Social Telly – a roundup of social viewing stuff

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.

Social recommendations

  • I keep hearing people asking ‘what’s the 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,, 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 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.

Live chat

  • 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

The Electric Sheep Company: Products: WebFlock

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.

8 replies on “Social Telly – a roundup of social viewing stuff”

  1. Also worth checking out in this space is Oortle, which was part of the launchpad at Web 2.0 Expo (San Francisco) this year.

    They have two products – photophlow and videophlow. (Is the “ph” for “f” substitution the new dropped vowel of web 2.0?).

    Videophlow (described in this TechCrunch entry):

    [T]akes the . . . dynamic community experience and applies it to YouTube. Groups of friends watch the same videos simultaneously as they interact with chat, emoticons, and gestures – viewers can even throw virtual tomatoes at the screen, complete with an animated splat.

    All users will see the same portion of a video at the same time, even if they skip to a different scene. And best of all, groups can seamlessly transition to new videos. This has the chance to be a big hit – I can easily imagine groups of friends swapping (and watching) their favorite videos during late night viewing marathons.

  2. At risk of seeming like a spammer leaving multiple comments in a row, let me add one more, because I think this is a really useful post.

    Kaltura is an open source & SaaS platform for collaboration around video – including things like remixes. It’s essentially a browser based multitrack multiformat video editor with community features, enabling users to collaborate together on a video asset or set of videos.

  3. I think CBS has done the best job in launching social viewing rooms thus far. They get lots of traffic and the app is very social and interactive. I believe they are using the ClipSync technology.


  4. Thanks everyone. Especially John (1 & 2) and Tom (6) whose links now form part of my peripheral memory on this subject.

    John: I had seen Photophlow but had never heard of Videophlow or Kaltura. Thanks.

    Tom: it’s great to be reminded of the foundations of this stuff. Thank you.

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