Why MLB.com Ditched Silverlight

I know I know, I really should not feel as much Schadenfreude as I do over this topic but it's just too good to miss (and hey, any chance of something like this happening to Adobe and I'm sure the dark side would be all over it ;-)

Some may argue that this is not a big deal - you win some, you lose some - but MLB.com is no small fry. Cnet describes it as 'the Web's most successful subscription service' serving half a million (!) subscribers.
What went on behind the scenes is now starting to emerge as - according to Cnet - Microsoft points the finger at 'a series of glitches and conflicts between the companies'. Moreover, the lawyers are now apparently involved which sounds like a major fallout to me. MLBAM's CEO is even heard talking about an 'ongoing dispute with Microsoft'. Oh dear. Can it be worse than Adobe and Apple banging heads over Flash on the iPhone? Maybe.

I guess we'll have to see how things progress for Silverlight, but I still fail to see the real advantage of the platform, at least from a user's point of view. Sure, it must be great being a .NET developer now being able to hack away at a new platform, using new (and existing) tools, but what problem is this plugin really trying to solve? What does it offer that Flash hasn't been doing for years? I'm a developer myself and naturally curious, but so far I have had next to no urge to even install the Silverlight development tools (which ideally require you to run Windows as you desktop OS).

I know I keep asking this, but where are the impressive Silverlight apps built by the Silverlight community, I mean those that did not make the showcase pages (yes, we;ve seen the Olympics now. And Netflix. Next?), and why does it seem that all the existing showcases are built around a video experience? It's not all about video you know!?
Let's revisit this topic in a year. What do you think the RIA playing field will look like then?

UK Viewers: Watch Inauguration Day Coverage Live on BanterTV.com

A few months ago I put together a website called BanterTV.com. BanterTV.com aggregates the BBC iPlayer Live streams and adds a chat interface to each 'channel'.

As today is Inauguration Day for president Obama it may be appropriate to announce my little project here and invite UK viewers (iPlayer streams are UK only) to join me on BBC 1 where Huw Edwards and Matt Frei present live coverage from Washington DC as Barack Obama is sworn in as 44th President of the United States and addresses the nation.

Watch the event live on BanterTV.com. Hope to see you there. Coverage in the UK starts at 4pm GMT.

HD on the Web: A Promise They Cannot Keep

It's official: HD on the web is broken. And guess what: it doesn't matter which technology (Flash/Silverlight) you use, neither seems to deliver on its promises.

Take this post with a pinch of salt because it's only my own perspective, but I would say I'm in a fairly good position to report on the playback experiences I have had. My setup is slightly above average with a new 24" iMac, 4GB of RAM and a fast connection. Right now it measured 4.5Mbit/s which I consider fast enough for any HD content, especially if it uses smooth streaming, adaptive streaming, multi-bitrate streaming or whatever else the latest buzzword is.

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Mapping Information

And I do not mean information on maps... No. Britain From Above is probably the best program on UK television at the moment - in my opinion anyway. When I first watched it I didn't quite know what to expect, I guess I thought it would be someone shooting video out of a plane for an hour. How wrong I was.

Each episode of this series focuses on a particular topic such as the UK transport network, abandoned industries or the transformation of London over the years. One really innovative piece which I found especially interesting was the visual mapping of information over a map of Britain or London. This involved visualising data such as landline telephone calls in all major UK cities, GPS data traces from taxis across London or the air traffic movements over the UK.

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Control a Submarine via Flash and FMS

And now for something completely different. Have you ever thought about riding a submarine? Or how about simply controlling it, RC style? Well now you can and you can do it in style via Flash and FMS.

On Fosters.co.uk riders can control a marine ROV (remotely operated vehicle) which is more commonly used for commercial exploratory underwater operations. The ROV is in a 100,000 litre (roughly 26,000 US gallon) tank at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth.

The whole system is built almost entirely using Adobe products. Flash Media Interactive Server sits at the centre of the set up. In addition to serving the video streams that are broadcast from Flash Media Encoder, FMIS carries messages back and forth between the clients and our on-location software. The on-location software is an AIR application which handles queuing and translates the riders' actions into commands that are being send directly to the submarine through a serial connection.

This must be the most widely accessible use of ROV technology to date!

About the creators: JustAddTonic are a digital agency that specialise in emerging and non traditional interactive media. They were contacted by Play, to create a website that allows users to 'ride' a submarine in real time and you can see the result here (registration required - but worth it).

Behind the Scenes of Justin.tv

You know Justin, don't you? The guy who's broadcasting himself 24/7 with a camera strapped to his head. His site justin.tv has recently started a transformation into a live broadcasting platform for people like you and me but is for now limited to a selected set of broadcasters with the intention of opening it up to a broader audience - reminds me a bit of ustream.tv.

Having blogged about justin.tv once before I received an email from Kyle Vogt, the main technical brain behind the operations at justin.tv. Kyle was kind enough to lend me a few minutes of his time for a short interview which I'll try to summarize now.

What's obvious right away when looking at justin.tv is the fact that the video feeds are delivered in Flash. That's significant when you realize that the site has been around for a fair few months, going back to early 2007 when very few people were attempting to stream live Flash video on a large scale. There were very few CDNs that supported live Flash video - in fact at the time when justin.tv went on air there was only VitalStream - so the choices for justin and his team were limited. And VitalStream they chose - with mixed results. In a nutshell, it didn't scale. Justin.tv has a very spiky traffic pattern and when the spikes went up rather than down the team realized that VitalStream didn't handle th eload very well and users kept being cut off time and time again.

The next attempt involved Wowza, a lower cost alternative to Flash Media Server, and a custom built, Python based stream replicator which Kyle developed. This stream replicator used to take the incoming live feed and pushed it out to 5 Wowza boxes. The setup worked ok to an extend, but another wall was being hit when some features could not be implemented due to Wowza being a closed source platform. The team had to try their third approach.

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The Ameegos.com song

Some of you may remember my little pet project at Ameegos.com which I set up to teach myself some FCS skills back in the days. The site is still ticking over nicely with a loyal following of a nice bunch of people. And not only that but one of them (Weisel) has now written a song about Ameegos and it's brilliant!
Obviously you'd have to know the regulars on the site to appreciate the song fully but still I think it's good even for 'outsiders'. Enjoy.
PS: there's also a blog about the site - which makes me think I really ought to build a user profile system. In fact I wouldn't mind paying someone to do this for me... Do you have some Coldfusion skills? Contact me if you'd like to take on the project of building a little user administration system (basic user profiles, image upload, password management, the usual).

The Making of Heidies: 5 Days of Live Webcasting

HeidiesI really wanted to follow up on this and I am happy to now present you with an email interview with an official spokesperson from Diesel.
As you may remember, Diesel instigated the Heidies campaign in which two girls hijack Diesel.com, holding their underwear salesman and his unreleased intimate collection hostage, and broadcast live for five days, courtesy of Flash Media Server.
So without any further delay, here's the lowdown on how the Heidies campaign came to life and was finally delivered.

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Who built the Diesel Intimate site?

Does anyone know which agency is behind the Diesel Intimate 'Lockin' site? I'd like to have a chat with agency or individual that built it; it would be great to get a little behind the scenes look at the setup for this operation (and also find ways that would make it harder for third parties to leech the streams, a challenge that appears to be tricky to overcome on a CDN).

Diesel Intimate: Live 24/7 Flash Streaming

My good friend Tink (he's into this type of filthy stuff ;-) just pointed me towards the Diesel Intimate 'Lockin' site. There you can watch a bunch of teens doing, well, not much really.
Anyways the nice thing is that the site is using Flash Video (apparently via Vitalstream) to push the *live* video out. I've got a feeling that we'll be seeing a lot more of this sort of stuff this year. I wonder how they are pushing the video... (btw we're trying the new Flash Media Encoder at the LFPUG meeting this evening).

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