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Summary:

The video Q&A site VYou, which launched in beta last month with an eclectic mix of celebrity users, hits right at the core of what drives social networking. And despite some flaws, the site has the potential to evolve into an interesting community of conversation.

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One of those basic facts of human nature is that pretty much everyone likes having the opportunity to talk about themselves. This is the fundamental drive powering most social networking sites, but the video Q&A site VYou, which launched in beta last month with an eclectic mix of celebrity users, taps directly into that impulse.

Having been playing with the site off and on for the last few weeks, it’s easy to see how people might get hooked.

First, there’s the opportunity to ask people like Gizmodo editor Jason Chen, director Kevin Smith and internet It Girl Molls any random question that might come to mind, whether it relate to Four Loko or Han Solo.

I used the service to ask comedian Steve Agee, for example, how he’s managed to answer so many questions (his current total responses is 517) — click here for his answer.

Most responses, though, tend to be a little more rambling in nature. In addition, anyone can create their own profile and answer questions put to them by the big wide Internet — so far on mine, for example, I’ve been asked about my favorite comic books and sushi restaurants.

TV personality Dave Holmes has been a lot more prolific than me, though — he’s created over 170 video responses to all sorts of topics. “Yeah, I’m enjoying VYou,” he said via email, “And I find it’s best when you don’t edit or plan or rerecord. It’s kind of fun to just post a thought as you’re thinking it, even when you might not agree with your own opinions a half-hour from now,” he said via email.

He also mentioned the ability to converse with people like Agee: “I’d met Steve in passing years ago, but in the last couple of days, we’ve been asking each other questions and answering them, which is a much more casual way to meet for coffee. I definitely didn’t feel like I needed a VYou in my life, but I’m glad I have it.”

Epic Fu host Zadi Diaz is also a fan, despite technical glitches (the VYou camera is pretty much non-functional in Firefox for Mac, for example). “I’m torn on whether or not I want it to have more social aspects,” she said via email. “I find it nice now when a video site’s focus isn’t all about numbers but more about connection. So finding deeper, more meaningful or more creative ways users can ask and answer questions would be fun. I do like that it’s effortless to answer questions. It’s digestible. Very easy.”

There are a lot of factors, though, upon which VYou is dependent — for one thing, users have to keep using the site. User K-Stad, for example, has an interesting concept to his profile: He’s a guitar-wielding musician, offering to take requests from people — the more challenging the better. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a new video since Nov. 11 — which is strange, considering that he’s currently featured on the VYou homepage.

The biggest flaw I’ve seen so far, however, is that due to a lack of discovery in the interface, the level to which a user can participate depends entirely on the audience they bring to it from the outside.

Known personalities like Diaz, Holmes and Agee receive plenty of queries, but that volume isn’t exchanged in return — those without fanbases may struggle to get even one or two questions. That’s the Catch-22 to VYou — if no one asks you questions, then you have no videos on your profile. With no videos on your profile, you have minimal opportunity to show others why they should ask you a question. It’s a distinctly chicken-and-the-egg dilemma, and one that keeps many users from getting the full experience.

And this frustration shows — on a number of profiles, I saw prolific VYou users get asked how other people might receive questions — something which kinda stumped Free Enterprise director Robert Meyer Burnett.

However, VYou is definitely finding its audience: In less than a month, it’s approaching 4,500 users and received over one million video views, if you include waiting and no response plays. Pure response videos currently tally in the range of 800,000 views, and a VYou representative believes that they’ll break the million views marker there in a matter of weeks.

So VYou is currently very much a beta product. But with more incentives to keep users engaged — such as a recently announced Harry Potter contest — and more efforts made to improve discoverability, like a recommendation engine or standard questions that anyone can answer to build out their profile — it’s easy to see how the site could blossom into a vibrant question-asking community.

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  1. What shall I draw Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    re: “With no videos on your profile, you have minimal opportunity to show others why they should ask you a question…. one that keeps many users from getting the full experience”

    I can think of a few things. First, people who are bringing little to no audience with them need to start by participating in the asking process. An intriguing waiting video and description helps. I also think VYou can help get the ball rolling by asking a general question daily to all users, who then can respond, then VYou can allow people to click on those who have answered the question. You would be able discover all different kinds of people. I do know there are a number of features they have yet to unveil, this may be one of them, who knows. I have been using the site since the beginning of Nov and I had no following. I can attribute a lot of the followers I have received to VYou featuring me, so I think aside from whatever creative ways you can come up with to get noticed, the folks at VYou hold the key to creating more ways of discovery. BTW, I’m having a blast!

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