Social TV Is Harder Than We Thought

Watch television and talk about it with your friends: Social TV is a simple concept. But trying early implementations of such projects makes it clear that this is more complicated than we might have thought.

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Sometimes it’s just a matter of seeing would-be social TV products in action to understand what they’re lacking. When Verizon FiOS added a Twitter app, it left out the part where people could actually update their statuses, thinking a public stream would do. Verizon said the capacity to contribute simply hadn’t occurred to them, and after users complained added the functionality within two weeks.

Today Cliqset, a well-reviewed FriendFeed-esque startup, launched a Boxee app to give users the ability to talk about the programs they’re watching. Cliqset’s strength is monitoring some 70 social services and combining them in real time. So it built a software library around Boxee to enable real-time activities, which could end up being very cool.

But the app itself was barely usable for me. You have to open Boxee, install Cliqset, then start watching something on Boxee, then open up the app again. As you watch, you can enter in comments that load in real-time on the screen and are visible to other people watching the same content. However, comments are tied solely to the episode, rather than a timestamp within it. So when you load up the episode, you see a stream of comments from other people who have watched the episode or movie. Say the last thing they write about is the big twist at the end? That’s the first thing you’ll see.

This would work if you and your friends all agreed to watch one episode at the same time using Cliqset and Boxee together — of course, anything social requires friends to actually show up. Unlike other social TV projects, Cliqset requires users to sign up for their own accounts (which they can do within Boxee, but still), a further barrier to entry.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not writing off Cliqset’s TV app entirely — but it definitely highlights how hard it will be to bring social TV to the living room in compelling fashion. Other issues to figure out: what to use as a remote, how to make viewing parties happen naturally, how to coordinate various screens and input and managing widget clutter.

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