Technology

Translation Please: In Defense of the Unbound App

1/19/2009 5:16 AM Eastern

Here’s a new one in the surging body of interactive-TV work known as EBIF: The possible use of the spec to do both bound and unbound applications.

That’s good for applications needing to remain in the TV foreground, should Viewer Jane change the channel. “Unbound,” in this sense, means it stays on the screen regardless of what Jane’s watching.

Like, say, a “TV widget” — one of the recurring themes at the recent Consumer Electronics Show.

It’s also good for unbound applications that want a nice, big service footprint (name one that doesn’t), and not just a ride on the smaller-but-growing deployed base of advanced digital boxes.

So far, though — meaning since the Enhanced Binary Interchange Format emerged from CableLabs as a technical specification in 2005 — EBIF exists as a way to add interactivity within a specific show, or ad. It’s “bound” to the content it travels with.

As for EBIF’s potential service footprint: Still big. The “binary” in EBIF is a hint at how small the stuff is. Small is good, when you need a big deployed base.

This all started with an e-mail, right before the holidays: “A while ago, you wrote a column about EBIF … which touched on the 'cool factor’ of bound apps versus unbound apps.”

That column in question was written in May of ’08. It questioned whether enough unbound applications existed to attract developers. It likened bound apps to Ginger, and unbound apps to Mary Ann. (“Necessary. Sensible. Pretty in their own way. Not Ginger.”)

At the time, the majority of the unbound apps were MSO-specific: The guide; the video-on-demand ordering system. When people talked about OCAP apps, that’s what usually came up.

Conversely, voting someone off a reality show, or “telescoping” in to find additional episodes, are the things that come up when people discuss EBIF.

So, a tacit generalization grew: EBIF is bound, OCAP is unbound; EBIF is sexy, OCAP is necessary.

The question came from a representative of Integra5, which got its start doing caller ID on TV — an enormously popular unbound application. Conversations ensued. What about recommendations, fantasy sports teams, social networking ? (Note how widget-y these are.)

The list of apps that work best if they persist over channel changes grew quickly. Now, it’s a matter of making EBIF capable of listening to two doorbells, so to speak: The existing inbound and the out-of-bound. More on that as clarity occurs.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at www.translation-please.com.

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