Blog Post

Video Wants To Be Social

When you watch media with other people — that is, live and simultaneously — it’s impossible not to be affected by their giggles and groans and analysis. That’s kind of what I was hoping to find out more about when we started the Pier Screenings series this spring. Five editions later, we’re done with the series (for this year anyway), and it’s been hammered home in more ways then one. And the whole experience has me wondering about the potential for social video viewing to be extended on the web.

I am terrible at predicting how a crowd will react to a screening. I had no idea The Real World Ikea would be such a huge hit at our parody-themed screening, and I shouldn’t have worried that Alive in Baghdad would be too slow and serious for the crowd at the citizen news edition. I also hadn’t a clue that the Burg and Alamo Heights SA would completely bomb with our audience (both are longer-form serials, though).

And last night, when most of the “love stories”-themed finalist shorts were funny and touching — but probably far more funny and touching to the friends and family of their creators — the crowd let us know (see this live blog to get the idea). As an audience member, I felt the lack of sizzle too. If we had been watching online, we wouldn’t have had the social obligation to keep the stream going. But being physically present is a much greater investment, and we were rewarded with some hilarious commentary from the judges. It was a million times better than cruel, disembodied, and asynchronous text comments you see on a site like YouTube.

Can that feeling of collective experience be replicated without actually being in the same place? A lot of people are making technology with that very goal in mind, such as live chat, telepresence, life-casting, and so on. Here are some examples of how such technology is already being used:

  • Sarah Meyerslive-broadcasts her life with a handheld webcam on She was at the screenings last night, but when the post-party gang was holding her up, she said she really had to leave as she’d told her viewing audience she would also attend the Halo 3 release in Times Square. They were waiting for her — if only virtually.
  • PalTalk is doing some neat stuff on this topic, creating web shows and hosting live webchats when they air. It requires a Windows-only download and you have to pay to see other chatters’ faces, but the idea is pretty cool.
  • For OldTeeVee, Seattle-based BuddyTV (recently bought by Comcast CMCSA) provides a feature it calls “TVj” where users can attract audiences during the live airing of a show for their expert critical analysis or obsessive fan gossip, provided via chat.
  • Sports, the ultimate appointment TV, has another twist on the social watching theme with Yahoo’s (YHOO) fantasy sports league — members can talk smack with one another as they watch the game on their own media centers (see my coverage of this on GigaOM from last year).
  • Emerging Internet TV platforms like Jaman and Joost are building chat right into their products.
  • Boulder, Colo.-based startup Me.dium makes a browser plug-in that lets you find and follow other users around on the web, viewing the pages they’re looking at, in real time. The company has recently come upon the strategy of using celebrities as curators — for instance Dr. Tiki of Tiki Bar TV — to watch shows or tour the web together.
  • Dina Kaplan of let it slip at the screenings last night that her site will be releasing features in this vein soon, allowing for synchronous communal video watching.

Though we may stare into our laptops or televisions for hours on end, people are social. Web video, and TV for that matter, satisfies our desire to create a zeitgeist, or a community, for the time when we can’t stop talking about Miss Teen South Carolina or The Sopranos finale. Can web tools make that experience even better, by enabling us to hear from anyone around the world who can provide funny or expert or personal commentary, with that commentary overlaid live and/or synchronously on a video as we watch? I think so.

15 Responses to “Video Wants To Be Social”

  1. sarahmeyers

    Media is getting more social in the comments. There are so many new ways to comment in a social environment with instant comments, like what Meebo is doing with their live chat.

    It’s getting more social, but causing less face to face interaction.

  2. Hey David – that’s a great comment. I guess what we’re grappling with is this:

    Media was always a social experience
    The channels media has historically been distributed through were inherently social (from plays in the park in Shakespeare’s era through to watching TV with your family)
    The new channels (online) tend to take away that social element (watching YouTube on your own late at night with nothing but the glow of a computer screen for company)
    How do we bring back the social element?


  3. Liz,

    It’s funny that for all of the ink spilled (virtual and otherwise) about “social media,” people sometimes forget that media was always social to begin with!


    p.s. great to talk to you on Monday.

  4. Hey Liz – thanks for the shoutout. At Me.dium we’re pretty excited about the possibilities of socializing around online content.

    Last week, for example, we held a week-long “music festival” across the web called “RockMe.”– where fans and bands could turn up online, see each other, watch video together, chat to each other, and surf across the wider web together. It was a total riot – like an online moshpit! Bands like Dinosaur Jr, The Fiery Furnaces, Rose Hill Drive, The New Pornographers, Gosling, The Willowz, etc, all turned up and took their fans on a “virtual tour” around the web – to their MySpace pages, to YouTube videos, or to whatever ever they thought was cool. You can read more about it here:

    This week we’re continuing the theme with “The RockMe. Sessions” – a daily dose of musical mayhem. You can find out more at

    The joy with socializing around web content, of course, is that you can socialize around any web content. For example, we have a large number of politically savvy users in Me.dium who will gather online around the MySpace political debates this week. Think of it as like a virtual “Speakers Corner” (if you’re a Brit like me, that probably makes a lot of sense ;-). Rather than simply watching the stream/video online alone, you get the feeling of being actually at a rally, surrounded by loads of other people equally as passionate about the debate as you are. The extra “energy” that this brings to an online event is awesome.

    Cheers. Tobias @ Me.dium

  5. Vahan Hartooni

    To tell you the truth, I just recently discovered the world on online video networks (disincluding youtube). With websites like and startup companies like NextNewNetwork, it’s very easy for a producer to create a film and get a quick audience.

    The only problem is that’s it’s disorganized and OVERWHELMING (so many options, thank god for miro). There are so many startups and online services that most producers just give up and video blog on YouTube because apparently YouTube is now the standard and THE video service to post on.

    How will the startups overcome youtube and not intimidate viewers away with the attributes that I just described?

  6. Matt Hendry

    Joost has chat but no one chats yet and they have what they call boost channels that allow for synchronized viewing (this feature needs a specially formatted piece of Java script code to work at the moment ).

    Then there’s the whole Joost as a widget platfrom thing that potentially could open a whole new world of social networking applications .

    In general TV is a social experience and Joost needs to replicate that social experience especially if they are concentrating on bringing the TV experience to the computer at the moment .