Television has always been a social thing. Whether it’s because you’re watching it with family and friends at home, watching football in the pub, chatting at school or work with friends about that programme that you all love the night before, television is about much more than a broadcast.
During the recent US election, I was being rather traditional, tucked up in bed listening to Radio 4 (quite different from my approach in the 2005 UK general election, when Nick and I were even live-blogging the action). While I was being sleepy and passive this year, my friend Jo was being social online. Here’s what her screen looked like, complete with live-streaming BBC News, IM chat and Twitter.
I’ve been building this list for ages, but it’s finally time for a roundup of social viewing tools. Here are some examples of how the web is being used to make different sorts of conversations possible around television:
Curation and communities
- There are a few blogs about television. Watchification is “selecting the really good stuff from the BBC iPlayer…” and other sources. (Disclaimer: I’m the tech geek behind the curtains at Watchification). Curation is interesting. By highlighting Twitter, Delicious and Flickr content, the tag pages are getting (IMHO) more useful too.
- Smashing Telly is “a hand edited collection of the best free, instantly available TV on the web”. Like Watchification, it’s an example of comments around curated programmes rather than live chat.
- I keep hearing people asking ‘what’s the last.fm of television?’ Dan recently sent me an invite to Boxee, which apparently
“gives you a true entertainment experience to enjoy your movies, TV shows, music and photos, as well as streaming content from websites like Hulu, CBS, Comedy Central, Last.fm, and flickr.”
I’ve only just started using it, and although it seems far from perfect it is only an alpha at this stage. The integration with other platforms, the desktop app and the last.fm-like scrobbling looks interesting.
- TIOTI has been around for a bit longer than Boxee. It invites you to:
Find your favorite TV shows and brand new ones you’ll love, Share shows you like with your friends and see what they are watching, Download or stream TV shows from dozens of places online, Get involved and post your thoughts, improve our guide or add pics and vids.
- YouTube started offering video annotations after Google acquired Omnisio but only (so far) gives the video uploader a way to add annotations to the video, so it’s not (yet?) a social annotation tool.
- Viddler, on the other hand, offer time-stamped comments and tagging, which are displayed along the video timeline and (by default) pop up at the appropriate time.
Playing the backchannel
- CurrentTV recently partnered with Twitter to display relevant Twitter updates live on-screen. Discuss the presidential debates while watching it (using Twitter tags) and have your comment displayed on TV.
- MTV’s Backchannel takes a different approach to annotating episodes of The Hills, turning the process of ‘tagging’ and ‘clicking’, to endorse a tag, into a game. Playing Backchannel won’t (as far as I can tell) stream the show to you, you just play in the browser while you’re watching the show at the same time.
- When I think of live chat around TV, I think of Joost. Joost’s ‘channel chat’ has been overhauled a couple of times since the early days (I seem to remember it being initially based on IRC, then in 2007 they announced a partnership with Meebo) and more recently it seems to have gone away completely since they moved to Flash (or am I missing it?).
- BanterTV combines iPlayer simulcast embeds with real-time chat.
- The Electric Sheep Company’s WebFlock provides features for social viewing including
a visually immersive environment for social interaction, media consumption and game play
- Lycos Cinema is “is Synchronized Movie Watching” (complete with a frankly horrible introductory video) and invites you to
Watch thousands of movies and tv shows with your friends and chat live while you watch.
- What about the BBC? Anthony Rose recently announced some prototype work with Microsoft, in which iPlayer was hooked up to Windows Live Mesh. This was announced recently at Microsoft’s Professional Developer’s Conference and blogged in more detail by Microsoft’s Marc Holmes. Strategic, or experiment? You decide.
Of all of them, I find the asychronous chat using comments in the timeline on Viddler, and the game-playing elements of MTV’s Backchannel to be the most interesting. There must be lots of examples I’ve missed, but it’s an area I’ll continue to watch with interest.