Yahoo! acquires WebJay

A few minutes ago, I learned that Yahoo! acquired WebJay, a site that allows for categorization, editing, listening, and sharing of playlists online (In a way, it can easily be compared to for multimedia.) WebJay was created in early 2004 as a way to create the internet equivalent of mix tapes. Lucas Gonze, the creator of WebJay agreed to taking a few minutes of his time to do a quick IM interview between meetings. Following is the transcript of that interview:

TNL: so the rumors are true: Webjay acquired by Yahoo! You should post it on your blog.

Lucas Gonze: That’s right. It turns out that when they sign up new people, y! makes them put on this pointy hat that sorts them into “houses”. This makes no sense to me, but it turns out that I am “hufflepuff”

TNL: Hehe… stay away from Slitherins

Lucas Gonze: They’re over in the DRM group.

TNL: Tell me the reason for this acquisition.

Lucas Gonze: The point of it is playlists. It’s a sign that Y! takes playlists seriously. The point of playlists is that they are to internet media what RSS is to weblogs and HTML is to browsing. Playlists are the one vehicle for timed media; if it has an intrinsic sense of time, it’s a playlist, that’s an important category of functionality. Now, aside from Webjay and XSPF, the action is all over on the iPod.

TNL: So, if I understand you well, playlist + MediaRSS + content = new form of distribution channel?

Lucas Gonze: that’s about right. From the audio and video perspective, the meaning of playlists is that they’re the container format for the internet. CDs are over; mixtapes are only an analogy; Radio, television, movie theaters — not internet. So Webjay and my other playlist work is what Yahoo is about with this acquisition

TNL: If I understand well, playlists are somewhat of a reintegration item. Yahoo! is looking at them as a way to tie all the disparate bits that have come out of the breakout into podcasts, independent tunes, movies, shows, etc… to resort things into channels?

Lucas Gonze: That is beautifully said, Tristan. I agree with that, except that reality is not quite as elegant. The point of this work is to create a truly healthy and robust internet media industry but one which is not just a transplant of the old ways of doing things. The new industry is going to be native to the internet (the playlist is a native format).
Playlists do resort things into channels and they do make possible all the sort of goodness we’re used to with weblogs — like Technorati and — with multimedia Examples of the kinds of goodness I’m talking about:

  • Interactivity wide open; anybody on the internet is a full participant
  • Implementation wide open; anybody with the chops can write programs which contribute to the ecosystem
  • and interoperability; anybody should be able to author content which anybody can render

TNL: This sounds dangerously like a lightnet. You seem to be offering a world that is widely open, while all the big portals are looking at locking things up.

Lucas Gonze: I think that the place we’re going is to a media industry which is perfectly at home on the internet. Given that I’m here to make money for Yahoo, it’s fine to lock things up by doing such a great job that users would be crazy to use any other software.

TNL: You mentioned interactivity as a key feature of playlists. Do you think that playlists merge multimedia with social software? And, if yes, is that a direction Yahoo! plans to take it into?

Lucas Gonze: That’s exactly the value. Social software is not an empty trend. It’s central to the value of the internet. So the question with regard to media is how do you make social media? How do you make songs which anybody can get inside of and interact with on their own terms? To some extent that’s what playlists accomplish.
About whether that’s the direction Yahoo! plans to take it into, I can’t speak for Yahoo!, given that I’ve only been an employee for about 45 minutes.

TNL: So what are you going to be doing at Yahoo! ?

Lucas Gonze: There’s a spacecraft which crash landed in the desert. My job is to investigate the dead lifeforms and attempt to make contact with their homeworld. But that’s off the record. On the record I can only say that we’ll be building best-of-breed internet-native social-software with tags.

TNL: can you throw a couple more buzzwords in there?

Lucas Gonze: I can enable that.

Lucas then had to run off but I wish him much luck on this venture. The obvious value of something like WebJay to a company like Yahoo! is in the social aspect of sharing multimedia. I believe that the real value, beyond the core tools being acquired in the organization and sharing of digital media. Over the last year, Yahoo! has been acquiring companies that relied on the wisdom of crowds to organize content of various types ( for bookmarks, flickr for pictures). WebJay nows fills that space for music and could probably easily be extended to support other media types. In that sense, Google is now taking an early step in terms of merging social software and multimedia.

There are many opportunities in that space: Much as Flickr has shown that user-generated and organized pictures are a good way for people to share this type of media, something like WebJay could extent from sharing your music collection and/or tastes to an eventual basis for sharing larger media files (like videos of the family).

The tool also allows for auto-discovery of content: point it to a URL and it will find any songs that’s linked from it and organize them into an easy to use playlist. This could have some great implications for podcasters as it provides and easy tool to create archive pages.

Beyond the sharing and auto-discovery is also the openness of WebJay. What is most astounding, when you look at it, is how open it is. The system gives you the direct URL of the files that are shared, even though the files themselves are not stored on WebJay itself.


It’s now official.

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