Getting Made into the Crew
15 April 2010 by Rob Spectre

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster.” – Henry Hill, Brooklyn, NY 1955

For the past ten months, I’ve been paying the rent by going gonzo for Boxee.  Developing apps on contract for a great portfolio of customers, I’ve managed to eke out a living working on a platform I adore in a space I love.  Sustaining myself by enabling independent content producers to take their content from the computer screen to the living room has marked a highlight of my career – a true labor of love.

Today that labor took a dramatic and exciting new turn – I got made.

As of 15 April, I’ve joined the Boxee team as their new Lead Application Developer.  My assignment is two fold: 1) work with content producers to create the best living room experience their audiences have ever seen and 2) empower and enable developers to make Boxee the easiest and most exciting platform to deliver applications.  In non-corporate speak, get the best artists and coders on the planet and turn them on to the best media center in the world.

Getting made into the Boxee crew is a real privilege and already in my first day I’ve been impressed by the aggressive, high performance atmosphere.  It promises to be a hell of a ride, but of course it raises some natural questions about this site, the Gonzee portfolio of apps and the fate of the spiky-haired gonzo who made them.

1) Will gonzee.tv stay up?

Yup!  It’ll continue to be available as a gonzo resource for anyone interested in Boxee development.  The guide, sample apps, and tips and tricks will always be available at this address.  I’d love to maintain this site simultaneous to my duties at Boxee, but realistically that is not going to happen.  Going forward my contributions to Boxee documentation will more likely than not be more official than this site.

2) What happens to Auto-Tune The News, FailBlog and my other favorite Gonzee apps?

They are my babies and they’ll continue to stay that way.  The code stays with me and updates will happen even more frequently now that I’ll be more closely involved in the platform they are running on.  I’m committed to maintaining my existing portfolio of apps while employed by Boxee, and will continue to make new apps featuring indie comedy I think is breaking new ground.

3) What about hiring you as a contractor for my project?

Unfortunately, my current slate of contracts will be my last.  However, I was only one of a great many talented freelance developers with Boxee experience.  I am happy to refer from a deep roster of great coders to bring your project to Boxee.

4) So, you’re moving to New York? Does that mean you’re going to become a Yankee fan?

While it’s true I’ll be leaving San Francisco to join the team in New York City, I’m not trading in my crimson stockings for Bronx pinstripes just yet.  You can be assured that the only time this nation faithful heads to Yankee Stadium it will be to root on the Red Sox or relieve myself on one of the pillars.

Very stoked to get going and if you’re a Boxee developer looking for help with your app, be sure to check in at the Boxee forums or hit me up at my new home [email protected].

So what your next Boxee app? :)

We Scare The Hell Out Of ______.
24 February 2010 by Rob Spectre


Boxee “The Storm” [Canon 7D] from Kristopher Knight on Vimeo.

Cuban vs. Ronen – The Tale of the Tape
17 February 2010 by Rob Spectre

Boxee CEO Avner Ronen just announced he is squaring off against HDNet chairman, Dallas Mavericks owner, and sometime-dancer Mark Cuban in a public debate on the future of television at this year’s SXSW.  The bout is the first matchup of the pair since an online exchange from last year where Cuban was critical of Boxee’s open approach to IPTV in favor of the cable industry’s TV Everywhere initiative:

The TV Anywhere solution is the best solution out there. Its the best of both worlds , you just have to subscribe to cable/sat/telco video to get it. Which in fact most people already do. So for most of the US, broadband consuming world, it will be the path of least resistance.

The live rematch will no doubt be a fan favorite pitting veteran blowhard against startup darling, entrenched business models against new technology, and the way things are against the way they should be.  Texas is Cuban’s home turf, but SXSW is an audience heavily favored to Ronen – this bout could easily go either way.

Ronen is willfully accepting the status of underdog for this fight, but how do these two TV warriors measure up on paper?

Let’s look at the tale of the tape…

The fight for the future of television.

Place your bets now!

The Latest Fans on the Boxee Bandwagon: The United States Congress
4 February 2010 by Rob Spectre

We have some new members of the Boxee community who divulged their fandom in the most unlikely of settings: a Congressional hearing.  Testifying before a House inquiry about the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal merger, NBC chief Jeff Zucker was asked a question about the ongoing Boxee / Hulu controversy by Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA):

Mr. Boucher: The second key question that I have is this: what about Boxee?  Did Hulu block the Boxee users from access to the Hulu programs?

Mr. Zucker: This was a decision made by the Hulu management, uh, to, uh… What Boxee was doing was illegally taking the content that was on Hulu without any business deal.  And, you know, all… We have several distributors, actually many distributors of the Hulu content that we have legal distribution deals with.  So we don’t preclude distribution deals; what we preclude is those that illegally take that content.

Mr. Boucher: Would you be open to negotiations with Boxee or whatever it was?

Mr. Zucker: We have always said that we are open to negotiations.

Did a Congressman just tell Hulu to play nice with Boxee?

Here’s the video:

Update: Boxee CEO Avner Ronen just posted a response to Jeff Zucker’s testimony arguing the accuracy of Zucker’s claim.

Boxee uses a web browser to access Hulu’s content – just like Firefox or Internet Explorer. Boxee users click on a link to Hulu’s website and the video within that page plays. We don’t “take” the video. We don’t copy it. We don’t put ads on top of it. The video and the ads play like they do on other browsers or on Hulu Desktop. And it certainly is legal to do so.

Mr. Zucker says they always said they are open to negotiations. That has not been our experience, but at this point, we will take Mr. Zucker’s offer at face value and will contact him. We are eager to work with both Comcast and NBCU to bring more content on more devices to our users. We believe the Internet represents a great opportunity for content owners and we hope that current artificial barriers put on distribution over the Internet will be taken down.

Does this mean the Hulu experience on Boxee is about to get better? Who knows, but the incident further highlights Boxee’s growing disruption in the IPTV space, a Wild West environment that is turning television on it’s head.

See Avner’s response in its entirety here.

The Developer’s Recap of the Boxee Beta Launch (Part 1 – Beta!)
11 December 2009 by Rob Spectre

As we were walking up to the Music Hall of Williamsburg after the developer pre-game at Brooklyn Bowl, it was clear the early fear that crossing the river would keep Manhattan Boxee fans away from the beta launch was laughably unwarranted.  The doors had been open for fifteen minutes already and the line around the newly renovated venue was still around the block with still more people showing up in droves.  A crazy mix of dorks, home theatre enthusiasts, entertainment suits, and new media journalists mingled in the frigid Brooklyn air, all equally grateful the wait for the Boxee Beta was almost over and that the weather cooperated for the long wait in line.

By the time I got in, the hall was already bulging – early arrival, as is usually the case with the Boxee community, ended up being crucial.

With a couple days of rest and recovery to organize thoughts from the event that followed, I’ve put together this first person recap of the Boxee Beta launch party from the developer’s perspective.  The evening was pivotal for Boxee the Product, Boxee the Company and Boxee the Community; here are the highlights from this coder to you.

I’ll be talking about the night  in three parts – first the Boxee Beta software, then the Boxee Box and finally the new apps launched, all with some tasty anecdotes from the evening snitched in.

Pure eye candy

Pure eye candy

Believe it or not, the moment the Beta hit the big screen was not accompanied by a riotous cheer by the ravenous audience, but rather a collective gasp of astonishment at the new interface.  The new look for Boxee is a bold, dramatic change from the far more XBMC-like interface that came before it and it slammed the audience like a falling piano.    With a clean new interface, sexy color palette, and simplified navigation, it was like graduation day for Boxee where the software stopped being a social port of Xbox Media Center and came into its own as an open source project aimed for the mainstream consumer.

Here’s the rundown of the hottest sauce for Boxee developers in the Beta release:

1) Content Consolidation

Consistently the biggest problem for Gonzee users has been remembering which application had what content.  The effort to consolidate the navigation for television shows and movies has paid off big with the beta interface, allowing users to search *and* browse all the content Boxee can deliver without having to remember if MacGuyver was in the Crackle app or in Hulu.

Every TV Show that Boxee can view, now in one menu.

Every TV Show that Boxee can view, now in one menu.

The potential for developers is huge, as it puts the content center stage regardless of the application it is in.  We know that a lot of people use Boxee just for Hulu television shows -  Boxee Beta’s content consolidation gives high quality, hilarious independent content greater visibility and another avenue to hook fans than just app install.

2) Huge App Improvements

The App Box has undergone a similar interface change, now giving users a far superior  Boxee app experience.  To install an application in Boxee Alpha, users had to navigate to the App Box, scroll through all 158 apps to find the one they were looking for by thumbnail alone, click to install then navigate back to the Applications menu to actually launch the app.

Global Menu - now apps can be two clicks away from anywhere in the interface.

Global Menu - now apps can be two clicks away from anywhere in the interface.

All that is streamlined in Boxee Beta.  The apps that the user has already installed and the apps they can install are now accessible from within the same menu.  Further, users have three options once they find an app that is interesting: start, add to my apps or add to shortcuts.  “Start” allows the user to immediately launch the app, taking users directly to the app without committing to a full install.  “Add to My Apps” installs the app much like the original Boxee Alpha experience.  Finally, “Add to Shortcuts” adds the app directly to the home navigation screen, letting users keep their favorite apps no more than two clicks away from anywhere in the Boxee interface.

The streamlined application navigation is a very powerful display of commitment by Boxee to the dev community, which bodes extremely well for the future of the software as a real development platform.

3) Queue

It's queue-tastic!

It's queue-tastic!

As a Boxee user, the feature I was most excited to see demonstrated was the new Boxee queue.  Working much like one’s DVR or Netflix queue, the Boxee queue allows users to mark any media into a queue to watch at a later time.  The big revelation with this feature, however, was the fact that the queue will be web-enabled with a Boxee bookmarklet, meaning users will be able to add content to their queue from their non-Boxee computers and mobile devices.

This is another feature that has great potential for the Boxee developer.  “Add to Boxee” buttons for  video services and other content distribution channels?  An iPhone Boxee queue manipulation app?  A Wordpress Widget displaying a user’s Boxee queue on his/her blog?

Similar functionality was available with early Boxee apps like L8R (which I loved), but the full integration makes the experience a lot easier.

This feature could get really cool, really fast.

Next up: The Boxee Box!

Brooklyn Bowl Pre-Game – Boxee Beta Event Dec. 7th
24 November 2009 by Rob Spectre

After nearly a year of development since the first public version of Boxee got into our early adopting hands, the Boxee developer community has been anxiously awaiting the next milestone for our favorite open source social media center.  At long last, the wait for the beta version of Boxee is soon to be over with an unveiling being held in a little over a week in the (718).

What better borough than Brooklyn for the next big release of the subversive TV software and what better place that the venerable chapel for rock and roll, the Music Hall of WIlliamsburg?  The word from the Boxee crew is that  RSVPs for the beta launch have already passed 1,000 with ten days yet to go.  No doubt it is going to be the best holiday party in open source and I’ll be there in full Gonzee effect looking for fellow devs and Boxee lovers.

You coming to New York for the Boxee beta launch?  We’re getting together for a little developer grip-and-grin before the Boxee event at the best happy hour to be had in the (718), the Brooklyn Bowl.  Near the L line and just a couple blocks up from the Music Hall of Williamsburg, we’ll meet for a pint, some appetizers and a few frames of the dorkest, kludgiest bowling imaginable before heading in to scope the latest news from the Boxee crew.

Check out Brooklyn Bowl here.   RSVP for the Boxee event here.

See you in Brooklyn!


HEADSHOT! – Gonzee App Makes Mashable’s Top 5
15 August 2009 by Rob Spectre

The social media blog Mashable just posted their Top 5 Boxee apps with their favorites from the App Box.  Big ups go to some of my personal faves like Facebook Photos, Pandora and – my personal Number One – We Are Hunted.  A Gonzee app gets some love as well, with Pure Pwnage making the list.  Jennifer Van Grove writes:

Though this hit web series will soon find its way on your television (in Canada that is), one of Boxee’s most prolific application developers, Rob Spectre, has turned the series into a nifty Boxee app. So, you can watch the made-for-the-web series in all its glory on your television right now.

Source: Mashable

Source: Mashable

Quite an honor to get some work placed in the same field of recognition as these apps, but the big winner is the dev community.  Installing Boxee apps is a viral usage loop; the more people install and find great content, the more people will install and find more great content.  Every user that gets introduced to the App Box is another step closer to making this platform their primary source of home entertainment where the users – not the cable companies – decide when, where and how they want to watch their favorite shows.


Boxee Secures $6M B Round
12 August 2009 by Rob Spectre

Boxee just announced the close of a second round of funding, infusing the company with another $6 million in cash.  Combined with the $4 million raised at the end of 2008, Boxee just hit eight figures to put the screws to the television status quo.  General Catalyst leads the round with participation by Boxee’s previous investors Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures.

It’s a big round in this environment for a pre-revenue startup, an indicator of Boxee’s disruptive potential and solid traction thus far.  But more interesting to the Boxee developer is how the money intends to be spent.  Boxee CEO Avner Ronen details the goodies in store for the dev community:

Attracting more developers – While we have an App Store on Boxee, we know it needs some love. For Developers, we know it needs to be easier to develop and monetize apps. For users, we’re going to make it easier to find apps on Boxee. Last but not least we’re going to extend the APIs so everyone can do more with Boxee.

Sounds like some great stuff soon to be unlocked for us developers, undoubtedly soon to debut in Gonzee apps.

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