Jams tomorrow

This morning’s Observer column.

Coincidentally, in another part of the forest, entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the guys who founded Kazaa and later Skype (which they sold to eBay in 2005 for $2.6bn) announced their particular variation on IPTV. The service is to be called Joost and combines aspects of file-sharing software and regular broadcast television. Like Skype, Joost requires users to download and install a free ‘client’ program which enables them to browse the internet for channels and clips they’re interested in.

The Joost website is deliciously opaque, riddled with PR-speak about how the new service is, apparently, ‘powered by a secure, efficient, piracy-proof internet platform that enables premium interactive video experiences while guaranteeing copyright protection for content owners and creators’.

In the ordinary course of events, one would be inclined to dismiss this as hype, were it not for the fact that Zennstrom and Friis have a track record of unleashing not one but two disruptive innovations on an unsuspecting world. So let’s suppose for a moment that Joost is for real. What then?

One implication is that if it spreads like Skype (putting on 150,000 new users a day), Joost could eventually strangle the net. Or, more realistically, it would provoke dramatic action from the world’s ISPs to fend off that outcome…