Joost: It’s The Metadata, Stupid!

When talking about Joost, people tend to focus on its P2P infrastructure, its media center-like interface and its content deals. Now those are all valid points, but the real key to Joost’s success may be something else: A metadata framework that might just revolutionize the way we watch television.

Joost itself has been fairly secretive about upcoming features of its internet TV client. The company doesn’t schedule any interviews for the time being, and official news releases simply repeat the mantra of combining “the best of full-screen television entertainment with online interactive and community benefits.” Yawn.

But don’t let such empty PR speak fool you. Joost has been hiring some of the brightest minds in the field of creative metadata wrangling, and there are indicators that they are working on some mighty magic.

“What’s metadata?,” you might ask. Think of it as a layer of data describing content. In Joost’s example this could be anything from a simple timeline to tags to a full-grown programing guide.

The notion of using this type of data for some creative mashups first came up on the Ironic Sans blog, where a Joost fan by the name of David Friedman brainstormed about a feature that he would like to see in the client: The ability to share comments on the programming based on each show’s timeline. Says Friedman:

“Imagine watching a show like Heroes once, and then watching it again with comments turned on to see what other people caught that you missed.”

The concept of annotated television is definitely intriguing – especially if you package it into an easy-to-use application. But it wasn’t just the idea itself that made Friedman’s post interesting. Notable was also the first comment, made by someone who identified himself as Matt Hall:

“We’re already working on it. :) So far we have a rough passive version — a few bits of content have “trivia” that pops up at specified timestamps — but we plan eventually to allow timestamped tagging, commenting, annotation, etc.”

To be fair, we can’t know for sure if this is the same Matt Hall who works as a software engineer at Joost’s offices in Leiden. We do however know that Joost also hired Dan Brickley, who is one of the inventors of FOAF – a RDF-based metadata framework that makes it possible to transform simple web pages into machine-readable social networking nodes.

We also know that Joost makes extensive use of such metadata frameworks to build the programming and community features of its service. To quote Joost developer Leo Simons: “Not a day goes by without some of our developers swearing about ‘RDF’ or ‘metadata.'”

So what can these metadata frameworks be used for? Timestamped comments and tags are certainly one interesting possibility. Combine this with FOAF-like social networking structures, and you got yourself a whole new way to explore TV programming.

Imagine a personalized TV channel that only serves you shows your friends are literally talking about. Or think about the way this could transform programming itself. What if the Lost folks didn’t do their next Alternative Reality Game on the web, but in Joost itself, allowing you to collaborate with your friends and collect clues while watching the show?

Now that’s what I would call combining the best of TV and the net. And to be honest: The couch potato in me couldn’t care less if Joost’s content is distributed with or without P2P. What really matters is the creative use of metadata.