Mitch Kapor Backs Open Source Software For Simplifying Internet TV - InformationWeek
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9/6/2005
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Mitch Kapor Backs Open Source Software For Simplifying Internet TV

The Participatory Culture Foundation has built open-source software for publishing video over the Internet using standard RSS feeds, and viewer software that includes the ability to subscribe to feeds and manage them.

A non-profit group wants to make it easy for anyone to be an Internet-TV broadcaster.

The Participatory Culture Foundation, funded by technology celebrities Mitch Kapor and Andy Rappaport, has built open-source software for publishing video over the Internet using standard RSS feeds, and viewer software that includes the ability to subscribe to feeds and manage them.

Today, the PCF's publishing application, called the Broadcast Machine, runs on Windows and Mac operating systems, but the viewer piece, which uses Apple Computer Inc.'s QuickTime video player, is only available on the Mac. Next month, however, the group plans to release a version of its DTV viewer for the PC. The software will use an open-source viewer for Windows.

PCF is looking to provide the tools for people to deliver video in much the same way podcasters deliver audio today. Podcasting is the recording of non-music audio broadcasts, such as news, sports and commentary, in the MP3 format for playback on a portable media player, such as the popular Apple iPod.

Many newsreaders, which is software that aggregates RSS feeds from web pages, now support podcasts. Apple, for example, recently upgraded its iTunes desktop music player to enable people to subscribe to podcasts and download them to the iPod.

"The DTV rolls up everything you need to find video channels, subscribe to channels, download video and watch it in one package," PCF co-director Holmes Wilson said.

For people with limited budgets, the publishing software lets them use BitTorrent, a popular file sharing application that enables people to download files from each other's machines, which is less expensive than trying to provide video downloads to every person going to a website.

"We want to make a mass medium for video that works in the same way as blogs do today," Wilson said.

Distributing regularly produced Internet video shows, which PCF and others are calling Internet TV, could one day become a market for technology providers.

"Over the next two years, the guys making the technology are probably going to have a market," Gerry Kaufhold, analyst for market researcher In-Stat, said. "It won't be a lot of money, but there will be a market."

For example, Narrowstep is a London-based company that hosts web channels for organizations that want to offer their own Internet programming. Tourist groups, for example, use Narrowstep to regularly broadcast video of local events.

Companies that provide commercial equivalents of the PCF platform include Popcast Inc. and Kontiki Inc.

PCF, however, expects to remain a nonprofit, similar in organization to the Mozilla Foundation, an open-source group that has been successful in marketing the Firefox web browser, which has drawn users from Microsoft Corp.'s dominant Internet Explorer.

"We've gotten a lot of our inspiration from the Mozilla Foundation," Wilson said. "They've done an amazing job of marketing Firefox, and making it a real product. That's the path we're walking on."

For now, the PCF, which launched in February and released its first product in April, expects its technology to appeal mostly to independent video producers looking for an inexpensive means to distribute their content. Wilson believes such producers could catch on with young adults who may be looking for edgier content than they would find on mainstream media.

Eventually, the foundation plans to integrate Microsoft's Windows Media Player into its software, and embed the viewer's digital rights management technology, Wilson said. Adding DRM could help make PCF applications more useful to traditional media.

"Most of the publishers we are dealing with at this stage aren't using any DRM," Wilson said.

Kaufhold sees companies like DVD renter Netflix Inc., and search engines Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. eventually distributing video from third parties and adding advertising.

"It's wonderful that (the PCF) is willing to do this for free, but I think some people are going to figure out how to make this a money-making proposition," he said.

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