Facebook & Twitter videos shared by your friends, now on Shufflr…and did I tell you about the new bookmarklet?

While there are many who spend time finding videos to watch online, there are many who only watch videos when their friends share links with them via twitter, facebook etc.  We figured it’d be cool if we could aggregate all these shared links and bring them to you on your friend feed on Shufflr. The more friends you have on Facebook or follow on Twitter, better the chance of interesting videos finding their way into your friend feed. The nice part of this is that these videos show up even if your buddies are not on Shufflr. In our quest to constantly help you find videos you like, we figured this would be a great way to crowd-source your video discovery.

The best thing about Twitter is that you can follow not just your buddies but anyone you like, from Robert Scoble (@Scobleizer) to Britney Spears (@britneyspears). Now every time they share videos they like, it shows up on your friend feed.  Not just that, if you follow a list, videos shared on the list appear in your feed too.

You can do the same with Facebook by becoming a fan of pages you like. So now, apart from seeing what your friends are sharing on Facebook, you can now see videos shared from the bands you ‘like’ – coldplay, U2, John Mayer etc.

I for one love this feature. I have been seeing some real quality videos from @stephenfry, @scobleizer, U2, Mark Knopfler, Shufflr and of course my pals.

Believe it or not, there are days..sometimes more than 2 at a stretch that I don’t log on to Facebook. 2 days is a loooong time in Facebook world. The flood of updates from my buddies including shared videos are driven into oblivion in  a matter of hours. With Shufflr I now have a convenient way of catching up on the shared videos to watch when I please.

But wait….there’s more.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, we go ahead and surprise you. We introduced another new feature – the ability to queue videos from within and outside of Shufflr to watch at your convenience.

The Shufflr bookmarklet sits on your web browser’s toolbar. Every time you come across a video you like – say on a blog, on facebook, on YouTube etc. and you just don’t have the time to watch it…or maybe you just like it, you just have to click on the Shufflr Bookmarklet button on your browser to queue it into your Shufflr account. The next time you log in to Shufflr, all you need to do is click on the queue button on your browser to list out all the videos you collected from the web.

So you don’t need to skip or rush thru a video at work only because you had little or no time to see it, as we just built your personal ‘DVR’ for online video. The Shufflr bookmarklet is here.

So the next time you launch Shufflr, you will automatically be upgraded to the latest version. Do remember to connect your facebook and twitter accounts to see these videos appear on your friend feed. Our crawlers work on a schedule, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t immediately see updates from facebook and twitter on your friend feed. Rest assured that they will appear within a few hours of connecting your accounts.

By the way if you like what we are doing and want to stay up to date, please ‘like’ the Shufflr fan page. You’ll find some interesting videos there too.

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Of browser apps and stand alone apps

Is the day over for standalone apps? Looks like it if we read the increasingly bold print from some quarters of the press. Are they?

As hardware evolves, standalone apps will find it difficult to keep pace with the changes. It makes more sense to deploy browser based apps and reach out to the millions than to build standalone apps for all platforms. Browser wars are hotting up once again as we see the browser becoming the fulcrum of all web app deployment. IE9, Firefox, Safari & Chrome are all fighting to win market share in what could be the future platform for all app development. Many users are loathed to download anything on their machines and prefer using the browser. The inertia to download an app without a clear value proposition or peer pressure is pretty high. Facebook, Google and YouTube are all primarily browser solutions. The flip side for a nascent browser app is that it becomes hard to drive traffic its way. Facebook Connect and other social media help though.

On the other hand, the advocates of standalone apps argue that they have a better business model. The browser guys, are yet to devise a sound money making proposition! Others say that a web browser only surfaces content and doesn’t really allow you to use technology as a tool. What they say is that when it comes to providing a great user experience, few web apps can beat the standalone app tailored for the underlying hardware. Remember Flipboard, Skype, Tweetdeck etc. Stand alone apps also have the advantage of distribution. The Apple store, Android app store etc. are fantastic distribution platforms. However, as app stores become larger and larger, it becomes almost as difficult to find the right app as it is to find the right web app. The distribution advantage might soon fade away.

As for the future, it’s hard to say. Though most fingers point towards web apps as the way forward, a few hardy fingers point towards standalone apps as the way to go.  Actually, the industry is in a state of flux. For example Google TV is going the ‘websites for TV’ route whereas Apple TV has taken the walled-garden route with its iTunes store and paid downloads.

Don’t miss Wired, TechCrunch and Fred Wilson’s views on the debate. Note of course there is some concern over Wired’s interpretation of Cisco’s stats. Regardless of the numbers we as a company are seeing this transition and the need to make choices.

On the app development side, Adobe AIR is trying to make software platform agnostic by making sure their runtime abstracts the hardware details. It currently is PC/Mac based and works on Linux, Windows and the Mac OS. There is an effort thru the Open Screen project to make non-PC platform development including TVs and Tablets seamless. This of course is easier said than done as there is significant effort to port AIR/Flash to use hardware acceleration on embedded processors. From a developer perspective varying screen sizes & touch screen technologies stop it from being this one seamless switch.

On the web app development side there is Chrome from Google. Google is trying to fix the problem of monetization for web apps by opening a Chrome store. In addition, because it is all web “standards” based development the Chrome browser will abstract the details of the hardware. It will however have tighter integration with the OS with the ability to pop alerts etc. just like stand alone apps. Once again the problem is that for now this will work on the Chrome browser only.

HTML5 is expected to save the world from all this confusion. But we know that HTML5 is still a few years away in maturity and capability compared to other standards. Then of course there are all the problems with the politics of making something a standard.

All said and done, it’s a time for churn. Many are beginning to take sides & lines are being drawn. Time will tell if there will be a “last man standing”.

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Share the love

The response to the previous post “Twitter comes to Shufflr” has been overwhelming. Shufflrs have been telling us how they have been pining for this feature for a while. It caused us to introspect - “is this so revolutionary?”. Turns out, that we Shufflrs take our content quality and convenience (‘videos find me’) for granted. Friends of Shufflrs however are not so blessed. Many have been scouring video land braving the elements trying to find videos they like. All this when you Shufflrs are sitting in the convenience of your couch, notebook on your lap, sipping hot coffee and relishing the videos coming to you via Shufflr.

The do-gooders amongst us are drowning in guilt. Why did GOD choose us? What wrong did these poor devils do to deserve this? It’s time to make amends.

We implore you, to share the goodness of Shufflr with your buddies. We know you don’t have much time on your hands, but this is why we made it a simple one click share. You might be wondering - “what can one man do…to save those millions of deprived souls”. Remember it always starts with one. So do the right thing and tweet a video. It’s your good karma for the day. Remember what goes around, comes around.

Bless you!

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Twitter comes to Shufflr

If you guys haven’t already noticed, we have added twitter share on Shufflr. Now if you find a video you like on Shufflr and feel the urge to share it on twitter, you can…with just one click. It doesn’t matter if your followers don’t have Shufflr. We create a special web link in the tweet. When clicked, this link takes even non-Shufflr users to a web page so they can view the video with a regular web browser. In line with Shufflr’s philosophy, we designed this page to present a simple, uncluttered viewing experience.

Alternatively you can just invite your friends to join Shufflr, where your video feed is delivered to them automatically.

Stay tuned for some exciting new features coming soon….

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YouTube Leanback is a start but…

YouTube Leanback

YouTube announced a new TV-esque UI with YouTube Leanback. I believe this is a good improvement over YouTube XL (its previous avatar). It seems quite uncluttered and convenient. The navigation key enabled UI also makes it remote control friendly. I believe that this might be the future of online video access on TV.

Note that the navigation key enabled UI is not new. Many applications have used it in the past – Boxee, Plex, XBMC and the likes. However what is new this time is the use of a single queue from which videos are played. This brings a personalized channel feel to online video.

The other advantage that Leanback has is that any device with a standard browser will be able to leverage the Leanback UI. No download necessary. This is a big advantage. It does however come at the expense of a rich immersive user experience.

Users also want a wider choice of content and more engagement since they are used to that on their PCs. Many more channel sources, social interactions etc. Accommodating this need brings with it the complexity of navigation and the danger of building a cluttered UI.  It’s a thin line that a product has to tread between convenience and choice - a little much one way or the other and the user will reject it. Both video browsers and their users are going thru a learning curve and it will take time to settle down to a solution that brings the right levels of interactivity and content choices without overwhelming the user.

YouTube leanback creates a queue for you based on your preferences. It also pulls in videos your friends have shared on facebook, for example. However, users spend a lot of their online video minutes outside of YouTube – Hulu, CBS, BBC, MTV etc. One stat from Comscore video metrics suggests about 22% of online video minutes is spent on YouTube, 26% on sites #2 to #25 and the remaining 52mins on the long tail. It is important thus to give the user this variety but with a similar leanback interface.

Another statistic from TubeMogul suggests that over 48% of videos are discovered through social media –blogs, social networks, social bookmarking sites etc. implying that users are stumbling across videos from several sources. The ability to bring all these sources to a single queue and filter out content that may not be relevant is going to be the next big challenge in online video.

This has been the premise of Shufflr right from the start - the ability to cut through the clutter of online video & bring relevant videos to the user.

Whether it’s the TV, notebook, tablet or the handset, usage scenarios & user interfaces will vary but the need for relevancy will be persistent across all these devices.

YouTube leanback is a good start but it does have some ways to go become compelling.

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Shufflr featured in the Adobe Marketplace

Elated to see Shufflr featured on the Adobe Marketplace within a couple of days of uploading it.

Not only that, it appears to be amongst the top 6 rated apps on the market place and climbing….fast.

Shufflr featured in the Adobe marketplace

If you haven’t tried Shufflr yet, give it a spin now and see what you’ve been missing.

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Boxee, Clicker and Hulu…here we come

There comes a time in a grown man’s life when he fancies his chances of winning a battle where the odds are clearly stacked against him. Turned out that for the 4 co-founders at Shufflr this irrational persuasion sprouted at around the same time. We unofficially started Althea Systems in late 2008.

All we knew then was that we wanted to build a kick-ass product the world would love. We experimented with everything from electronic whiteboards to geo-tagging. However we soon gravitated towards the online video space. It just seemed like a fertile space with a lot of scope for innovation. Shufflr was just an idea then. Many late night arguments, cappuccinos & pizzas later it morphed itself to being what it is today – a social video browser.

The online video space is buzzing with innovation, starting with the likes of Boxee that’s looking to bring online video to TV screens, video ad platforms like YuMe, publishers like Brighcove, discovery engines like Clicker, channels made for the web like Funny or die and many more.

Shufflr however is built on these two premises:

  1. Online video is growing at an exponential rate. This is leading to a paradox of choice. What to watch?
  2. An individual will consume online video across multiple devices – notebook, TV set, handset & tablet during different times of the day. A service that can straddle all these devices seamlessly and deliver a personalized video experience on each will be invaluable.

The paradox of choice

200 channels of cable and there is still nothing to watch when you want to. Online streaming video has fixed that problem by delivering video that you want to watch, on demand. However, what online video has also done is multiply the number of channels available at your fingertips from 200 to many thousands. Now you are like a 5 year old in toys “R” us - you want to play with everything in the store but just don’t have enough time.  You now have access to millions of videos from bloggers, magazine publishers, documentaries, music videos, how-to videos, television shows & movies from around the world all available at a click of the mouse. YouTube alone adds about 24 hrs of video every minute to their site. How do you decide which one to watch? How do you know a new video you like has been added? How do you know if a new channel has cropped up that’s becoming a sensation online?

Shufflr is a social video browser with smart discovery engines. It facilitates the discovery process thru a multi-pronged strategy (we call it a video pitchfork):

  1. Personalized Recommendations : Suggests videos you may like based on your profile and viewing habits. The machine learns more about your preferences over time
  2. Associations: This is similar to YouTube’s related video concept except that we suggest related video from multiple sites around the web including  Metacafe, NYT, Comedy central etc.
  3. Social feeds: Many a time we watch a video when someone mails us a link. Shufflr brings a twitter like approach to social video. We help you discover people with similar tastes, allow you to find & follow your friends, in the process discover interesting videos to watch. Imagine following Seinfeld and seeing the videos he shares?
  4. Smart search: Though we don’t believe search is the best method to discover video we increase relevance of the search based on your profile & social activity on Shufflr.

Mobility and the video experience

With broadband becoming ubiquitous and devices like the iPad mushrooming, it’s a good time for online video services.  Shufflr was built from ground-up with this assumption. We put all our personalization smarts in the cloud so we can build thin clients that focus on the user experience.

Each device has a unique form factor and use case. We believe that the client on each of these devices will deliver an experience that matches its form factor and use case yet deliver the same level of content personalization. As a user you can seamlessly switch from one to the other and continue where you left off.

Shufflr’s first avatar is the desktop client. It is a video browser with an immersive visual experience that sets it apart from regular text based browsers. Shufflr is predominantly a lean-forward interactive browser with all the social hooks to share, discover and view videos you like. We’ve got content from The New York Times, Comedy Central, Lonely Planet, Discovery, TED, PBS, Funny or Die and many more.

So what are you waiting for?  Download and give it a spin. We’d love to hear from you.

In the days to come we will be telling you more about our experiences in consumer land…..so stay tuned.


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