Radus: Subverting the browser paradigm
New portal site launches to save digital media. But does digital media need saving?
Radus is an ambitious browser-based media-viewing service with a boastful pitch: "Radus was created to solve one of the Web's major problems--the lack of a consistent user experience, cited by nearly half of all senior media executive as the main barrier to mass consumer adoption of rich-digital media."
Before I get to the product itself, I have to take issue with that statement, for two reasons: First, a "lack of consistent user experience" is not a problem. Designers don't build Web sites around content in order to make things difficult and different for users. They design sites because the design sells the message of the content as much as the content itself does. I will grant Radus the fact that many sites are hard to use or poorly designed, but that doesn't, to me, damn the other sites that are distinctive, creative, or beautiful.
Second, "nearly half of media executives" believe this is a "barrier to mass consumer adoption" of digital media. If they did, they'd have either a) gotten together with other execs to build a standard interface for Web sites, or b) wouldn't be paying designers. See the first statement. Also, see RSS.
Now, that said, Radus is an interesting service that, if it doesn't overwhelm you with its busy homepage design at first, you might find useful. It's a portal that gathers up text, video, audio, and photo items from multiple blogs and content sites (like Flickr and YouTube) and lets you view them all in one interface that strips away the framework of the originating sites so you can focus on the content. An installable Adobe AIR version of the service is coming, as are versions for mobile devices.
One of its big tricks is that its two windows--the big viewing window and the smaller table of contents sidebar--are independent. So you can be watching or reading content in the main window while you browse for new stuff in the sidebar. Then you can add stuff to your playlist without interrupting your viewing window. That's actually a really cool media consumption concept, although not a new idea for anyone accustomed to using a media player like iTunes.
Radus gets its initial content from a curated list of sources, but you can add your own feeds if you like. Of course, the service has the now-standard social net of users, a sharing function, as well as the capability to embed items on other services.
But in shoving all content into the Radus interface, a lot gets left behind. Photos in blogs, for example, show up in tiny (but consistent!) thumbnails, and aren't zoomable in the product. And community gets left behind as well. That means that Radus is not rich enough to serve as a user's sole browsing platform. But using Radus is such a different experience from browsing the rest of the Web that clicking over to an originating site or story from it is a big shock.
Radus is, essentially, an over-the-top RSS reader that handles video elegantly. As a portal service, it can work for users who only want to see content and don't mind skipping the flavor of the site it comes from. But as an RSS reader, it's not a success. Its presentation is also too heavy to enable easy scanning of a large number of feeds at once.
I do like several of the things Radus is doing, but I do not think this app is the savior of digital media. I don't think digital media needs saving to begin with.