The venice project – an event short of a triathlon

I’ve been on the beta-test of The Venice Project since it launched in December last year, but haven’t really had time to play around with it until the last few weeks. so here’s some early thoughts:

Its TV, stoopid
They’re trying to emulate a TV experience, with full screen video, realtime streaming and even a disappearing white dot when you exit the programme. Its incredibly intuitive as a result, but stutters a bit – but that could be my crappy bandwith. It makes for a suprisingly passive experience on a laptop, though – it takes over the display, so you can’t have it in a background window like you can with Youtube, etc. It would be great if you ported it to a living-room screen, though, and moved the controls to a remote, but that’s still a very hard thing for most people to do. I wonder if they’re planning to white-box it to hardware manufacturers, a la Skype? it would be a fantastic app within a lite set-top box – perhaps it could perhaps even be embedded with a cut-down Unix installation on to a SCART plugin?

Social on the surface
The menus float over the video from four ‘homes’ at NESW. You can also add plugins like chat, messenger, RSS tickers from the beta blog, etc to float over the video. Again, this feels weird on a laptop, as i’d expect them to be like other windows/widgets on a desktop, but they’re clearly trying to create a new paradigm that is closer to telly. A partial success for me

Is content king?
The content available at the moment is patchy. There’s a whole channel for Lassie reruns from the fifties, Channel 5’s Top Gear rip-off Fifth Gear, and various music video channels. So nothing that really compels me to watch, or to talk with other users. There’s still hardly anyone on the service, so i’ve tried hanging around in chatrooms, but they’re all empty! reminds me of logging onto to BT’s MUDS in the late 80’s…

So at the moment, my take is that the underlying tech looks really interesting, though probably about 6-18 months ahead for most average users, even further if they’re planning on it being a living room experience, rather than a desktop one. The content is very thin at the moment, but then hey! its a beta!

But I worry that its not social *enough*. Clay has been on fantastic form lately with his posts on the real economics of Second Life, and has a very insightful post on how TV will play out on the internet:

“Media is a triathlon event. People like to watch, but they also like to create, and to share. Doubling down on the watching part while making it harder for the users to play their own stuff or share with their friends makes a medium worse in the users eyes. By contrast, the last 50 years have been terrible for user creativity and for sharing, so even moderate improvements in either of those abilities make the public go wild.

When it comes to media quality, people dont optimize, they satisfice. Once the medium, whether audio or video or whatever, crosses a minimum threshold, users accept it and move on to caring about other attributes. The change in internet video quality from 1996 to 2006 was the big jump, and YouTube is the proof. After this, firms that offer higher social value for video will have an edge over firms that offer higher production values while reducing social value.”

So how good is The Venice Project at the media triathlon? It does well on the quality side, and is making a stab at the social, although it doesn’t feel like a natural in this event. Worst of all, there’s no uploading of user content at the moment, so its a complete dog at creating, and that’s the event that all the competition are breaking records in at the moment. It has the tech(nique) to compete well here as well, but at the moment, its an event short of really being in the game.

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