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Thursday, Mar. 01, 2007
Bringing TV to the Web
Joost Founders Janus Friss (left) and Niklas Zennstrom pick up a television set inset with images of themselves.
By Jeremy Caplan
Once you've sold a company for $2.6 billion, life on the beach can be tempting, particularly if you're Scandinavian. But for dotcom veterans Janus Friis, 30, and Niklas Zennstrom, 40, whose sale of Skype to eBay rocketed them toward Gatesian wealth, the lure of a Great Leap Backward has proved stronger than sun and sand. Having launched Kazaa, one of the first music-file-sharing networks, in 2001 and Skype, the first big Internet-powered phone service, in 2003, the duo began work a year ago on a secret venture dubbed the Venice Project, whose goal was to bring yet another disruptive technology to your computer. "We took a 'lean-back' approach," says ceo Fredrik de Wahl. "On the Web today, you have to know what you're looking for, lean forward and click. But we wanted people to be able to just lean back and watch."
In other words, just like network television circa 1964. That's a revolution? A potentially huge one. For years, Microsoft and others have tried, and failed, to bring the Net to TV screens with duds like WebTV. But the Venice Project, renamed Joost (as in juiced), is doing the opposite: moving TV to the Internet. And unlike Apple TV, Slingbox and other hardware offerings, Joost requires nothing more than software. For now, it's by invitation only, but by this summer it will be open to the public. You'll download the free Joost software, then use it to watch channels ranging from Lime, a lifestyle station, to National Geographic. And potentially thousands more, from anywhere, in real time — and without the stuttervision that dogs streaming video today.
It's the creation of a team of 60 top engineers — veterans of Apple, Flickr and Firefox — and has already wowed bloggers who have had an early look. "Joost could make YouTube, Google Video and Apple TV look like 1988," gushes tech-blog UtahSaint.