Wednesday, November 1, 2000

A closer look at Manila and Radio UserLand

Believing that music will become the next vertical killer application for the Internet (email was the first), Winer and his crew are defining Radio UserLand as a complete end-user application environment for building new kinds of online content. [One thing to keep in mind is that Radio Userland's final purpose isn't fixed yet. This is a fascinating technology with a use and purpose that's evolving experimentally as we watch. So while Radio UserLand has a music component, it also can be used to edit Manila sites and may evolve into an entirely new beast. Though this might be confusing, check it out anyway. - DG]

Taken together, this experimental product seems destined to unleash a number of powerful tools, some long available to Frontier developers, others new.

First, you can create and maintain outlines on or off the Web to organize not only your music files and playlists, pictured in Figure C, but anything at all, including reports, presentations, programming code, etc.

FIGURE C

Radio UserLand offers editable playlists to budding broadcasters. (click for larger image)

Second, because Radio UserLand is peer-to-peer, you can upstream (move to a higher-level server) your playlists or any other outlines (see paragraph above) and drop them into your own Web sites or share them with other users. Collaborative groupware, anyone?

Third, "live outlining" means that Web sites can be edited in Radio UserLand with changes visible immediately on the Internet. This is optional, of course. While unsuitable for review protocol work, it's ideal for end-user brainstorming and personal publishing.

Fourth, the product supports the ability to build Yahoo-like HTML directories (which are just another kind of hierarchy). Naturally, these can also be posted and/or shared with other users. Communities can aggregate their own Web directories.

Finally, peer-to-peer email and chat are supported, since UserLand maintains the state of all currently logged users. If you run Radio UserLand internally to your own corporation, you can do the same within your own "cloud."

Oversimplifying drastically, Radio UserLand is an abstracted version of Napster with a very powerful application and database model (i.e., a platform for building vertical "Napsters" in varied business domains).

Remember that, like Manila, this will be an end-user application, not one that requires programmer support, though Radio UserLand sits on top of Frontier, should programmers want to add customizations. An interesting early user-developed application has generated a real, if simple, Internet radio station.

That said, don't be fooled by the product's focus on music and radio. Consider "radio" logically as anything streamable in either linear or conditional sequence: video, audio, graphics, or text. Now, ponder the implications of users sharing those streams with one another. Positive implications! Don't get hung up on the piracy controversy. IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and Lotus wouldn't be jumping on the bandwagon if that melodrama, however important, wasn't just a sideline.