Future of Web Apps 07 – Part 2

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Part 1 of my roundup is here. Some would say that this is a bit late because the conference was in february this year, but the stuff that Bradley Horowitz from Yahoo had to say is interesting and will only get even more interesting as time passes by.

Flickr is one of the world’s most popular sites where people can share, publish, discuss and organize their pictures online. One of the most important features of Flickr is the fact that people add a lot of descriptions to their images. These descriptions are what we call metadata. All the extra information that we add in addition to the image itself. Title, tags, exposure information from the camera and location data. These metadata are extremely important for a system like Flickr because it makes it possible to find and organize images in a lot of different ways.

The most obvious one is to search for a certain word. Do a search for “Norway” and you will find all the images that people have marked with “Norway” and so on. In addition to all the metadata that people add to their images, Flickr also keeps track of how many people that view an image, how many people that comment on it and so on. In total this adds up to a very detailed database of images that can be searched and organized in a lot of different ways.

Bradley Horowitz on the Future of Web Apps
Among other things, he did a roundup of what they call “interestingness” at Flickr. A way to sort out the best images. According to Horowitz it’s “based on implicit, organic measures.” As far as we know it’s a combination of the amount of views, the amount of comments and the amount of times an image has been marked favorite by the users. Have a look. Here is what’s showing up with a search for “Norway” through the old method of sorting. Newest images on top. And here is the same search sorted by interestingness. As he said, “interestingness works”.

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Then he started talking about new ways of using the data that they have in their database. An example: combine the tag “route66” with the geo location data. Suddenly you can ask Flickr the question “where is Route 66” and it will answer quite accurately (have a look at the slide in the picture above). I don’t think this is the best way to find Route 66 but it is an interesting approach to the use of data from Flickr.

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Then, you can start combining maps with tags. Tell Flickr to show a map of London with the tags people use placed on the map. You immediately get an idea of the most popular places in London and can start browsing images of those places.

Now, combine that with the time stamps and ask Flickr: “Show me places that are popular at night in London.”

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As you probably have understood, having a huge database of images with extreme amounts of metadata added gives some interesting possibilities.

So now you can head over to TagMaps and have fun.

Mr. Horowitz also did a nice demonstration of Yahoo Pipes. An utterly powerful tool that I’ll have to get back to later. If you are confident with RSS feeds and have some understanding of programming I would recommend that you visit Pipes and test it for yourself.

..and you can still find more details from the FOWA07 conference over at Ryan Carson’s blog.

Future of Web Apps 07 – Part 2

Yahoo Go TV dead?

Please see the update at the end of this post!

One of my readers just informed me that the Yahoo Go TV page has vanished. Could be a temporary error. Or, have Yahoo closed the project down? Over at the Yahoo Go TV forum people seems less than satisfied with the latest beta.

Here is the thread discussing this over at the original Meedio forum.

I have emailed the creator of the original MyHTPC and Meedio product, Pablo Pissanetzky to see if he has an explanation.

I’ll let you know if I get an answer.

(Thanks, Trond)

Pablo is answering:

I think some sites are being reshuffled – it is a temporary mistake and not intentional.

Puh! I have faith in this product and believe it could become a success. We need nice applications to bring internet content to the TV screen!

Yahoo Go TV dead?

Yahoo Go for TV just updated

YahooGO TV main screen

There’s a new beta of Yahoo Go for TV out. The update includes:

  • Picture in picture viewing capabilities (sounds cool!)
  • View personal Flickr photostreams
  • Support for more tuner/capture cards
  • Overall user experience improvements (responsive and consistency of menus and navigation, video player and network experience)
  • Movie recommendations
  • Ability to access shared music from your local network

I haven’t had the time to check it out, and I really would like to see a version that would work in Norway as well, but I’ll give it a go and anyone with a working US proxy: feel free to contact me!  🙂

You find my first experience with this software here.

Thanks Dave and Jeff

Yahoo Go for TV just updated

Pandora plugin for Meedio

Screenshot - Pandora plugin for Meedio
…or should I say “Pandora plugin for Yahoo GO TV”?

Anyway, it looks like an excellent plugin. It gives you the Pandora music recommendation engine directly in your media center. Unlike the Pandora plugin for Windows Media Center Edition this one also gives you a bit of control over the Pandora player from your remote.

When will the Pandora guys allow scaling of their player so it will be possible to make it fit better into the big screen user interface? Or even better, make full support for media centers?

(Thanks, Trond and Maarten)

Pandora plugin for Meedio

The death of beta

After writing about my first experience with the new Yahoo GO TV people keep reminding me about the fact that this is beta software. At some point back in time a “beta version” of a software package was a complete version, but with possibilities for bugs and maybe some minor functions missing.

Flickr Beta Gmail Beta

This whole Web 2.0 thing has destroyed the “beta” state completely. “Beta” means nothing as long as the world’s most successful photo sharing site – Flickr is still in “beta” after years of existence and the world’s best web based mail – Gmail is also in “beta”.

So what should the team behind Yahoo Go TV do when they want to show people something before it is completed? Call it “a public preview” or something. If you absolutely want to call it a “beta” because that is so cool and Web 2.0 like then please emphasise what’s the reason for the “beta” state.

For Yahoo Go TV the situation is a bit special since they bought a complete product with a large user base and lots of functions and then release this complete product as a “beta”. This is my suggestion:

1. Analyze what’s the most important functions for the passionate and long time users:
– The configuration tool and flexibility
– The plugins

2. Understand that it is these long time users that will write about your product at once and like it or not, they will compare it with the existing one that they love.

3. Keep those existing functions when releasing the first “beta”

4. If keeping these advanced functions is impossible make it completely clear that they will appear again in a future release. Do that by implementing some extra screens in the installation wizard.

A screen that says “Open the advanced configuration tool” with a greyed out “OK” button and a message that says “This is a preview version, the configuration utility will be back in the next release“. Do the same thing with the plugins and the other functions that you find important. “Add plugins” – Message: we will keep supporting plugins but they are disabled in this preview version. And so on.

Doing so would avoid the negative parts of discussions like this and this. Now, the fact that you follow the forums and the blogs and actually post comments and take part in the discussion is great. Keep up the good work!

Looking forward to the next “beta” or “public preview” or “release candidate” or … of Yahoo Go for TV!


Writely Logo
I forgot to mention another solution. The extremely cool BetaMeter that writely use:
Beta Meter

It’s now on 64%. At least I can see an end to Writely’s beta status.

The death of beta

Yahoo GO TV first take

YahooGO TV main screen
Regarding the fact that this release of Yahoo! Go for TV is beta. Yes, I know. But then someone needs some help regarding communication and control of expectations. I have some ideas for Yahoo here: The death of beta

Then you should note that the good folks over at the existing Meedio forum has done some tweaks and concluded that the beloved configuration tool and most of the plugins actually works with Yahoo! Go for TV. w00t!

And please also note that Patrick Barry from Yahoo! has commented with some very interesting answers at the end of this article. This is very good news. They take the feedback seriously. They listen. They communicate. My hopes for Yahoo! Go for TV just got better!

So as a little preface, here is a quote from Pablo (the brain behind Meedio) over at the Meedio forum:

As some of you know, most of the Meedio Men were doing this work part time. We’ve never had the full team dedicated to this 100%. Now, since we are all Y! employees and this is our only job, we can really put some effort into this…imagine what we can do. Also, now we have top notch graphic artists, user experience designers, product managers, QA folks, technical writers and additional engineers devoted to the cause. A lot of sharp brains are behind this product now.

Original post:
Okay, so Yahoo has started offering their version of Meedio as a free download. For all the features you need to be connected to the internet with an IP from the US. Still I was able to test all the basic functionallity. And I am not impressed.

First, some history:

A long time ago there was a very popular media center software called myHTPC. It offered a nice TV-friendly frontend for your pictures, movies, video files, music and quite a bit of online content through plugins. I used it for a long time together with BeyondTV to give me a computer that offered a complete media archive and a full DVR in my living room.

The advantages of myHTPC:
1. It was free
2. It had a limited but open interface
3. It was stable
4. It was fast
5. It had a large user base that contributed with plugins

So, myHTPC went commercial and became Meedio. A very difficult transition because one of the main advantages of myHTPC was the user community. How do you keep a user community while going from free to commercial? You spend a lot of time caring for the community, you give them a special price on the commercial product and you keep your system open and make an even better framework for plugins and additions to your software. Helped by the fact that the other free competitors was quite immature at the point of the transition they managed to keep the large and active community. Meedio has been one of the strongest and most flexible media center solutions out there for the last couple of years.

They have had some problems with their addition of a DVR solution (Meedio TV) to their core media archive (Meedio Essentials), and a lot of users have kept using Meedio as the media archive and another commercial product, BeyondTV as their DVR.

So what has been the advantages of Meedio:
1. Very flexible, open and configurable
2. A fast database as basis of the media archive
3. A very dedicated user base
4. Huge amounts of plugins to extend it
5. Relatively small footprint and modest system requirements
6. Focus on also supporting countries outside the US

Now Meedio faces another transition. From commercial to free. Should be easier than going from free to commercial, but I am not sure how smooth this transition will be.

What is important when considering a media center?
1. Stability, stability and stability
2. Ease of use, ease of use and ease of use
3. Visual design
4. Functionallity and flexibility
5. User base
6. Price

So, going from commercial to free gives the last point in the list an advantage.

The 60 minute test

Depending on how you click around this page to get to the download you might spot this disclaimer:

Please note:
Yahoo! Go for TV currently is only available inside the U.S, for Windows®-based systems

95% of the visitors will miss it because they’ll go directly to the download. I live in the small and unsignificant country of Norway and already miss point number six from my list of Meedio advantages: “Focus on also supporting countries outside the US”. Okay, I’ll not let the fact that they release for one of the worlds biggest markets in their initial version count as very negative in this little look at Yahoo! Go for TV. As mentioned, you’ll start the download without even knowing about this.

Installation was very fast and easy. It took me exactly 10 minutes to go through the wizard and tune the channels for all the three Hauppauge cards in my computer.

What I miss at this point:
– No questions about my remote
– No possibility to define several locations for music, photos and videos

For the people that has simply clicked the download link and installed the software this message will be a little disappointing when you start the application for the first time:

Error - Not valid US IP

Okay. Disconnect your network or connect through a US proxy. You’ll get a feeling of the basic functionallity.

The well known default Meedio start up sound will chime in and you are presented with the main menu giving you access to Movies, Music, Photos, TV, Video, Settings and a possibility to exit the application.

Compared to a basic setup of Meedio Essentials there is no doubt about the obvious fact that Yahoo wants to focus on online content. Click on the images to get a closer look at what Yahoo defines as the most important features.

Yahoo GO TV Movies Screenshot Yahoo GO TV Music Screenshot
Yahoo GO TV Photos Screenshot Yahoo GO TV Video Screenshot

To put it short: your local content is far down the list in all categories. Your DVD Player is the last choice in the Movies category. LaunchCast and Music Videos are more important than your local music archive. MyYahoo Photos, Shared Yahoo Photos and Flickr are more important than your own local photos. Featured Videos, Top Web Searches and videos from around the world are more important than videos “on my PC”…

I don’t like that kind of prioritizing. Your most important content will always be your own music, pictures and movies. Yes, we want online content in our media centers, but don’t sacrifice ease of use because you want to push your online content.

After a quick tour of the core functionallity I can conclude that the TV module still has stability issues, the music module is very fast compared to Windows Media Center Edition, the photo module is OK, the video module plays what I want nicely.

The music module did not play WMA with DRM and did not attempt to notify me in any way. The tracks was available but did simply not play. No error messages.

The TV module gave a very low quality picture after the default set up through the wizard.

I started looking for the very powerful configuration tool that I am familiar with from Meedio. But it’s not there. The most important configuration options in the application are missing as well. The theme switcher and the plug in installer that we know from Meedio.

Uh-oh. This is crap. It’s at this point I understand that this version of Yahoo! Go for TV does not deserve more of my valuable time. No possibilities for local content from multiple drives. I did not find any way to set up my remote. No flexibility regarding the theme. Actually I didn’t even find a way to change my music directory after finishing the wizard for the first time. Here is the original list of advantages from Meedio tuned to match Yahoo! Go for TV:

1. Very flexible, open and configurable
2. A fast database as basis of the media archive
3. A very dedicated user base
4. Huge amounts of plugins to extend it
5. Relatively small footprint and modest system requirements
6. Focus on supporting countries outside the US

Screenshot - Flickr module
Yes, yes, yes. I know. I did not really test the important part of Yahoo! Go for TV. The online features. I gave the Flickr module a try, but being connected through a proxy usually gives a very poor network performance, so it will not be fair to base any conclusions on my current possibilities regarding the online features of Yahoo! Go for TV.

But I’ll tell you this. As long as the basic functionallity is so limited the online content can not justify this product in any way. Yahoo has to do something serious. Fast.

This is what’s going to happen

The existing Meedio community will flee to MediaPortal. This free and open source solution will outperform Yahoo! Go for TV in all areas for the advanced user. With some plugins, the Democracy player in the background, TVTonic and some simple tweaks you get loads of online content for that solution.

For the regular user Windows Media Center Edition will give you a solid core functionallity and huge amounts of content from the net through Online Spotlight.

The Mac users will keep waiting for the next major upgrade of Front Row and the Linux community will keep having fun with MythTV.

Maybe Yahoo wants to build a walled garden of online services that will only be available on the TV screen through Yahoo! Go for TV. In that case it has to be extremely attractive services to justify the use of such a limited product. If they manage to offer such interesting content I think people will at best use Yahoo! Go for TV as a second application on their media centers that already run MCE or MediaPortal.

Or maybe not. This is what Windows Media Center gave me in the TV module after I had installed Yahoo! Go for TV on my box:

Screenshot - Tuner Not Installed

I have now uninstalled Yahoo! Go for TV and my MCE is back to normal after a reset of the box. Pablo and the people behind Meedio are really excellent guys with a true understanding of how to build a powerful and flexible media center. I still have hopes for this product so I’ll keep following the development. Now I just have to wait for Dave, Thomas, Michael or Om to test the online features…

And by the way. Here is the complete list of Meedio and Yahoo Go for TV alternatives: The media center software list

Digg this story here.

As I said, Pablo and the team are excellent guys. Reading through this thread and this thread at the old Meedio forum gives me hope!

More people with hands on here and here.

Yahoo GO TV first take

It’s official. Yahoo has bought Meedio.

As discussed here. It’s not rumors anymore. Meedio is now a part of Yahoo. Welcome MeeHoo, Yahoodeeo or whatever. Meedio is IMHO one of the best media front ends out there. The platform is very solid and flexible. It has a very strong user community and huge amounts of possibilities. Now Yahoo has to play their cards carefully.

This is on the home page of Meedio today:

Important News About Meedio

Today is a big day for the team here at Meedio; we have sold most of our technology to Yahoo!

David Brott, Jeff (beergeek), Kenny (fasttech), Pedro (flea0) and I are joining Yahoo!’s Digital Home team. We’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Yahoo! in the past few months and we love the way they are developing the best, most user-friendly services for the Digital Home.

As I said before, behind Meedio LLC the company, is Meedio the idea and all of us want to see it succeed. The sad truth is that we had recently hit a brick wall and did not have the resources to make it flourish. But, Yahoo! has a great team that is just as dedicated and passionate as we are in this space and, of course, they carry the content and might of an early Internet pioneer. Together, the combination can be nothing but a winner. We are thrilled at the opportunity to put the Meedio idea together with the Yahoo! experience and bring it to millions of people all around the world!

To be perfectly honest with you, before I wrote the first line of Meedio code, I envisioned a day when it could be used as the “new browser”; to bring all the content goodness that Yahoo! can provide to the 10 foot world. It is really exciting seeing it actually happen.

– Let’s hope that Yahoo keeps the platform open
– That they take good care of the strong existing user community
– That they integrate Meedio closely with their existing content
– That they start delivering proper EPG data for more than the US
– That they understand that digital capture cards and HD give them a competetive edge

…and let’s hope that Pablo and the team just got stinkin’ rich!

Now, when will Yahoo buy YouTube and integrate it into Meedio? And what will Google do regarding our living room and the very intense battle that the other big players are having regarding that space?

Video content still feels very comfortable on the big screen in front of the couch. If Google want to compete with Apple and their FrontRow, Microsoft and their Media Center Edition and now Yahoo and their Meedio front end they have to do something with the available fornt ends for Google Video.

It’s official. Yahoo has bought Meedio.