Mediapoint Technologies, Think Flickr for the Media Center PC

WebMediapoint User Center – Mediapoint Technologies This week I listened to a great interview over at Ian Dixon’s Media Center show. Ian interviewed Justin Derry, CEO of MediaPoint Technologies and I’m really excited about some of the technologies that Derry and his team are pursuing. I’ve written a bit in the past about ways that Microsoft could improve the “My Pictures” part of Media Center and it looks like these guys are tackling some of these improvements head on.

Although as a non-programmer some of the technical aspects of the podcast were lost on me, I did very much like what I heard about the direction they are heading from a product feature standpoint.

Mediapoint’s first product coming out is something called PhotoConnect. PhotoConnect works as a Media Center hosted HTML application and add in to dramatically increase both what you can do with your photos in Media Center as well as provide a way to share your photos through Media Center with family and friends. Think of PhotoConnect as Media Center’s “My Pictures” on steroids, with a little Flickr flavor thrown in for good measure.

“The objective around PhotoConnect is to significantly extend the functionality of the My Pictures folder online,” said Derry. Equally exciting is what the future may hold for PhotoConnect as a P2P service: “We are currently looking at extending PhotoConnect’s capability so that it will support recorded video and other digital content,” Derry added.

One of the features that sounds the most exciting to me about PhotoConnect is the ability to rate and tag your photos and then run custom slideshows based on these ratings and tags. I love to use custom slideshows of my guests when they come over and it’s always a pain to search through all my photos and then manually copy my photos and set these up. Imagine a scenario where you have six friends coming over for dinner. How cool would it be to be able to tell your Media Center to only show photos during the evening that have one of their six names tagged? This is great functionality and something that should have been included in the Media Center Product itself.

I would suggest that MediaPoint make sure that after someone takes the time to tag all of their photos through their software though that Vista will be able to read those tags automatically when it comes out next year. Vista will incorporate tagging into its Explorer file management system next year for photos and it would be inconvenient if you had to re-enter all your tags a second time with Vista.

Another exciting feature about the product is that it will let you securely share your photos with your friends and family. Basically they install a secure single use web server on your Media Center PC and then allow you to publish your photos on this server that can then be accessed by another user’s Media Center PC. This is super exciting. I’ve always wanted a way for my parents to be able to see the latest shots of their grandchildren as I import them into Media Center. This will be a great feature to help people convince other family members to buy Media Center PCs as well.

MediaPoint is also working on a next generation product as well which will have even more functionality including interactive functionality with Flickr and blogs.

I haven’t tried MediaPoint’s software yet but will shortly and do a more substantive write up on it.

In the meantime I thought I’d rattle off a quick feature list (I’m not sure if/how many of these will be included in their product, but they are all things I’d love to see)

1. I’d like to be able to import any Flickr RSS stream into my “My Pictures” Media Center experience. Flickr makes available users RSS feeds, favorites RSS feeds, etc. It would be great to simply take that feed and pull down a randomized slide show. It would also be great to mix multiple RSS feeds. I’d love to be able to have a Flickr meetup and then have the Flickr streams of all of the users randomly playing on my Media Center PC. Of course it would be important that the RSS feeds contained high enough res photos for them to look good on a 43″ Plasma.

2. Full screen slide shows. Some of the slide shows that I’ve seen from other companies in the past were less than optimal. They did not cover the whole screen, they had clunky transitions, etc. Ideally, any photo plug in should allow the user an identical experience including transitions to what one gets from “my pictures” right now.

3. One should be able to have a “friends/contact/family/public” way to distinguish contacts similar to Flickr. There are photos that I might want to make available to my family on their Media Center PCs that I wouldn’t want made available to the general public. There are also photos that I would want anyone to be able to pull up and run slideshows on their Media Center PC with.

4. MediaPoint should consider the creation of a public “My Art” digital art collection on their server for all of their users to peruse and make slideshows. There is so much great public domain that could be scanned and presented. People would love to have this art available for their Media Center PCs through this add on.

It would also be great to build a public community of Media Center users who could swap photos and mix and match streams for slideshows.

Bandwidth issues will be problematic I’d guess, especially with high res full screen slideshows. I’m not sure how you get around this, but if you could build a level of security into the web server on the local MCE box, perhaps rather than stream, you could download actual high res images. If doing this from places like Flickr though it would be imperative that the images are actually secure and inaccessible except through the Media Center plug in product. Still with over 12,000 favorites of my own at Flickr I’m not sure how to effectively send me a random stream of my own marked favorites in a bandwidth efficient way. P2P could be the answer but here you lose control.

It’s great that Microsoft has an SDK for developers to develop cool plug ins like this. It will be interesting to follow MediaPoint’s technology as it develops. A Media Center SDK / Flickr Open API mash up would be most an exciting thing indeed.