Andrew Keen: Justin TV - Is this a game of life and death?

New media

I first met Justin Kan in May 2007 at Los Angeles' landmark Roosevelt hotel on Hollywood Boulevard. Back then, Kam had his own internet show: an always-on video streaming act in theme of Peter Weir's 1998 movie The Truman Show, which involved Kan wearing a webcam and broadcasting himself, 24-hours a day, on the internet.

Kan and I were appearing at the Always-On conference, an event put on by Tony Perkins, the noted Silicon Valley impresario. As we sat in the lobby, once the haunt of old media icons such as Gable, Lombard and Monroe and which was now packed with brash new media stars such as Kan, the 24-year-old Yale graduate told me that he planned to transform www.justin.tv from a site where he just broadcast himself into a Web 2.0 style portal that enabled everyone to stream themselves on the internet. A portal, I thought to myself – how quaint, how antiquated, how 1998.

How wrong I was. Kan's Justin.tv, financed by Paul Graham's Y Combinator early stage venture fund, has proved to be one of the most viral hits of today's internet. According to the authoritative TechCrunch news service, in the first year of Justin.tv's existence, the social-network portal has created 650,000 new broadcasters on 90,000 channels who have collectively produced a mindboggling 119 years worth of video material.

But now Justin.tv, which continues to experience meteoric growth in broadcasters and viewers, is in the news for two quite different reasons: one inspiring, the other tragic. The tragedy involved a 19-year-old community college student from Florida called Abraham Biggs who broadcast himself on Justin.tv under the screen name of CandyJunkie. On 20 November, Biggs, who had a long history of mental illness, committed suicide live on Justin.tv after taking an overdose of antidepressants. What is particularly sad is that some members of the 185 person audience who watched the live suicide on Justin.tv not only failed for hours to alert the authorities but actually egged on Biggs to kill himself, and others callously accused the dying young man of performing a stunt to gain attention.

While Biggs's suicide is not a first on the internet, it does reveal the anomie, cruelty and narcissism that characterises much of the web. With or without the internet, Biggs was clearly a troubled young man fixated with taking his own life. But the existence of Kan's always-on platform provided an ideally soulless environment for him to publicly act out his final moments. That Justin.tv viewers proved to be so heartless about such an awful tragedy speaks, I think, to the emptiness of the much vaunted conversation, community and collaboration on the "social" web.

Fortunately, the news about Justin.tv is not only tragic. One of the more inspiring consequences of Kan's broadcasting portal is its attempt, implicit or otherwise, to democratise that most archaic of old media businesses – English Premier League football. Justin.tv members are watching live televised games where they are broadcast around the world, filming them with their webcams and streaming the action directly over the portal, where they can of course be watched by fans in Britain. While the Premier League clubs – who pay their overpriced stars with the revenue from their international television deals – have yet to formally sue Justin.tv, their lawyers have claimed these broadcasts are illegal and that the Silicon Valley company should desist from allowing its members to post this supposedly pirated content.

Justin.tv's CEO, Michael Siebel, has fallen back on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to claim that the site is not knowingly allowing the reproduction of copyrighted materials. But I think he should respond more aggressively to the bullying, greedy executives intent on maintaining an unnatural broadcasting monopoly on their product. The truth is that streaming the games live on amateurish, grainy videos is no threat to high-priced live ticket sales or to glossy mainstream broadcasts. Justin.tv is actually democratising the "people's game" by giving internet users an intimate taste of English football. In fact, as a former Spurs season ticket holder exiled to the wasteland of Silicon Valley, Justin.tv's live feeds from White Hart Lane appear to me to be almost as much of a godsend as Harry Redknapp.

Andrew Keen is author of 'The Cult of The Amateur'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Senior Management Accountant

£40000 - £46000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Global publishing and digital bu...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world