Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is Netflix/Roku a web application?

Already sounds like one of those tail-chasing exercises where it all depends on your definitions, doesn't it? Or, put more kindly, a case where exploring the question is more valuable than any particular answer that might pop out. Let's try that angle [if you just want a review of the box, see here] ...

On the one hand, how could a set-top box be a web application? All you do is pick movies and watch them. There's no browser. You could say that picking a movie from the queue is like chasing a link but it seems more like a plain old menu. In particular, it feels a lot like picking a movie on demand with cable, except a little smoother and nicer. If the Netflix box is a web application you might as well say digital cable is, too.

On the other, the web is an essential part of the experience. You can't set up your queue without it. You can't even activate a box without going to the Netflix web site. The web interface isn't necessarily the most visible part of the picture, but it's definitely there.

In one of the earliest posts here, I tentatively defined the web as "all resources accessible on the net." I still like that definition -- it seems a little broad, but I'm not sure how to narrow it without cutting out too much -- and by that definition the box is definitely part of the web, and would (arguably) be even if the movies themselves didn't come in over a net connection.

If anything, the split between setting up the queue (webby) and watching (not so webby) bolsters the idea that the web is mostly about metadata -- relatively small bits of information about things, like in this case which movies are on your queue -- and not so much about large chunks of raw data like songs and movies.

Does this matter? From one point of view it's all pretty arbitrary, but questions like "is it the internet or not?" or "is it the web or not?" may matter quite a bit if you're down in the trenches fighting business and legal battles about who gets to charge whom how much for what. It will probably all shake out in the long term, but I can imagine it mattering at least for a while whether something is a "data service" or a "video service" or whatever.

I'm completely guessing here. I'm not a lawyer, and even less a businessperson.

1 comment:

David Hull said...

Now to self: Roku added apps not too long after.