Lifting the Venitian blinds

Posted on November 16, 2006, under general, TheVeniceProject.

A few months ago, just before I left Ireland, I promised some more information on my new job. Yesterday, we launched the public website of The Venice Project, where I’ve been working for the past few months, which makes now seem like a good time. You can read Dirk’s post in the company blog for more info on what we’re up to.

TVPers

As can be seen from the site, we havn’t launched fully just yet, and there’s a lot more to come, but we’re now at a stage where we can be slightly more public with what we’re doing. It’s an incredibly exciting place to work; the depth of talent in the organisation is extroardinary, and the approaches to problem-solving that come from that, even more so. The technical challenges, both in terms of development and of operational scale (which is what I’m mainly working on) are exciting and terrifying – we can be sure of one thing; users will not accept crappy quality of service when it comes to TV!

I could go on a lot about the cool technology, some of the great stuff that goes on behind the scenes, the exciting numbers that are involved, the fun atmosphere, but there’ll be time for all that, and it will all make itself clear when you get to use our product for yourself. But for now, I’ll try and explain why I moved country and joined the project, because in telling that story you’ll probably learn more about the true potential of the project.

Anyone who has visited my place in Dublin will have seen my AV setup, and when I’m sitting in front of it, I have a glorius experience. I can immerse myself in entertainment, I can hear the gorgeous tones of Diana Krall in 5.1 surround sound, I can play music on demand from my little server, I can pop in an SACD and hear that, I can pull out a DVD from the hundreds on my shelf and get near-cinema quality right in my living room, and man does it kick total ass.

But when I switch input to my TV, all that changes, I get an apalling resolution, with an even worse refresh rate, on my 2 metre screen. Most of the channels make me reel in visual pain, I actually wince nearly each time and it takes a concious effort to distract myself from the terribleness of it all. There’s no consistent colour mappings or contrast, I don’t have 5.1 (o.k., I’m too cheap to fork out on digital), certain formats and aspect ratios are frequently cropped or deliberately played at the wrong rate (did you know that most NTSC to PAL conversions involve changing the pitch of the soundtrack?) and outdated teletext is all that’s available in terms of contextual information.

Someone really needs to fix all of that. But that’s not The Venice Project. Rather, the point I’m trying to make here is that I’m an audio and visual nut, not as mad as some people I know, but pretty mad all the same. I’m so mad that it’s nearly physically painful for me to watch TV. And yet, if I had to guess the percentage of time I spend using my shiny expensive equipment to do just that, I’d say it was around 90%.

That tells me a lot. There is something uniquely compelling and appealing about television. I can watch up to the minute news and current affairs, or the latest episode of CSI, or a movie that’s being screened and I can do so easily and lazily. Even for non-news content, there is a real sense or immediacy; in which there is somehow a participation in a shared experience, where I and others get to view the latest (and often greatest) cultural output all at roughly the same time. Sure, it might be just a dumb soap, but we still feel a connectedness to the characters and want to be able to talk about them and their situations the next day. It might be a headline scandal-revealing documentary, and we all need a good opportunity to be outraged, or it might just be a film we’ve seen before, but we’ll still end up talking about it the next day.

Television isn’t just a passive viewing experience, it’s long been part of identity, and part of a social network. People have been defining who they are – in part – by the shows they watch, for over half a century, and people have been talking about those shows with each other the next day for just as long. TV was building and harvesting social networks before anyone ever even bothered to think of those things as concepts, it just never had a truly effective feedback mechanism.

We’re not adding community, that’s already there; it’s over 40 years since the Star Trek cult began, and when that started telephone directories were the pinnacle of information interconnectness. As Dirk says, we’re adding community features, ways of empowering the viewers.

Our product kicks ass, but what made me most excited about the project, and what ultimately made me leave Ireland and move to the Netherlands to work on it is the simultaneous implications all of this has for viewers, advertisers and content creators. When I saw the demos, and the concepts, it really did shift some things I’d previously assumed. That making things better – or more attractive – for advertisers could only ever annoy viewers or that making things more secure for content owners could only ever limit what viewers could do.

I joined this project because I genuinely believe we have a chance to help shape the future of culture. Fundamentally, my own guess is that TV isn’t going to change – its format and content is the result of our inate desires and responses – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be made better still; more social and responsive to viewers and more accessible and rewarding for creators. The Venice Project isn’t a new medium, it’s not like being around when the Gutenburg press was invented, or TV itself. This is more like the unleashing of potential. It’s like being around when film was first developed in colour, the postal system was invented and the first affordable home-movie camera was released, as if they were all happening at the same time.

In the meantime, I’ll be cursing my regular TV even more, now that I’ve seen at least one vision of the future, and it looks a lot better.

13 Replies to "Lifting the Venitian blinds"

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Peter Childs  on November 23, 2006

As posted:
Colm MacCárthaigh writes pretty compellingly about the the Venice project – which adds features to enhance the community that assembles around TV content. Based on his descriptions I’ve signed up for the beta – though I’m not sure what it is – except that it’s P2P based, has some pretty impressive contributors and backers and lets me see what I want, when I want it.

The Projects web site says the Venice Project “is a new venture that combines the best elements of the TV experience with the most powerful Internet technologies, in a way that will redefine the way people think about television.”

I understand the direction – Every form of media needs a strategy that uses web technologies that build on the unique characteristics of its content to enhance the audience experience.

What’s interesting is the way different media deliver their content shapes the types of Internet applications that are applicable – and the way the media source integrates the web component into it content delivery. Take radio – it chunks its content into short pieces and bridges them with conversational breaks. Integrating on-air and on-line is easy. All stations need to decide what their listeners would want to do on line, which shouldn’t be hard to figure out either by asking them or trying a few things.

What intrigues about Project Venice is that I’d always though TV would be one of the most difficult to integrate with web apps. At one level that because anything that appears on the screen that’s not the desired content seems a intrusion – and the costs of air time are so high that the upside benefit of promoting a web destination has to be guaranteed if it’s promotion is going to be a part of the stations branding.

True I’d overlooked communities like ‘treckies’ that assemble around some programs – but they are an anomaly not the rule.

It’s an interesting challenge and I’m excited to learn how Venice Project addresses is – and whether that serves notice to other media types.

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Rising from the Murky Depths  on December 9, 2006

[...] In a watery contrast to the real Venice, The Venice Project surfaced from stealth mode recently (and I just fixed my blog, so I figured I’d get caught up). Our blog has some more official news and buzz, too. People who know me at this point will be wondering why I’m involved in a TV project when I hardly ever watch TV, but we’re actually aiming to solve much of my irritation. Colm writes about what TVP solves for him, and I agree that the social aspect is one the fundamental points to our work. We’re seeing – via MMORPGs, blogging communities, etc – the attraction that connectedness has and the importance people are beginning to attach to sharing and aggregating data effectively. Leo has written about some of the underlying technologies that parts of the project are using, although unfortunately he somewhat takes the reasoning behind the choices for granted. My other major problem with TV is timing. This one is pretty obvious, but being able to build channels with content that I want to watch, and watch them when I want to is pretty compelling. And I’m looking forward to combining these two… So what am I doing? I’m broadly doing operations, with – unsurprisingly – a Linux bent… But more about that later. [...]

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adrian legg  on December 18, 2006

Hello there,
Lucky you! As I scanned through the Venice site I found your blog. I was hoping I could ask you for an invite to join the beta testing of the Venice project, I have signed up but it also recommended that you “begged” other users for a signup. So a virtual Irishman is kindly asking for a sign up to this exctiting project.

Thanks very much and good luck with it all!

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Justin  on December 23, 2006

hey, I’m afraid I’ve tagged you for 5 things: http://taint.org/2006/12/20/150656a.html

sorry about that. but merry xmas! ;)

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Eoghan Ne Dalaigh  on December 31, 2006

Hi Colm, Read your Venice Blog and was wondering if you could spare a token for an ex leper !!

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Kwadwo  on January 16, 2007

This project is so awesome, Its coming up so fast, stuff like MCE, joost and other.

If somebody could invite me for a quicker view, I’d make my day :) kad@adu.dk

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Bill Walsh  on January 17, 2007

Ok Heres the deal.

Im from kilkenny, so in the true irish way i hope you give me preference when i say i want to join the joost beta. It sounds great. Its sure to be a sucsess, cos theres no other site like it. will the quality really be as good as in the screen shots?, and will it get RTE?, you know how i like my Angelus at 6 o clock!

Neway, Give us a buzz, or an email, or best of all, just the invite!

Im BEGGING YOU!!!!!!!!!!!
bilwalsh@gmail.com

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YuSuPh  on January 18, 2007

Great and great project.
I’m happy for i have been beta tester. This is really good. Good works boys.
Television out – Joost in :)

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Alex  on January 20, 2007

Hi Colm,

May I pls score an invitation/token?

My e-dress = amarsan@gmail.com

Thanx for your time – much appreciated.

Best regards,
Alex

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Irish Girl  on January 21, 2007

Hi Colm,

I read your blog…

Would you be so kind as to send a cute irish girl an invite to Joost?

irishgirl2@gmail.com

Thank you in advance

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grazitaly  on March 4, 2007

Great project!!

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Runa  on April 18, 2007

I found accidentally your blog searching about Venice (…!) and I wonder how it’s interesting.

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Awaiting a Venice-Project Beta « Pete’s View  on April 2, 2008

[...] 23, 2006 by Peter Childs Colm MacCárthaigh writes pretty compellingly about the the Venice project – which adds features to enhance the [...]

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