A fundamental shift in how we consume television and film is occurring. Users are favoring non-live media sources, such as Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), Video-On-Demand services (e.g. Apple's iTunes Video Store), and even rented physical media (e.g. DVDs via Netflix). This time-shift makes it difficult for friends, family and coworkers to talk about common shows they enjoy - degrading the so-called "water cooler effect". Compounding this isolation is the fact that almost half of Americans watch TV alone frequently**.
However, all indications point towards a lack of ability to communicate, not a lack of desire. To reverse this trend, a powerful new communication paradigm for television is needed - one that captures users' comments during and immediately after watching a show. This is when the material is fresh and engaging, and peoples' commentary rich and plentiful. This content then needs to be saved - the enthusiasm and detail preserved - and shared with users who watch the content at a later time. Our hack, called Tvitter, achieves this by providing users a simple set of communication primitives that works for asynchronous viewing.
In the last 24 hours, we've hacked in three demo communication primitives. The first feature is text comments - at any point in the show, one can start typing to enter a comment. Users can also perform two gestures, thumbs up and thumbs down (many more are possible). These are simple proxies for "it's great" and "it's bad". Our system treats all these events as temporal annotations attached to that particular show or movie. When a new user begins to watch the program (at a later time), they can see the commentary and gestures of all of their friends who watched the show in the past unfold in "real-time". It almost appears as though everyone were watching in parallel with the present viewer. (In a synchronous situation, this mechanism would work just like a live chat, with actions appearing instantly to all other concurrent viewers.)
Some key benefits:
1) Synchronous users can communicate without hindrance while simultaneously interacting with asynchronous commentary (plus, their actions are saved temporally for future viewers).
2) Lone viewers who would otherwise see no communication are exposed to a wealth of previous interaction. Moreover, they may be motivated to participate in the conversation knowing that subsequent viewers will see their remarks.
3) As more users watch and comment on a show, the richer the dialog becomes for later viewers.
4) A wealth of information is generated. Users are essentially textually tagging the show down to the second. And the thumbs up and thumbs down gestures could be used to extract a continuous interest level throughout the show. Lots of applications are possible using this data, including show recommendation (via collaborative filtering down to e.g., the joke level) and collapsing long shows (e.g., news, sports) down to the highest rated five minutes.
** R. D. Putnam. Bowling Alone. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2000.