Internet Media Sharing That’s As Simple as Turning on a TV
If you fancy yourself an amateur TV network exec, the Web now has any number of tools to help you create and broadcast your own personal multimedia channel. I’ve tested several, including SplashCast, Vizrea, Veodia, and Bubbleshare, and have several more on my list to try, such as MixerCast, Flektor, Stickam, Ustream, blip.tv, Vpod.tv, Kyte.tv, and Cozmo.tv. But all of these services suffer from what I’ll call a high “geek quotient” that will probably limit their adoption. You have to know something about creating, formatting, and uploading media files in the first place. And then, to embed the channels in your Web pages, it really helps to have an understanding of HTML and blogging tools.
But why should geeks have all the fun? The guys at EnjoyMyMedia (yeah, none of us here much like that name, either), a small, self-funded startup based in Concord, MA, have been working on what they call a “brain-dead-easy” media-sharing system that mainstream netizens can use to broadcast their photos, videos, audio files, and other files to friends and family members without learning a line of code. At the heart of the system is the Really Simple Syndication or RSS standard, which, despite its name, is a somewhat technical way to subscribe to Web content. But EnjoyMyMedia’s software masks the details behind a truly easy-to-master interface and a familiar television metaphor revolving around “transmitters” and “receivers.”
“My 72-year-old dad is a target customer for this, and if you asked him what a blog or a social-networking site is, he would not have a clue,” says Keith Loris, EnjoyMyMedia’s president and CEO. “But if you say I’m going to have a transmitter on my PC and you’ll have a receiver with my channel, he gets it right away, because he watches TV.”
Loris says he and partner Bill Oncay, the company’s chief technology officer, set out to build EnjoyMyMedia two years ago. Their motivation: both had ReplayTV DVRs and were both fans of the fast-paced Fox show 24, but were frustrated because there was no easy way to swap video files if one of them forgot to record an episode. “It was like, why can’t I send this to you?” recounts Loris. “We could have FTP’d it [that is, used the ancient File Transfer Protocol--eds.], or set up a website for temporary storage, and we actually had the skills, but it would have been a pain. That was the impetus—-thinking that there’s got to be a better way.”
The pair designed a PC program would monitor a hard drive for new content, then send the content automatically to another PC, but the transfer mechanism was still a quandary. “At one point we had the bright idea of marrying that with RSS,” Loris says. All Web browsers today allow users to subscribe to RSS feeds, which are essentially notification services that alert subscribers whenever a new media item has been published somewhere on the Web. Loris and Oncay took that a step further, devising a way to create an RSS feed for an individual Windows folder on a user’s computer.
To begin “netcasting” on EnjoyMyMedia, a user simply has to designate a folder on their hard drive as the “channel” for the data to be transmitted, then send invitations through the EnjoyMyMedia website to friends or family members. Subscribers can add channels to the free RSS receiver pages provided by iGoogle, Firefox, Internet Explorer, My Yahoo, Facebook, and the like. Every time the netcaster adds a file to the designated folder, a thumbnail representation of it shows up immediately in every subscriber’s RSS feed. But only when a subscriber clicks on a thumbnail is the file actually transmitted.
By making media-sharing so simple, Loris, Oncay, and partner Warner Jones (the company’s vice president of website products) hope to attract a user base of average families—the kind of people who exchange birthday-party photo prints as a matter of course, but wouldn’t be likely to sit down and spend several hours uploading digital photos to a site like Flickr.
And given this family orientation, the company is putting an emphasis on security—even at the expense of some convenience. “I don’t want a video of my 15-year-old daughter just floating out there on the Web, where who knows who’s going to watch it,” says Loris. Subscribers are required to enter a username and password to view the thumbnails they click; a password is good for 24 hours, after which the viewer must log in again. (Security was once Loris’s bailiwick: He was president and CEO of Softlock, a company that earned fame for providing the digital-rights-management software protection for “Riding the Bullet,” a Stephen King novella published solely in e-book form by Simon & Shuster in 2000.)
EnjoyMyMedia’s basic service is free, and includes a 200-megabyte online locker where frequently viewed files can be stored so that others can download them “on demand,” i.e., even if the netcaster’s PC is off. The company plans to earn revenue by offering larger on-demand lockers—$4.99 a month for 10 gigabytes and $9.99 for 40 gigabytes. Paying users will have advertising-free channels, while people on the receiving end of media posted by free netcasters may see targeted ads.
Other software packages, such as Adesso Systems’ Tubes, also turn Windows folders into vehicles for private file-sharing across the Internet. But most require some kind of software to be installed on both ends of the connection, and that, Loris believes, means that none of these services are as simple or as straightforward as EnjoyMyMedia. “There are companies out there with ‘tubes’ and ‘pipes,’ but what does all of that mean to the average user?” says Loris. “Now, broadcasting—I kinda get that.”