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The juice on Joost

Webware looks at what you all wanted to know about the new video start-up from the creators of Skype and Kazaa.

It's really impossible to follow any tech blog these days without hearing something about Joost, formerly known as "The Venice Project," the mysterious online video start-up from the same minds that brought us Skype and Kazaa. There's been a lot of speculation, a lot of hype (usually involving the phrase "YouTube killer"), and a lot of hush-hush. That's because Joost, as I learned upon signing up for the private beta test, has a very strict non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Consequently, it's been difficult for me to address some of the more pointed questions that you all asked when I put out an open call for Joost-related inquiries. But I'm going to try to give you all an idea of what Joost really is, based on the kinds of questions that readers asked.

First of all, I'm going to have to apologize to those of you who had highly technical inquiries: because of the NDA, I'm not going to be able to answer anything that specific. There was a lot of interest in how Joost is shaped by its peer-to-peer model, and whether or not that's a viable model for watching online video. My vague answer to that is yes. Even in its beta version, Joost's videos load with an impressive speed and smoothness that can probably be attributed to that P2P structure. The quality certainly isn't HD, but again, I think it's too early to make real calls on what it'll be like in a full version.

Now I'll move on to my intentionally ambiguous answer to what everyone is wondering: Is it a legitimate contender to the "YouTube killer" title? My answer is no. I honestly don't think that Joost is trying to compete with YouTube's extensive database of amateur karaoke stars and cats in scuba suits. YouTube is for the low-budget, the quirky, and the out-there--where viral stars are made. Joost doesn't seem to have much interest in that, or in hosting personal video blog channels (another question we received). What I see this turning into is a competitor for stuff like TiVo, the forthcoming Apple TV, and other services that are bridging the gap between TV and broadband by transporting on-demand and live TV content to the Internet and Web video content to the home television. Joost, with its slick console and channel functions, is clearly meant for professional content. Sorry, cat lovers.

In fact, I would not be surprised at all if the manufacturers of Internet-TV connectivity devices--TiVo, Sling, or even Nintendo's Wii--take an interest in collaborating with Joost to get a hold of the interface and its functions.

But if there's one thing we've learned from the new Internet, it's that slick design will only take you so far. What really makes a piece of webware is the content and community: just look at MySpace, which has overwhelming popularity despite a seriously thumbs-down design. In order to make it off the ground once it leaves its private beta, Joost is going to have to have some impressive content deals with major TV networks as well as community features that are going to allow for legitimate interactivity. It's got great promise, and great minds behind it, but Joost is by no means a surefire hit.