Sunday, May 06, 2007

Joost: TV the way you want it (well, almost)

If you are a heavy Web 2.0 user like me, you probably find ordinary TV extremely boring. Nowadays, whenever I watch TV for more than 5 minutes, I always end up dreaming of right-clicks for more info, the ability to skip, fast forward, and most importantly relevant content. There are few things that bore me more on TV than the evening news - why should I listen to some people reading general interest news I mostly already read on the net? Not to mention the poor coverage of areas that I'm really interested in... Yep, cable TV is still so 20th century, and a real bore for digital natives or immigrants.

Luckily for all of us, things are changing. And one of the most promising new tools seems to be Joost TV: a new peer-to-peer based technology for distributing TV content over the Web in a more interactive way. And at the beginning of this month they finally gave their beta users unlimited invites, so I was also able to get one a few days ago. In this post I'd like to share with you some of my first Joost (pronounced like "juiced") impressions:

Setting Up
First of all you need an invite (although I had some problems with sending invites I can probably get you one if you mail me your name and e-mail at ialja(at)mac(dot)com). Then you have to download the Joost application (good news - it runs both on Macs and PCs - Linux is still not supported though). Downloading the application can take quite some time as their site can get really slow (probably due to high traffic). When you download the application, you install it and run it (it takes same time for it to load the first time), you create an account and are prompted to give them your birthday - and then asked to confirm that you are over 18 (hmm). That's all it takes for the Joost experience to start. You are greeted by a presentation video and can immediately start watching channels on your list, or add new channels through the Channel List.

Good content is of course key. You can check out the list of available channels on the Joost website. So far most of the channels are in English, but we'll probably get more content in other languages soon. As you can see from the channel list, some channels are limited to a certain geographical area, though most are accessible worldwide. On Joost you can get brief info on each channel, and browse the list of available shows for each channel. You can choose to play the whole channel or just individual shows, as one would expect. You have the ability to rate each show, and to use channel chat while watching a certain channel (a feature I haven't tried out yet, because I watched most of the content on TV). A lot of the Joost content is not very well known, so search is definitely a great tool to browse content that is always at hand. The good thing is that it doesn't just search the channel and show titles, but also descriptions, so I found it to be pretty useful.

If you connect your computer to a TV it seems like you're watching real TV. The video plays smoothly most of the time, and the overall quality if quite impressive. Certainly better than I expected. When more content gets added, I think Joost will be a great replacement for my existing cable channels!

User Interface
Joost is quite easy to use - you don't really need a manual. You need to run it full screen to get all the extra features, and it does have the look of a TV application. Navigation is pretty easy, although not perfect. I did have some problems with the My Channels list: I was unable to reorder the channels (one attempt even crashed the application), and when I started Joost on my laptop, the My Channels list was again filled with the default channels. Also, after removing some channels from my list, they mysteriously reappeared as my channels in a few minutes. Well, it proves that the software is still beta for a reason. One interesting feature of the interface are the widgets that you can have on screen if you want. So far the collection of widgets is limited (you do have the clock however ;) and an RSS widget), and users can't write their own widgets; although the developers are promising a future developer kit for widgets.

So, my first impressions of Joost are positive. I already managed to find some interesting content (some music channels are good, and I really enjoyed a documentary about cats :) ), and although I was impressed by the quality, I got the impression that for now Joost developers are mainly focusing on testing the technology, and not so much on the user experience. Here are some features that I'd like to see in future versions of Joost to make it the TV the way I really want it:
  • I'd really like to have a web interface to manage my channels. An easy way to add, remove, and reorder channels at anytime and anywhere. I'd like the ability to add channels to my Joost list with one click from anywhere on the web. Also, the same My Channels list has to be accessible on Joost from any computer.
  • It'd be great to have a Joost social network. I'd like to be able to have Joost friends, see what my friends are watching, and of course an easy way to recommend a show/channel to friends. Also, it'd be great to be able to favorite certain shows and connect with people that like the same shows.
  • I think we also need recommendations. So far there is only limited content on Joost, but soon I think it's be really great if you had an Amazon-like "People that liked this show also liked the following shows..." feature.
  • Another feature that could help you find content would be content tagging and tag clouds. Why should we browse shows only on a certain channel if I'm only interested in content with certain tags?
  • In addition to tagging - is it to much to dream of a RSS feed for certain tags? RSS feeds for new content make a great feature, as a Joost user has already figured out.
  • A YouTube-like playlist feature would also be welcome. Imagine creating a playlist of Joost shows relevant to your course that you could easily share with your students or your group.
  • I'd also think it's be interesting to connect Joost to existing sites and networks. For example: the ability to easily post a video response to a Joost show on YouTube, having a web widget that could display your favorite or recently watched shows/channels on your blog etc.
  • I also hope we'll be able to have subtitles on Joost. Subtitles would improve accessibility, and in my ideal TV application you'd provide the users with an easy way to translate existing subtitles in their own language.
With addition of some of the features that I mentioned above, I think Joost could also become a new exciting learning tool. The TV of the 21st century that can be used to connect, explore and learn new things. However, at this point Joost is still an exciting new tool that is worth giving a try, but still needs some improvements to become the TV 21st century learners need and want. That means that for now I'm keeping an eye on Joost, and I hope that I'll soon be able to report exciting new Joost features that will improve our user experience and make Joost much more than just an internet TV :)

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.