How About a Last.fm for Movies?

whiwaIs it time for a Last.fm for TV shows and movies? That’s the question a new online video platform called Whiwa.net is raising. Whiwa is a video community based on scrobbling –- the act of automatically tracking your media consumption habits and sharing them with the world — that is at the core of Last.fm’s social and recommendation features.

Whiwa is run by two developers out of the Czech Republic. The duo told me they have a lot of plans for their platform, but at this point it’s clearly still very experimental. However, the idea behind it is certainly interesting, and it begs the question: Could a movie site like this eventually become as big as Last.fm? Or is video just too different of a beast than music?

Whiwa.net is a movie community site that works a little bit like the original Audioscrobbler service that eventually became the technical core of Last.fm: Users can download a small client that tracks which videos they’re watching on their PC. This data is synchronized with the Whiwa.net database and added to a user’s profile. Users can also discover new content by browsing the profiles of others with similar taste.

I played around with Whiwa over the last few days, and it does work. Well, sort of. The database is still fairly small, and the client doesn’t play well with all media players. No VLC for example, and no, no OS X, either — Whiwa is currently Windows only.

Whiwa’s two developers tried fingerprinting and other more advanced content recognition methods, they told me, but those caused too many errors, so they eventually settled for the fastest and easiest approach: The client simply checks for the file or disk names and cross-references this information with IMDB data. Users can also manually add movies they’ve seen in the theater or on TV. They plan to add a more advanced recommendation engine and a Facebook application in the near future.

I found paying with Whiwa fun, if only for the fact that it made me think about the viability of such a model in the online video space. Most of us consume far fewer movies than songs, and TV shows require a different kind of commitment than music. Fall in love with a show’s pilot, and you’ll be busy watching all of the following episodes during the rest of the season and thus far less interested in dozens of recommendations for other shows.

Then there’s the legal side. Last.fm recently got into hot water when TechCrunch alleged that the site’s owner CBS handed over the personal information of thousands of listeners to the RIAA. Some have doubted whether this type of data would really be useful to the music industry. After all, how would a label know whether a Last.fm user got a recording as an illegal download or through legal means? Movie data, on the other hand, would be much less ambiguous. There’s simply no way to legally watch a Hollywood blockbuster on your home PC right after its theatrical release.

However, there’s also a lot to like about the idea of a Last.fm for movies. People like to share what they’re watching, and previous efforts to capture this type of data have proven either too complicated or inconclusive. You can tell your friends about your favorite movies on Facebook or try to find new online videos through a recommendation service like ffwd, but those things usually require a lot of explicit action on your part. You have to enter movie titles, vote for clips, etc. Moreover, offering up good recommendations based on those votes can be really, really hard, as Netflix well knows.

The beauty of the Last.fm model is that you just do what you’ve always done — watch a movie or listen to a song — and the service monitors and calculates your taste automatically. Of course, doing that for movies and TV shows would really only well work if it captured the vast majority of our video consumption. This means it would have to track our viewing habits online, on the tube and even on cell phones. It’s not impossible — but something tells me that we’ll still have to wait a little while before someone is going to become the Last.fm of newteevee.

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