Three Degrees

So Microsoft has a "NetGen" product called Threedegrees in beta. That's dumb Microsoft lingo for "Net Generation" and I can't say that the marketing scheme or the quasi-retro quasi-hipster site and product design strike me as very good ideas. Nor, in general, would I say that the world needs yet another instant messaging client whose main selling point is a smileys-on-steroids "feature."

But Threedegrees does include at least one genuinely brilliant idea: the product appears to be a seamless merger of Windows Media Player and MSN Messenger. That is, you can open up a chat group and stream music to the other participants. There's a shared playlist; anyone can add songs to it or change the order. Run your own radio station; preview your friends' music; give a real-time lecture on the subtleties of the orchestration; work and chat to the same beat. This could be huge.

My first reaction was "how can this possibly have gotten past the RIAA?" I'm told that there is indeed a licensing deal in place, a deal that is reflected in the program's built-in limits: no more than 10 members per group, no more than 60 songs per playlist, streams at 64KBps quality, and no permanent downloads. I also have close to zero confidence that the RIAA will remain calm if Threedegrees really starts taking off.

Even with these restrictions, MS has got what appears to be a killer app on its hands. I say "appears to be" because I haven't yet been able to road-test it with other people. I'm looking for some friends to download the beta and see how well Threedegrees works in practice. You'll need Windows XP, broadband Internet access, and a fair amount of patience as you install the various software prerequisites. But if you're willing to give it a try, please let me know and we can give this puppy a proper inspection.