Josh Kinberg, founder and creator of FireAnt is one person who has always been on the about page of Rocketboom. We met at school and connected over building the first blog at Parsons School of Design and always discussed online patterns and activity throughout the 2004 elections.
In particular we talked alot about the development of Rocketboom and Ant.
During that time, Josh found out about Adam Curry who was working on the same kinds of problems with audio. I remember when Josh first told me about this, we snickered in kinda of a nostalgic way, the same way you would if you just found out that Martha Quinn was building robots and programing micro-controllers.
When Josh, Kenyatta and I were building out the backend and strategy for Rocketboom, especially from August through October, 2004, Josh had come up with an elegant proof of concept for an aggregator that focused on pulling video files with an Apple Script. Nothing that Curry and Winer had missed but nonetheless, they along with almost everyone else were tunnel visioned on audio (and pdf files!?).
Perhaps one reason for the disconnect occurred because of the difference in application. Podcasters were ultimately enamored with transferring mp3 files to the shiny shiny (i.e. the ipod) automatically.
With Rocketboom however, there was no shiny shiny (i.e. the video ipod) at the time but we saw the aggregator as the killer app for bandwidth limits and thick compression settings on the delivery of large video files. Pretty files sent to computers over night while people sleep to be available in full local playback glory, scrollable, jumpable, and without delay when ready for viewing was where it would be at.
In October 2004 knowing that video enclosures would catch on very soon, when Rocketboom did launch, I made sure we had them working for the few people who used Josh’s player. I also of course noticed that there was no way to offer multiple file types in the enclosure fields and decided the only solution would be to offer multiple feeds (we launched with several).
Right around that time, Podcasting was starting to gain momentum and I always noticed how almost no one else was talking about using RSS for video. It was kinda like the Twilight Zone actually in that regard. Even through most of 2005, while podcasting was totally exploding, very few people took interest in the use of RSS with video enclosures. Perhaps it was because the news angle was mostly generated from a radio show fanatic slash tech geek-angle and the disruption they were casing to the radio industry.
There were two main public brain trusts through 2005 that existed separately on the web where on-the-pulse information about development in the nascent industry made its way in:  the podcasting group on Yahoo vs.  the Videoblogging group on Yahoo.
As for #1, my bafflement with podcasters and music fans who still deal with mp3 crap compression remains. A great beauty of the audio aggregator is that you can deliver very high quality audio files (not a problem to offer the mp3 versions too for the losers), but whatever, people used to take playback quality much more seriously in the good ‘ol days of wax and lasers.
As for #2, the excitement fueled by foresight into the implications behind a world shift in media, would soon drove user testing, adoption and good will to Ant (later served with a no-no letter on the name, btw), so FireAnt, with “the” surrounding directory of videobloggers was where the first party started.
Perhaps we will never know but I feel very strongly that Josh’s development of the initial player gave Apple their best look at what I always hoped they would acquire, but instead, built themselves. In a single moment in October of 2005 with the release of the video iPod and video podcasting in iTunes, Apple opened up the concept of video online to the masses (er, you know what I mean) and essentially took a great deal of FireAnt’s steam. Coincidentally, the prior release of Apple’s audio podcasting client in iTunes stole the same kind of steam from Odeo so it makes since that these two companies would come together for a return match. The space may be ready for more alternatives.
Apple’s strategy for growth was and continues to remain stealth and secretive, closed and proprietary. They probably get away with it because their products are so good. But Apple’s aggregating features have never been as good as FireAnt’s which strated off as open sourse and remained open on the frontend.
I consider Josh to be a major pioneer in the space for being one of the first, if not the first to create a video specific aggregator, going on to win the support of the videoblogging community, growing a business from an early 2.0-like application, sustaining the onslaught of a changing industry, managing a difficult set of personalities, dealing with alot of legal nonsense and then orchestrating a very delicate acquisition. Way to go Josh. Cant wait to see what’s next!
Many others have written about this story too.