This is the end

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Today, my four year adventure with Joost ends. Yes, four years, amazingly so. I believe nobody beats me in that “achievement”. What a ride it has been.

For me it started in Leiden, a small town in The Netherlands, in June 2006. Around 20-30 people (cannot remember how many really), and growing at an insane pace (to reach 200+ within less than a year). Hyped up to insane heights at the very start, with the “potential of a new Skype”. Backed by the Skype founders and staffed by “the best and the brightest” in both business and engineering. What could go wrong? The sky was the limit, and the aim was (believe it or not) 100 million users viewers by the end of the year.

During an incredible busy (and abnormally hot) summer we all slaved through to pull off an impressive engineering stunt:

  • cram full-screen H264/AAC video handling into Mozilla
  • get a scalable SVG/HTML/CSS-based UI running smoothly and alpha-blended on top of aforementioned video
  • ingest, transcode, organize, and manage video content from a long list of different content owners, whose idea of “digital” was an Excel sheet … if we were lucky
  • build a video distribution p2p transport layer on top of a proprietary p2p library meant for audio
  • build both the client and server side of a video advert serving platform
  • somehow track, analyze, and report on all the videos (and adverts) being watched, in hope of earning money one day
  • build out the world-wide data centers with hardware and network infrastructure to support all the above
  • and much much more…

And we did it — it was fun (and hard). And quite an achievement! Especially considering that Joost was physically distributed from day one; We had people sitting in most parts of Western Europe.

Engineering-wise we kept slaving over the Mozilla client, and fixing/extending/reinventing all the backend systems and the transport layer — including multiple ventures into live streaming. Then on to the web-based version with a short-lived custom p2p-based browser plugin (cross-browser, cross-OS), followed one month after, by a Flash-based direct streaming approach. Just for the pure engineering part of the client alone, that led me through (the murky depths of) Gecko with C++ and Javascript, C++ with the Qt toolkit, and finally ActionScript 3. On top of that came of course random encounters with Java, Python, Ruby, PHP, Perl, XSLT, and whatever else I’ve forgotten. It has thus been quite a trip through various systems, libraries, and programming languages.

Apart from the pure technical experience, Joost was also a chance to work with some crazily talented (and/or just crazy in general :) ) people in this industry. The amount of talented people Joost managed to attract was amazing, and I feel privileged for having been part of it. I hope to be able to keep in contact with many of my ex-colleagues in the future.

Sadly, Joost itself did not quite turn out to be the otherworldly success (and money-printing machine), that we all hoped for it to be. There has been endless speculations and analyses of why, so I’ll not dive into that too much. I’ll only note that from an engineering perspective, I think that one key reason that it did not go as planned, was that Joost simply had too much money. Sounds very bizarre, but it meant that we had the freedom to hire whoever we wanted, and then run in all (crazy) directions at once. One look (in hindsight) at the above list of should tell you that we tried to do too much ourselves. Business-wise it should be pretty clear that “online video” is here to stay, and the amazing list of companies trying to do parts of what Joost tried to do are astonishing; Hulu, Boxee, Clicker, Freewheel, Ooyala, etc. (Funnily enough, Google TV is also unveiled the same week I leave Joost :) )

Recently though, Joost has entered a new phase after being bought by Adconion Media Group. Already has gotten a much needed makeover, and Adconion have scored some pretty impressive comScore numbers with the Joost Video Network.

It will be very interesting to see where this will lead Joost, although I’ll be watching from the sideline from now on. I have served my Joost time I would say :), and it is off to pastures new. So I will be joining the fabulous guys at chartbeat Monday. A new adventure begins.

(Now the question only question remaining is: Who is going to do a “Joost-version” of the fabulous Riot On! documentary? :) )

Translated into Belorussian.

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This page contains a single entry by beaufour published on May 21, 2010 2:02 PM. and Growl was the previous entry in this blog.

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