In defence of Joost

Tom Clarke


JoostMy friend and colleague Nick just published a post comparing the merits of internet TV programs Miro (formerly known as ‘Democracy Player’) and Joost. While he has laid out a convincing argument for why he believes Miro to be the better option, I must say that I completely disagree with him.

Here’s why:

(1) The open-source question. It is well known that Joost is proprietary software, whose source code is not available to the public. Miro, meanwhile, has its source code available under the GPL license, meaning that anyone can tinker with it and create new builds. Being open-source appeals to supporters of the open-source community (including myself), developers and the more astute user. It does not, however imply superiority of quality 100% of the time. The code is important but it’s not the most important thing. No, that’s the content.

(2) The numbers question. Miro has ‘2,600’ channels included in its guide. Joost has about 400. OK, so Miro has more channels. But actually, Joost and Miro consider channels to be very different things. Joost uses the term ‘channel’ like a cable provider would: each channel has various episodes of various programs which will appeal to the same viewer. Miro uses the term ‘channel’ to refer to specific programs. So in reality, the amount of content offered by Joost is not so far from that offered by Miro.

(3) The content question. Joost offers a wide range of content from commercial and non-commercial sources. So you can watch Ministry of Sound TV or the Nelly Furtado Channel, National Geographic or Comedy Central. Miro pretty much exclusively offers free, non-commercial content. Some of it is really fun to watch and will appeal to fans of technology news, podcasts and the like. But some of it (like HD screencasts of The GIMP or Ubuntu) have really very limited appeal. What Joost has recognised is that TV is a mass medium. Lofty ideals like being open-source don’t matter to the majority of viewers. They should, of course, but they don’t. Many viewers are happy to use proprietary software if they get to watch ‘Yoga 4 Dudes‘.

(4) The usability question. Usability, for me, comes next in importance after content in an application of this type. And Joost has far, far better usability than Miro. Consider using the guide to select an Onion News Network episode (available on both platforms). In Joost, you click the big ‘Explore’ button, then select ‘Comedy’ from the sidebar, then pick your channel and you’re away. It took me about 5 seconds. In Miro, the best way I could find it was to click: ‘Miro Guide’ (tiny, hard to spot icon), then ‘Tags’ (the search box didn’t work) then find ‘Comedy’ in the list of tags which is in no immediately discernible order then… oh wait, the search is working now. Type ‘Onion’ and hit enter. Then you have to add the ONN to your library. Miro will start downloading a file (without prompting you), but can’t play it at the same time. Once downloaded, the video didn’t start automatically… instead, I had to select it and click the play button… and then nothing happened. And then Miro crashed. After 3 minutes of not watching my video. That is not good usability.

(5) The distribution question. The fact that Miro didn’t start playing my chosen video as soon as I selected it is the real problem here. Because the software works on a ‘download it then watch it’ principle, you can watch the same show several times as it has been downloaded to your computer. This also boosts picture quality. But it misses the fact that TV and the internet are all about immediacy nowadays. YouTube doesn’t make you wait two minutes before you watch the latest Nelly Furtado video, so why should Miro? Miro is essentially a big podcast program which checks feeds and downloads videos when there are new episodes. Joost offers streaming content which starts the minute you hit play.

Miro has the edge on Joost in one major field: user generated content (which Joost just doesn’t have). I have no doubt that Joost will introduce HD content in time, but I can’t be sure that they’ll be able include user generated content in the same way. If they could, they might just find a way of shutting Miro out completely. In the meantime, I’d say that for all their waffle about open-source and evil corporations, Miro would be better off making software that actually works.

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