Sean Parker didn’t go far enough

Sean Parker and Shervin Pishevar on stage at Le Web '11At Le Web last week in Paris, Sean Parker predicted that the outcome of the 2012 US elections would be determined by social media.

I think he’s right. But what’s more, I think that next year’s election season will be the first in which face-to-face live video on the web will play a role in determining the outcome of some races.

In an increasingly online world, the web has provided new ways for candidates to reach voters in their constituencies. Candidates can communicate policy, deliver key messages on-demand, and reach out to campaign supporters. But the focus has been predominantly one-way – from candidate to constituent.

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TokShow: Artist Engagement with Fans goes Face-to-Face

Readers of our four part series on TokShow know all the nitty gritty, behind the scenes details around how the app came to life; from stream transitioning to scalability. Now we’re going to take a look at how the TokShow app has actually been put to good use in the real-world.

R&B sensations Mindless Behavior launched the TokShow app, followed shortly by American Idol winner Lee DeWyze.  But the most recent TokShow was hosted by American Idol’s season 10 winner, Scotty McCreery. Since the country crooner hosted the live video chat, his debut album, Clear As Day, has been certified gold and sits in the No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart.

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TokShow: You can do it, put your back-end into it

Our goal for the back end of the TokShow application was to make it as simple as possible while supporting a couple thousand people.

The biggest concern for performance was moving a new fan on stage. When that happens, everyone in the TokShow needs to hit the server to get the connection ID of the next fan. We thought the ‘aha’ moment of a fan meeting the artist for the first time would be a major part of the experience, so making the transition smooth and simultaneous for all of the viewers was critical.

To keep things simple, we used PHP and MySQL on the server. There is very little state saved for the application. We basically need to know:

  1. Who is on stage
  2. Who is in the line
  3. Whether the show has started yet
  4. What time the show is scheduled to start.

We had one PHP file to wrap our reads and writes to the server, and that’s about it. For our TokShows we needed only one PHP server, which also hosted the database.

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Building the HTML client for thev v OpenTok TokShow app

Building the TokShow app gave us another great opportunity to test our API in a real-world app. And, sure enough, we discovered some additions for the OpenTok API.

Not all clients using the app and participating in the session have the same audio-video capabilities. Some clients use older versions of Flash Player or hardware that does not support acoustic echo cancellation. The acoustic echo cancellation feature was added in OpenTok v0.91.18 (in June), and it works great. It pretty much eliminates acoustic audio feedback. We wanted to build an app that allowed the administrator to see if a potential participant (fan) had acoustic echo cancellation supported on their machine. However, the OpenTok API did not provide that information … so we added it. And the new API includes other information on the quality of each stream in the session. In addition to acoustic echo cancellation support, the API provides other information about the publisher of a stream, including the upstream bandwidth, whether the microphone and camera are enabled, and whether H.264 video is supported. These enhancements were added in the November 10 release of the OpenTok API (v0.91.35).

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TokShow: Building a large scale video comms platform

There are a number of huge challenges being a platform company, as the product we build has to work under many conditions. One of those major challenges is the issue of scaling a realtime communications platform to support both one-to-one conversations and also 5000+ participant talk shows. Now some people might say “Doesn’t YouTube already let thousands of people view a video?” Yes, but the difference is that YouTube is about consuming and OpenTok is about face-to-face.

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Introducing TokShow

Someone once told me that if your customers are forcing you to move so quickly that you’re constantly on the brink of crashing, you’re likely onto something big. I’m starting to believe that more and more with each day.

In the last two months the TokBox team has been moving at record speeds. We’re doing something right. In fact, I think we’re doing a lot right. The small pieces that we’ve been pushing on for a long time are starting to come together as we had imagined and hoped they would.

Most recently, we’ve been working on one of our newest plug-n-play apps, TokShow, which has been the cause of much of this craziness. TokShow allows musicians, politicians, celebrities or really anyone to host a live conversation with their followers on any web site. Think MTV’s old-school show TRL hosted by Carson Daly. Your favorite band takes the stage to field questions from the audience about their upcoming album or tour.

With TokShow, that type of fan and celebrity interaction is now possible online to the masses, not just to the crowd lucky enough to be in the studio.

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