Vidcast: The Story of a Social Music and Video App Built Onto of App.net

A year ago this week, the App.net team set out to reinvent social networking by building a paid platform for others to build their own social networks. By and large, though, App.net has seemed to be little more than a Twitter clone — a very good one, nonetheless — that offers longer messages, file storage, and no ads.

That’s far from the full vision for the service, though. App.net includes a built-in social networking app, Alpha, and a private messaging app, Omega, but the goal is for developers to use it to build more social enabled apps. That dream has begun to come true, with apps like Patter turning App.net into a private group chat tool ala Campfire, and Filebase and Orbit letting you use App.net as a CloudApp alternate.

But one of the more unique just might be Vidcast, an app that lets you hangout and watch videos or listen to music together with your friends, powered by App.net. It’s currently crowdfunding its next version, so we took the time to talk with the Vidcast team about their app. Here’s a look behind the scenes at how App.net still has a chance at powering the most innovative new social networking apps.

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A Social Mashup, App.net Style

The current Vidcast works great, but is rather basic.

The current Vidcast works great, but is rather basic.

Vidcast is essentially a very simple app. It lets a group of people “hang out” virtually through their App.net accounts, and simultaneously watch videos from YouTube or Vimeo and audio from Soundcloud. One user acts as the DJ, queueing up the requests, and everyone else sends in their requests via the App.net-powered chat.

Originally designed for the Monday Night Dance Party on App.net, where random people join in to request songs each week, Vidcast has a far greater potential — but it needs some work first. It’s a rather basic app right now, and the team wants to give it a new design and let you stream media from App.net’s storage or other services, among other new features. That’s why it’s team is running an Indiegogo campaign this month, trying to raise $11,000 to fund the next version. Then, even more people will be able to use it to hold virtual parties, private movie viewings, online classes, and more.

The Vidcast to come, if it can get funded

The Vidcast to come, if it can get funded

Here’s our interview with the Vidcast team — Jon, Ryan, and Kimberlee — to see their thoughts on App.net and how it’s helping power apps like theirs:

Why did you build Vidcast on App.net, and if you started over from scratch today, would you still pick App.net to underpin your app?

Ryan — Modern web apps work best with a social element. Building a social graph can take several years unless you use a 3rd party identity provider. You have to be very careful when building on 3rd party platforms, as they can cut you off at any time. App.net‘s business model is built around 3rd party developers. They don’t sell subscriptions unless 3rd party developers software is good. So they’re less likely to turn off 3rd party developers.

That said, Vidcast 2.0 is us starting over. Vidcast 1.0 started as a hackathon project, and we’ve been cleaning it up and re-organizing the code but we realize for the next set of features, we need a new foundation and will be adding our own server-side component. We will still utilize App.net, so that we can propagate the Vidcast standards, so other clients can develop Vidcast viewers and possibly host their own Vidcasts across App.net.

Jon — (Building on App.net) was really the original choice of @ryantharp @duerig and @q, however the ADN platform really supports the “server-less” style of app that something like MNDP needs. If we did it again we absolutely would use ADN, simply because it’s the only platform that can support what we would need without building a huge back-end ourselves. Also, the vision behind App.net itself fosters a sense of “I can do anything here” wonderment.  So that foundation really dares people to take the bull by the horns, and try something really different. I can’t think of another API, framework, or platform that is actually inspiring that level of creativity right now.

Could you let us know a bit about the tech behind Vidcast, and how you’ve built it so far?

Ryan — Vidcast 1.0 is completely written in client-side Javascript, which means there is no dynamic server component. This is pretty unique for a web application. It entirely relies on the App.net infrastructure’s to provide back-end services such as identity, storage and communication services. The most important technology to Vidcast though is an open standard for media embedding called oEmbed. This is the technology that allows video that support this standard to be easily embedded in things like the Facebook timeline. oEmbed provides structured data such as media title, length of media, creator and much more.

Jon — In addition to what Ryan said, our chats run via Patter, the App.net-based private group chat app.

Most of us have backed Kickstarter projects, but IndieGoGo is much less widely known (aside from the Ubuntu Edge). Why did you choose IndieGoGo?

Jon — Well, primarily, because Indiegogo allows funding of Web-based applications, whereas Kickstarter does not.  Also MNDP and Vidcast have an international fanbase, and so far a large percentage of our supporters so far have come from the international community.  Equally as important is the fact that Indiegogo’s fees are less, so ultimately more money actually goes to those doing the work, than on Kickastarter.

Aside from a dance party, how do you see Vidcast being used going forward?

Kimberlee — I see so much potential for Vidcast. For me, it’s really a place to host an online event. I’ve read about independent film makers “launching” their movies online by just posting them on Vimeo and sharing the link on every social media site ever made. But with Vidcast, it would give them the power to host a real release party. Sure, it wouldn’t be in a theater, but I believe that if you give people a reason to watch — e.g. an event where they can interact with other members and the creator of said event — people will put it on their calendar. It would be the same idea for artist releasing new music — “Be one of the first 50 fans to sign up for an exclusive premiere of So and So’s new single and chat with the artist!” Plus, when it comes to hosting online events with Vidcast, people can attend from all over the world; geographic boundaries are completely eliminated. You could make the events as big or as small as you’d like.

Now, if only we could figure out a way to serve food and drinks at these online events, then we’d REALLY be on to something!

Ryan — Vidcast can be used for so many uses. For example, during the election last year, @sham set up the live streaming debates in a Vidcast room where we could all watch and comment. Eventually Vidcast could even host a moderated debate.

We have book group interested in hosting online readings and get togethers. Musician that want to do a Vidcast for their next album launch. Podcasters that want to utilize it for audience interaction while recording. Film makers could preview edits of their works in progress.

There are several full theatrical movies available on YouTube for free. Some of my friends are planning on organizing several movie watch parties together. We hope to add Netflix and other streaming services in a future version, too.

Jon — The vision is this:  Empowering people to experience, live, enjoy, interact with, explore, share, and do media together, on their own terms, regardless of what their content is, and where their content is.

What’s your team’s favorite web apps?

Kimberlee — I love Dropbox. It just makes so much sense. I also appreciate Pandora quite a bit. Oh, and I think paying for cable is ridiculous so I just subscribe to Hulu, which makes me feel like I’m beating the system somehow. It’s all about the little victories in life. :)

Jon — I’m rather fond of App.net and Mint, but honestly I haven’t found too much super inspiring outside of stuff around the ADN platform right now. I also like the idea around Battlelog, and look forward to what Dice does with that platform in Battlefield 4.

RyanGoogle Docs and Facebook are my favorites. Google Docs is so useful. No longer any more chains of responsibility. Any one at any time can just go into a doc and make a change, and I don’t have to worry about having the latest changes or making edits at the same time as someone else (and possibly losing one or the others).

Facebook has a really effective real-time experience due to the large amounts of data they have. I love their global notifications, it like a small inbox of bookmarks in their system. It’s very rewarding to see it light up and redirect to you to something of interest.

Go Support the Vidcast Team!

Vidcast 2 sure sounds promising, and we’d love to see it in action. But first, the team has to raise the funds they need to get it built. So, if you think it sounds like something you’d use, be sure to check out the Vidcast Indiegogo campaign and see if you can chip in.

And, if you have any questions for the Vidcast team, be sure to leave them in a comment below — and I’m certain they’ll stop by and answer any questions you have.


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