect with other fans through their TVs, but I’m still dubious. It’s much easier to express whatever you want to say with a keyboard rather than a remote control.” I agree that text-on-a-TV alone won’t cut it, but I’m betting that mic/cam communications will be quite compelling.
  • The Washington Post sees the problem as bringing the current desktop “web video” over to the big screen near your couch, in article “TV Over the Web: Still a Fuzzy Picture”. That perspective of “TV over the Web” makes it harder to see the possibilities. I think we’ll end up with something wildly different than the current YouTube experience. A little video square inside an unchanging document was just one more hack along the way.
  • While writing this, I heard from Nigel Pegg and Stefan Richter of their in-browser examples of social video… I know there have been other efforts at “social computing, with video”, but I’m not sure of a link to find all such work…?

Meta observations

One wildcard pointing to potentially rapid evolution is the existing ubiquity of visual tooling. Lots of people already use Photoshop and Premiere, and create visual presentations delivered as a video stream. We don’t have to worry much about learning to create new types of media… the shift will be in the addition of a social layer atop it.

Application developers will face these new opportunities first. But the professional creative community is already comfortable contributing.

Adobe is making a big bet on video. Adobe is also making a big bet on Rich Internet Applications. We’ve already got significant tooling support for bringing these two worlds together. We’re not starting from zero… some significant barriers have already been removed.

We’ll need a neutral social layer, spanning device brands. Apple will have its little walled garden, as will others, but you should be able to watch a show with someone who doesn’t own the same brand of hardware, or even necessarily employ the same user-interface. And you shouldn’t have to adapt to a new interface just because you’re getting videos from different sources… advertisers will try to “own the social layer”, but I think it’s stronger when the user owns the interface. I’m seeing widgets and overlays of specific functionality, not pages and frames of pixel-predictable layouts, or different virtual theatres you may attend.

A lot of what we’ll be able to do will be determined by the depth of device APIs on the new type of television. I have next-to-no idea what will open up when. Customizing the interface to your broadcast schedule may not be possible (your sat/cable provider will likely control its UI), and reskinning the interface to your locally-stored programs could go either way, but I hope these devices expose access to playback details… sending an edit-list to friends so they can skip boring parts of a sporting event, or go directly to a given skit on a comedy recording… mashups are possible if the messaging layer can hold playback instructions.

What are the economic opportunities for developers? Too murky to see clearly here in Jan09. We’ve got to wait for these new Flash/Internet-enabled Systems-on-Chip to ship before manufacturers start adding them to displays sold in local stores. We don’t know what the distribution models for content will be… it could end up like the iPhone, with centralized editorial control, but Intel’s announcement for AIR support implies a freer situation. And even when we see the devices and can deliver atop them, it will take awhile for financially-meaningful audiences to buy in. Independent business opportunities are not yet clearly visible.

But we do have an opportunity now to shape the next generation of innovation. If we make good apps early — useful experiences — these can influence future growth.

So… wow, you read this far!? Thanks! You must be wild on this stuff too. Which angles are particularly exciting your imagination today…?

Browser choice in Help

CNET had an article today “Time for vendors to stop foisting IE onto consumers”, with the core being “Why the hell do Adobe CS4 help and Lightroom geotag links launch Internet Explorer? It’s not even my secondary browser, much less default.”

I’ve checked in with the Help team here, and clicking an HTML resource does definitely call up your own primary browser. However, there are some situations where browsers don’t always register themselves with the system correctly… had occurred with Firefox 2, Opera 8, eg. I don’t think Stephen’s still using FF2, but this shows some situations which can produce similar symptoms.

I’d post a comment there instead of a new blogpost here, but CNET requires a CNET membership before reviewing comments, and I’m averse to a password for every site. (There’s also a high noise factor in comments already published there.)

Anyway, the parts of that conversation about “software forcing browsers” seems to be based on an incorrect general assumption, even though there are known situations where primary/secondary browsing settings can go wonky.

Thoughts on the unification of all screens

Big news out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week… Intel, Broadcom, Sigma Designs, probably more are building chipsets for internet-connected home televisions, and they’re using the Open Screen Project to provide Adobe Flash playback directly through the chip. Individual television manufacturers can then drop these chipsets into their new models.

Result? Next generation of home televisions will be competing with integrated Internet access and Adobe Flash capabilities. That’s where we’re heading.

Implication? Your workstation screen, and your pocket screen, and your home recreational screen will all have Internet capability, and all share the same predictable clientside media/logic runtime, included by default, updated on demand. These screens must all work together — interface reconciliation, cloud synch, and, hardest of all, social services.

The game is now much, much larger than just the desktop browsers, or even the desktop machine itself.

We’ve got to start designing to the range of inter-cooperating display screens a person may use throughout a typical day in 2012.

And we’ve really got to work hard at bringing in your friends’ and teachers’ understandings of what’s worth your attention onto those varied screens.

Future applications will be multi-screened, using the cloud, to connect with your friends. That’s where the highgrowth markets are going.

Some additional points:

  • That “SoCs” acronym, or System-on-a-Chip, puts many more functions than just CPU-style processing onto a single chip, and is attractive to manufacturers because the entire system is delivered in a single small package. It will provide known, standard capability across a range of consumer manufacturing brands.
  • I don’t yet know what the APIs will be, what the distribution channels will be… some manufacturers may use Flash support internally for the TV’s native interface, as phone manufacturers like Samsung and Prada have long done, and as televisions like CompleteTV seem to be announcing… other manufacturers may go directly to the full web browsing experience, as Broadcom has announced… Intel’s announced support for AIR implies much wider and more significant use. I don’t know how the devices will come out, only that we’ve seen strong commitment to shipping such devices.
  • Intel’s case is significant. They were a founding member of the Open Screen Project, and obviously had plans by the time the organization was announced last May. Now in January we out here in the public now know what some of those plans were. It will still be awhile until there are appreciable audiences using the yet-to-be-shipped televisions. You and I may not know all the details yet, but that heady list of OSP partners raises many, many possibilities.
  • Why start with Flash Lite? Because it is available now, proven out there in the world, dwarfing devices like iPhone and Android. The work on bringing Player 10 to devices is occurring in parallel. Intel specifically mentions that they’ll be working on AIR for home TV later in their press release. It’s one step at a time, and the ability to do over-the-air updates will help such televisions use the latest version.

I’d like to close out with three quotes on how seriously Adobe is trying to bring this about.

First, Adobe’s David Wadhwani on the core goal, as quoted in the Intel press release: “The Open Screen Project is striving to remove barriers for developers and designers as they look to publish content and applications across desktops and devices.” It’s very simple. It’s about removing barriers to publishing.

Then from the FAQ of the Open Screen Project: “One of the primary goals of the Open Screen Project is to reduce fragmentation by providing a consistent application runtime for developers. With the ability to update Flash Player and Adobe AIR over the air and via the network, developers and content providers can create content that leverages the latest features and functionality of the runtimes, without having to wait months or even years for the latest version to be embedded on devices, or for devices with the latest runtime preinstalled to reach significant market penetration.”

Finally, from Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen himself, when telling the financial community about Adobe’s top priorities: “In closing, as we enter fiscal 2009, we will continue to make strategic investments that will position us well for the future while managing our business to ensure consistent profitability. Our strategic priorities are advancing the Adobe Flash platform as the preferred solution for how the world engages with ideas and information; investing in our core businesses, including Creative Suite and Acrobat, to maintain our leadership position through innovation and continue our expansion into new customer segments and geographical markets; and focusing on our growth businesses, which include LiveCycle, Connect Pro, Scene 7, and Dynamic Media as areas we believe have significant potential for future growth.” PostScript united printers; PDF united documents; Flash will unite interactive displays. That’s Adobe’s DNA.

Summary: We’ve all got some big challenges ahead:

  1. Application design will necessarily move to considering the smallest screen first, then enriching that for workstations, and adding appropriately for large sit-back displays. Rephrased, the interface is not the application, but merely one window into that application.
  2. The necessary corollary to this is “we’re all cloud apps now”… there will still be standalone desktop applications, but this new work has the greatest chance of success if it can span device types, uniting usage scenarios across on-the-go, at-the-desk, and on-the-couch. We’ve made great progress over the last five years in seeing how things work in the cloud, but really, we’re only at the very beginning.
  3. The biggest challenge will be in sustainable social systems. The Internet is great at reducing distribution costs, but imposes its own costs for filtering through the junk to find the gold. The best way to filter is to use the brains of people you yourself trust. Buddy lists, authority-ranking, recommendations, annotations, clustering analysis, Bayesian trash-removal… these are all tools we’ll need when figuring how to make the new cloud-based display tools actually useful to people.

That last one scares me — it’s a very hard problem. But it also offers the greatest rewards. As an example of how we’re still in pre-history, Twitter improved on email by letting you choose authors — could you imagine if Twitter showed you everything everyone wanted to send you, like email did? But Twitter still doesn’t bring you news from people you may know of but not trust as much, and still shows the guy saying “eating french toast” among his mobile commentary. How can you set things up to learn from your friends?

Making screens interactive or drawing with vectors are very simple problems compared to getting the best info from the brains around you. But if we can achieve this goal, then, wow…. :)