Looking for a fun, functional, low-cost project to knock out during the holidays? Check out this clever repurposing piece from the pages of MAKE Volume 10, offered up by David Battino with help from George ‘the Fat Man’ Sanger.
Web television has matured significantly in 2009; we’ve seen the introduction of the Streamy Awards, Dr. Horrible seized control of the Emmys, and the launch of more internet TV-related startups than we can count. TV-over-IP is starting to hit television sets thanks to set-top-boxes, TVs, and disc players with built-in streaming capabilities, and like print media before it, traditional broadcast television is beginning to grapple with the inevitability of an Internet-driven future.
Here are several companies that believe they are well-positioned for the transition — big and small, old and new. This isn’t a complete list by any stretch, but these samples will give you an idea of where the industry is headed in 2010.
Along with TV networks’ own websites, Hulu has been one of the de facto destinations for users seeking network television programming on the web. It’s a joint venture between NBC, FOX, and ABC, and while it still isn’t profitable, it’s arguably the best example of giving users what they want from a site that streams professional content.
At the 2009 Digital Hollywood conference NBC executive Mark Graboff said, ‘Hulu is basically an anti-piracy move.’ If you’re a major TV studio, it’s better that viewers are getting the content from you with minimal advertising than from BitTorrent and RapidShare pirates with no advertising at all.
In addition to shows from participating broadcast and cable networks, Hulu distributes some programming that originates on the web. You can’t be sure where Hulu is ultimately going to go — though premium subscriptions have been discussed — but at the moment it’s a strong proof of concept.
Never mind the fact that the Apple TV set-top box has been a niche success at best, iTunes is the world’s largest online distribution platform for pro-quality videos. You’ll only beat its variety of programming by subscribing to cable or satellite television.
The downside is that it’s expensive — $2.99 per episode if you watch in HD. But insiders have said that Apple is approaching TV studios to sign them up in a new plan: $30 per month for an all-access pass. If you have a set-top box or home theater PC to watch all those HD shows in your living room, getting cable or satellite for twice the price suddenly seems pointless. Oh, and you’ll be able to watch those shows on your iPhone or iPod, too.
If Apple succeeds in convincing the producers of content to cooperate, it’ll be a red letter day for Internet TV.
Boxee doesn’t produce video content, and it doesn’t distribute anything on the web, either. Instead, it provides an interface for watching the stuff other people have made and distributed on your television set. Boxee software is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux home theater PCs, and you can run it on an Apple TV box too.
Using Boxee’s media center, you can browse videos from all over the Internet in an interface that is usable several feet away from the screen with a remote. Boxee also offers social networking features; you can rate everything you watch and recommend stuff to your friends.
Getting web TV into the living room is critical for the medium’s future, and Boxee is near the front of the line.
At launch, web TV guide Clicker indexed 400,000 episodes from 7,000 TV shows. It lists content from distribution channels like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, and numerous smaller sources. There’s not a better place to search for professionally produced content to watch online and the company has also partnered up with Boxee.
The size of the database isn’t the only draw — Clicker also provides tools for browsing shows without typing in text searches; that will be a big deal when and if the service makes its way to tablets and other mobile devices. The database is organized by network, genre, and several other tags. The idea is that you can go to Clicker thinking, ‘I’m in the mood for a science fiction comedy produced by the same people who made that other show I like,’ and find something to satisfy your craving.
The Revision3 network was founded in 2005 by several TechTV alums, including Digg founder Kevin Rose. The network produces, distributes, and markets several shows for niche audiences. (Most of them are tech-related talk shows.) Just over a year ago, Revision3 began distributing and marketing shows produced out-of-house.
Next New Networks launched in 2007, and it operates several websites that each push out videos on specific themes. For example, Barely Political focuses primarily on politically satirical music videos, and Indy Mogul runs several film-themed programs.
These two ventures are included here as examples of bona fide TV networks on the web, delivering regularly scheduled programming just like NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS, or The CW do. Both Revision3 and Next New Networks employ a super-distribution strategy — that is, they send their content to as many outlets as possible, including BitTorrent, YouTube, iTunes, and numerous others.
Revision3, Next New Networks, and other networks produce shows for niche audiences that mainstream television can’t afford to reach due to limited over-the-air shelf space. The New York Times thinks that might be the strategy that will win the race.
Some Hollywood celebs are trying their hands at this, too.
Joss Whedon’s Mutant Enemy Productions was behind the broadcast TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse. It’s listed here because of just one web project: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. From the Hollywood camp, the three-act show starred Doogie Howser and Barney Stinson himself, Neil Patrick Harris. Opposite him was Felicia Day, Internet-famous as the creator and star of the web TV series The Guild (though she has appeared on TV, including an 8 episode stint on Whedon’s Buffy).
Dr. Horrible won seven Streamy Awards, became a minor pop culture phenomenon, proved that people are willing to watch long-form content on the web, and — as we mentioned earlier — briefly took over the Emmy Awards ceremony when Neil Patrick Harris hosted.
There’s also Gary Sanchez Productions. The company is owned by Saturday Night Live alums Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Their flagship product, Funny or Die, is a site that streams short comedic videos made by recognizable names like Judd Apatow and Zach Galifianakis. Users vote ‘Funny’ or ‘Die’ when watching each video, and the videos that get good reviews inevitably go viral.
Mutant Enemy and Gary Sanchez have demonstrated that figures from traditional TV media can make a big impact on the web. We’ll see how many more celebs successfully follow in their footsteps.
Apple’s acquired online music streaming service Lala, and ‘people familiar the matter’ are confirming that Apple is planning on bringing a web interface to iTunes—we want to know: would you use it?
Currently, Lala allows for 89-cent MP3 downloads and 10-cent stream-forever purchases (per song, that is). It’s unknown at this time whether this business model would change, but it is likely that it would allow you to use iTunes without downloading the software, store your music in the cloud, and stream music to your Apple devices (such as the iPhone).
We’ve all been there at some point, you’ve got a perfectly functional Ethernet cord that somewhere along the line had its tab broken off. Don’t buy a new one or re-terminate the cord. Fix it with zip ties.
While were no stranger making our own Ethernet cables—you can probably find a few RJ-45 connectors hanging out with the dust bunnies under our work bench—sometimes its not convenient or you dont have the tools to strip an Ethernet cable, strip and reposition the pairs, and re-terminate it. Its an even bigger annoyance when the only reason you find yourself having to do it is a missing plastic tab on the connector plug.
Over at the ever-growing tutorial blog Instructables they have a tutorial on how to fix a broken RJ-45 connector using two zip ties, a razor knife, and a pair of pliers—although if youre going full MacGyver you could skip the pliers. When youre done youll have a functional tab on your Ethernet cable. Check out full tutorial at the link below and if you have your own clever use for zip ties or other inexpensive tools—duct tape anyone?—we want to hear about it in the comments.
Repair a Broken Ethernet Plug [Instructables]
We’ve labeled Clicker.com as a one-stop shop for streaming television, and it makes great sense as a dedicated app in the media center Boxee. From one interface, you can find nearly everything you can stream to your TV-connected setup.
Clicker’s app doesn’t include everything on the Clicker.com web site—just the stuff that Boxee knows how to handle. That includes content from Hulu, CBS, Comedy Central, and web streaming channels like Autotune the News, The Guild, and many more. The search bar is where the app really shines, but its categorical divisions make sense, too.
Clicker’s a free app for Boxee, and you can install it by heading to the App Box in the left-hand menu. Clicker will be included as a default app in the upcoming new release.
Clicker <3s Boxee…and your TV [Clicker Blog]
We’ve already talked about using RSS as a business intelligence tool, but how do you choose the right software to get maximum benefit out of your news reading? With a number of options and myriad features on multiple platforms, it can be a daunting task to even get started.
In this article we’ll take a look at some of what you might consider when shopping for a news reader. Do you need cutting edge, up to the second information at your fingertips? You might want to look at ‘ticker’ style applications that scroll new headlines continuously. Or maybe you need to monitor a large number of feeds but are primarily interested in a subset of specific keywords or topics. In that case, you’d want to look for an RSS reader that supports a Smart Folders or Saved Searches feature.
If you need to keep news feeds in sync across multiple platforms, from Mac to Windows or from the web to a desktop or mobile clients, there are solutions out there for you too. Many of these readers also help you share individual articles and posts with your colleagues and collaborators as well. Let’s take a look at some of the options available online, on your desktop and on your phone.
The reigning king of online newsreaders is currently Google Reader. One of the advantages of an online RSS reader over a desktop version is accessibility: you can use it from any web browser, even if it’s not your primary computer, and all your feeds will be exactly the way you left them. Of course, one of the disadvantages of a web-based newsreader is that you typically need an active internet connection to make use of them, whereas a desktop client can download feed items you can later read offline.
One of the areas Google Reader excels, however, is in its ability to also sync with various desktop and mobile clients. Not only does that give you some measure of offline access to your feeds (as does installing and enabling Google Gears), but it prevents you from having to sort through some of the feeds you’ve already read elsewhere when you switch from your computer to your phone, or even from web to desktop client. We’ll look at some of the desktop and mobile clients Google Reader syncs with in the next two sections.
Another potential option in this category is NetVibes. Though it’s officially classified as a Start Page moreso than an RSS reader, it can import and monitor news feeds along with a number of other apps or widgets designed to bring various types of information into one at-a-glance interface. NetVibes offers far more flexibility and customizability than a straight up RSS reader, but the downside is it’s not the best solution to monitoring a large volume of feeds. Google also has a similar product dubbed iGoogle worth checking out as well.
If keeping news feeds in sync between a Macintosh and a Windows computer is part of your requirements, you’ll want to take a look at two industry-leading news readers on their respective platforms: NetNewsWire and FeedDemon. Both of these readers sync with Google Reader, making cross-platform feed reading a lot more painless. Even if you don’t need cross-platform compatibility, both readers are full-featured and worthy contenders for your desktop feed reading needs. Both offer the ability to watch for specific keywords or set up saved searches that automatically bring up important topics in your niche to the forefront of your news reading sessions.
Another worthy option on the Mac is Shrook a free RSS reader that syncs back to the web to keep your feeds in line whether you’re reading from your Mac, iPhone, or any computer with an internet connection. On Windows, take a look at the free and open source RSSOwl.
For a news ticker type experience on either the Mac or PC, check out Snackr, an Adobe AIR client that continually scrolls headlines from your feeds across your desktop. This type of news reader can be handy for those who want to be able to see stories at a glance without having to switch back and forth between applications or browser tabs.
On the iPhone, Reeder is a solid mobile client that syncs with Google Reader. Newsstand is another iPhone client that does so, along with the ability to easily export or send stories to a number of external sources like email, Twitter, delicious and more. There’s also a special iPhone-formatted version of Google Reader you can simply use in the Safari mobile browser that works quite well.
On the Android platform, FeedR is a great option for reading feeds, with a free demo version and a reasonable $0.99 version that removes certain intermediary dialog boxes. You can import feeds from an OPML file and even cache feeds for offline reading as well. For a solid client that syncs with Google Reader, check out NewsRob.
Palm webOS users might want to see if the iPhone-formatted Google Reader works for your needs; it’s not specifically customized for Palm devices yet still tends to work rather well. BlackBerry users can also access Google Reader in the phone browser, or check out FreeRange or Viigo. Windows Mobile users can also use the browser method to access Google Reader, or try the free NewsBreak Lite or YoMoMedia, which syncs with its own web-based feed reading client as well.
Don’t hesitate to spend some time shopping around and trying several clients before settling on your feed reader of choice — or even continuing to use more than one at a time. Thanks to the OPML standard, it should be a relatively simple process to export and import your feeds from one client to another. This means that building a master list of news feeds in one client is highly worthwhile, since it can travel with you even if you move to a new RSS reader down the road.
If you wanted to change the font, size, or color of your messages in Gmail, you normally have to do so on a mail-by-mail basis. Not so anymore, if you enable a new default text styling option from the Labs.
After enabling the new feature in the Labs menu from Gmail’s settings, head back to the ‘General’ tab and look for the new text box. Set your font, size, color, and other options there, and they’ll stick from message to message. Most of us probably don’t need 18-point purple Garamond text, but, then again, a few subtle changes might help your own missives stand out in your message view.
New in Labs: Default text styling [Official Gmail Blog]