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'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Management Accountant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for a independently owne...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Management Accountant

£17 - £20 per hour: Sauce Recruitment: Working for a independently owned and c...

Guru Careers: Mac Operator / Artworker

£Negotiable (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Mac Operator / Artworker to ...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore