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Flash Powers Comcast.net's Innovative Video Browser

Flash is a great tool for developing highly interactive interfaces. Cross-platform and broadly compatible with just about any browser or operating system, it's a common denominator that never feels like "least." Using Flash's ability to read data from a server or a Web service, application developers can build rich interfaces to data-driven applications. Combine that with true streaming video capability, and you've got a top-notch toolset for building rich interactive interfaces to video content.

Eric Elia is the director of Comcast High Speed Internet's online portal, comcast.net. Elia sums up his team's mission: "The challenge was to create a new video application, which combined browse, search, playback, and customization in an easy to use interface. It had to be as simple as channel surfing on the TV." Comcast's innovative solution is The Fan.

Comcast, as both the largest cable TV provider and largest broadband ISP (internet service provider) in the U.S., straddles two converging worlds. In the TV world, point-and-click interactivity is limited to using the remote to flip through your viewing options one-by-one. On-screen program guides add value, but are no match for the rich interfaces that are natural to the Web. Online, on the other hand, you can create the killer program guide – you can include screenshots of scenes, do searching and sorting, and include rich, cross-linked textual descriptions. But actually seeing video is a click-and-wait scenario. At its worst, it's an exercise in frustration: find the link, click, pop-up the video player, load, buffering, buffering, buffering, finally playing – nope – not what I wanted – start all over again.

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