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The social TV download guide Tape It Off The Internet (TIOTI) will finally open to the public tomorrow. As one of the first sites to combine online TV with social recommendations, wiki features and tagging, TIOTI got some rave reviews when it first appeared late last year for a private beta test. The fact that it offered easy access to torrent downloads of your favorite shows didn’t hurt either.
Now TIOTI is back with a refined design and a bunch of new features. Of course, TIOTI isn’t the only one trying to reinvent the TV guide in the age of the Internet. Sidereel launched with a similar concept this spring, Locate TV just opened up today, offering its users a more Google-like experience, and TV Guide itself has been revamping its website. So how does the new TIOTI stack up against the competition — and how does it walk the delicate line between torrents, TV networks and the world of YouTube & Co.?
The good news first: TIOTI hasn’t changed a whole lot since the first beta test. The site got a little less flashy and toned down some of its web 2.0 gimmicks, but at the center of TIOTI, the original approach remains — you bookmark certain shows as your favorites and track whole seasons through the site. Check off episodes that you’ve already seen on TV or on the Net, and find media resources for the ones you missed. You can find new shows through groups, collaborative filtering and friend-based recommendations, tags or just plain old categories.
TIOTI still offers links to torrents from sites like The Pirate Bay and Mininova, but now it also indexes streaming media. You’ll find links to official episodes on the web sites of TV networks next to sites like Veoh or Stage 6. All of these links are submitted by the users of TIOTI in a Wikipedia-like fashion, so the number of available resources per show will likely increase with the number of users.
Speaking of Wikipedia, users can add a whole bunch of additional info to each and every episode, including links to bloopers, trailers and parodies. TIOTI co-founder Paul Pod told me that this kind of non-traditional TV content will eventually play a bigger role on the site. “We’ve been quite rigid with our door policy of ‘what is TV’ so far, but are very aware that the whole definition is up for change,” he said. Users will be able to submit podcasts and web-based shows soon, and the community will then decide whether or not the content fits their definition of TV.
Granted, sites like Sidereel invite their readers’ participation as well. But TIOTI connects those readers through social networking features and self-organized interest groups. This emphasis on social interaction is it what sets TIOTI apart from its competitors.
Well, that and the torrent links, which catapult the site into uncharted legal territory. TIOTI is based in the U.S. and as such follows DMCA takedown notices, but that hasn’t stopped the industry from suing other torrent sites in the past. Still, Pod insists that the feedback from the industry has been “nothing but positive.” He thinks that TIOTI can help TV networks with their own content distribution experiments. “Aggregators like ours provide another model that lies over all this and hopefully is a good place to spot what works,” he said.