Category Archives: Syndication

Apple TV + Boxee.tv = Great Experience

I own an Apple TV for quite some time, I just loved the form factor of the device and figured out, it’s really good stuff. I could see all the photographs, watch all podcasts/videos and listen most of music, more often on Apple TV than before.

As we all know, Apple builds innovative products but at the same time, it does suck by keeping it’s platform very closed. Be it iPod, iPhone or Apple TV, it’s just really hard to do anything except the ones Apple wants you to do.

Anyway, thanks to the great community of hackers, who spend hours figuring out things and building some great stuff. Some great hackers came up with various ideas to open the closed Apple TV, well initially it was physically opening up the box but later on smarter solutions appeared. Now it’s so simple, one can patch (enable SSH and install some apps) Apple TV by using patchstick, it doesn’t require you to open the box physically.

I can mount my USB disks and use keyboard/mouse in the patched Apple TV. Well that opens to a lot of possibilities.
With the simpler patching process, a lot of applications for Apple TV started appearing, one of such products is Boxee.tv, which is a media-center application. Of course, Boxee is available for all other platforms (Windows, GNU/Linux, OSX, etc) but I believe, it’s the best companion of Apple TV like devices.

I have been having good time using Boxee on Apple TV. I can not only play all my media (pictures, videos, music) in much better way but also enjoy online stuff (music, videos, podcasts, pictures, etc), be it recommended by my friends in Boxee social network or various other channels/apps available on Boxee.

Boxee can download movie-subtitles and show with a great ease. It can also fetch a lot of metadata (covert-art, album-art, thumbnails, information, ratings, reviews, etc) for videos/music from various online databases (f.ex. IMDB, etc).

The latest version (still in testing: 0.9.9.5324 build) allows you to easily install various applications made for Boxee by community or Boxee developers?

I even noticed, Boxee can run applications that are based on Adobe Flash Platform, yeah Joost or MTV feeds/apps are Adobe Flash based.

The best thing, Boxee is based on XBMC, an open-source application. I think, it’s worth writing a post about Boxee, hence I just did that. Boxee.tv rocks!!!

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YouTube RSS feeds don’t validate

I noticed that YouTube has recently included a <enclosure /> element in their RSS 2.0 feeds which contains “duration” attribute to hold duration (in seconds) of the video. As per RSS 2.0 spec, there is no duration attribute for <enclosure />, however, “length” is a required attribute, which is also missing.

No big deal, lots of feeds are broken on the planet and it is not a topic to be blogged like this. But my point is, we don’t expect such things from Google/YouTube, they must be using some tool to validate their feeds as their QA process?

I use Feed Validator for feed (ATOM, RSS etc) validation. Thanks to Mark Pilgrim, Sam Ruby et-al for making it.

You can also see what feedvalidator reports about YouTube’s feed.

BTW! I got happy for a moment when I saw duration in their feeds, I have to use YouTube API to get it.

Revision3 is not good at feed offering – could be better with Media RSS

Revision3, a great site for videos on various topics (Diggnation is one of those), offers different RSS 2.0 feed links for different video-formats? Is that good?

revision3_feeds.jpg

AFAIK, Media RSS specification allows you to group all (seen in above picture even Bittorrent feeds) that in one feed and RSS feed readers can show/download the content they are capable of playing/rendering?

Update: I have sent couple of emails to Revision3, requesting them to implement Media RSS for feeds. I have not heard from them, so I posted here on my blog :)

Some thoughts on Syndication and Aggregation

Syndication feed formats (RSS/Atom) seems to have support for various kind of metadata (directly or through extensions/modules). However, not all publishers seems to be using it consistently. I also notice, presentation specific markup being mixed with metadata. Is it because feed-publishers assume client to be a web-browser?

For example:-

  • Description text is in complex-html (presentation specific).
  • Inserting advertisements in certain places

With Rich Internet Application platforms (Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Apollo, Microsoft WPE/WPF etc), content can be presented into different metaphor provided it’s easy to get the relevant data and related metadata from feeds. Above example poses a simple problem of extracting description (actual metadata), if it’s semantic-html it’s cool otherwise a problem for client to parse and extract data. Similarly, there could be more problems and inconsistencies in feed-publishing as of today.

Monetization and Advertisement through Syndication are not totally solved problems, most of the solutions available today only work in context of web-browser.

If feed reader(aggregator) is something else (f.ex: Adobe Flash/Apollo client or Microsoft WPF/WPE) than Web-Browser:-

  • How to take care of branding?
  • How to show advertisements?

I am sure, these can be solved using syndication formats it’s just we need to do it consistently. Also, while publishing feeds it’s good idea to think of all kind of clients that would be consuming it.

Note: I am fairly new Syndication/Aggregation, whatever I talk here is based on my experiences and understanding in last a few years. Problems, I faced while writing aggregators, clients or feed-publishing-engines.

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Media RSS with different media (video) formats – problem and solution

Most of video sites are providing Media RSS feeds but not all of them provide URL of Flash Videos or Audio. Some (YouTube, Brightcove etc) use <media:player /> element to point to their player (or page) and some provide videos in different formats (mov, wmv etc) and some (Revver etc) have videos encoded in Flash-Video-Format (flv) but their Media RSS contains (different formats mov, wmv etc). Due to various reasons (monetization purpose, traffic-statistics, advertisement, not enough resources to of transcode media etc), these sites are not providing the link to Flash Videos (.flv files) in syndication-feeds. I understand the concern and problems but there is solution that would probably:-

  • Increase traffic i.e. monetization
  • Solve Usability problem – discussed later
  • Allow third-party developers to get a clean way of integrating things instead of hacking f.ex: YouTube FLV URL hacks/workarounds

Let me give an example, look at following YourMinis! widget for Brightcove:-


For more widgets please visit www.yourminis.com

Problem:

  • Context Change: User can’t see the videos within widget, it requires to go to Brightcove’s site.

Solution:

  • Provide a shorter duration (10 secs) preview/sample Flash Video file (.flv) in feeds.

Media RSS spec suggests that <media:content/> has an “expression” attribute that determines if video (media) is a sample or full version. Why aren’t publisher using it for sample videos also? Now imagine, if Brightcove had provided a link of preview-flv-url in their RSS feed or API, this YourMinis! widget could have provided a better experience by helping user to see preview before deciding to watch full video. There are various open-source tools to transcode, process, split and merge Flash Video Files. All these sites can automate the process of creating preview-flash-video-files and also provide their users a tool to create previews using online-front-end (made in Flash/Flex). We all know that Adobe Flash Player is not only most-ubiquitous browser-plugin but also most-ubiquitous Video-player on the web ( and hopefully on desktop once Apollo is there), so why not use it? Everyone (Google, Microsoft etc) is talking about widgets that can consume distributed-data. But it seems publishers are little reluctant and doing what their competitors are doing. I believe, this is time to solve the problem of monetization over syndication/distributed-data (APIs etc) irrespective of content-type (text, images, videos, audios etc).

Update (March 24, 2009): Adobe announced support for some more video and audio formats in Flash Player in August 2007. By now, most of us have Flash Player with those new capabilities installed on our machines. So the idea of this post, where Flash applications can consume vidoes in media-rss feeds, seem to have gone easier.

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RSS or Atom – Which one you prefer?

I am trying to learn everything about syndication and I learn something new everyday. I have been working on a syndication-framework (features: create, aggregate, publish, merge, cache etc) for last four-five months.
I mostly spent time understanding RSS (and various modules/extension) and a few things about Atom. I prefer (subscribing/publishing) RSS 2.0 because it’s simple and I like it.
What do you prefer RSS or Atom? And why?
It would be great to know everyone’s perspective. Thanks.

Yahoo! Pipes screws up the Media RSS feeds

Have you tried mixing two Media-RSS feeds using Yahoo! Pipes? If not, check the following Yahoo! Pipe, it’s mash up of YouTube and Flickr Media RSS feeds.
http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=_HAgzffx2xG1mXUc60jTQA
If you look at the output xml, you would notice there is no media-rss (module) elements(media:content, media:player etc). Yahoo! Pipes removes all media module specific elements which were present in original feeds (in this case: Flickr and YouTube).
This is not usable because I am loosing my data and I couldn’t even figure out a way to add namespace declaration, if you know a way please let me know.
I am tired, going to sleep :)

Update (14/08/07): Yahoo! Pipes team has fixed this issue. Yahoo! Pipes now emits media-rss tags. Check out this thread.