I’ve been participating in the beta test of a hotly anticipated new program called Joost. It’s essentially a video-on-demand service from the people who brought you Kazaa and Skype, which uses proprietary technology to make high quality video over the internet as instant as your TV. Unlike video sharing sites such as YouTube, you won’t get to upload your own videos to Joost. They will provide the content through contracts with various TV and movie companies, and show the programs in appropriate Channels. For example, they might have an NBC Channel where you can catch up on episodes of Heroes. Or you might go to the Warner Brothers Movie Channel to watch the movie Batman.
While still in beta, the content is pretty limited. I can watch some National Geographic documentaries, a few episodes of the World’s Strongest Man competition, some Canadian music video programming, and that’s about it. But while Joost is working on adding new content and improving the video technology, I’m still left wondering where the feature is that will make me want to watch video on demand with Joost instead of with, say, my local cable company or other on-demand service. Is it enough that the video starts in 5 seconds instead of 5 minutes like with other high-quality streaming video services? Maybe. But my cable box is even more instant than that. There’s a real opportunity here to make Joost something different and better than television, instead of something that’s as close to TV as possible. That’s where my idea comes in.
I imagine a feature that combines all the best elements of social websites like Digg, the humorous style of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the educational aspect of DVD commentary tracks, the user-contributed spirit of a Wiki, the format of Pop-Up Video, and integrates it all with Joost. It could make even the dullest content interesting and fun to watch, and make the best programming even better. Here’s how it works:
HOW IT WORKS
If I have the yet-to-be-named feature turned on, I can choose to use Joost in one of three modes: Writer Mode, Voter Mode, or Viewer Mode.
In Writer Mode, whenever I pause the program I’m watching, a window pops up that I can type in. Joost uses a time stamp to remember where I was in the program when I wrote this comment, and also remembers where on the screen I’ve put the window. Then I can type in any comment I want. Preferably, it’s either informative about the particular scene (e.g. “This scene was filmed at Maine North High School in Chicago”), or it’s a funny comment on the scene. I can tag it appropriately as “funny” or “informative” so Joost knows how it’s intended.
In Voter Mode, I watch the movie with a window overlaid in which all the comments people left scroll up automatically. I get to vote every comment up or down based on whether I agree that it’s funny or informative or neither of the above. In my illustration, all the comments are white, but perhaps they would be different colors to specify funny or informative. If there are too many comments to reasonably vote on so quickly, I can tell Joost to not show me every comment so that it’s more manageable. I can set the pace myself. Or I can just vote on the ones that jump out at me, ignoring the others.
In Viewer Mode, I can watch a program or movie with comments turned on. They will show up where and when the commenter specified, and then disappear after a few seconds. Because people read at different paces, I can control how many pop-ups I want per minute. If I say I want 12 per minute, only the 12 highest rated pop-ups will be shown in each minute of the program. I can specify if I want to see just the funny comments, or just the informative comments, or both. I can choose to read the highest-rated comments of all time, or just of the last month or week or day. I could watch the same program week after week and experience it with a whole new set of commentary. And at any time, I can switch to a different mode if I think of a new comment to add or if I want to vote down a lame comment I just read.
It’s possible that someone might have written a highly-rated comment that only makes sense if you’ve read a particular earlier comment that isn’t as highly rated and may not be shown. To make sure this doesn’t happen, the writer can indicate his comment is a “reply” to a specific earlier comment. In this way, a “reply” comment with enough votes to be shown automatically bumps up the earlier comment so it’s also shown.
This could be a lot of fun. Imagine watching a show like Heroes once, and then watching it again with comments turned on to see what other people caught that you missed. Also, this has potential to make programs appealing that people wouldn’t otherwise watch. Joost could worry less about making deals with content providers, because even free content like old copyright-expired movies become entertaining in a whole new way. So much of what makes Web 2.0 great is the community-generated content, and right now Joost offers no new way for the community to interact with its product except passively.
Sure, it does have an integrated chat window, but that’s nothing new that I can’t already do with any of a dozen IM programs. And because Joost offers video on demand (as opposed to live broadcasts), it’s unlikely that I’d be watching in sync with anyone else in a chat room anyway, which limits the usefulness of channel-specific chat. This idea could solve the problem of commenting in real time, and makes sure all the best comments rise to the top.