Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Another TV Guide for Web Video! But Shufflr Wants Your Friends to Do the Work

Smart people are sure that you’re going to watch more and more Web video from the comfort of your couch.

But if that’s the case, how are you going to decide what to watch? The world of Internet video is exponentially bigger than the 500-channel universe you already have, and usually ignore, via your cable box. Who’s going to help you navigate that?

Lots of people, it turns out. In fact, that’s one of the most popular ways to attack the Web video business: Try to create what will turn out to be the Web’s version of TV Guide, and make money by selling content or advertising once you’re big enough.

That’s really what Boxee is up to, if it can get scale. Ditto for Clicker. And Google TV and Apple TV, really. And really, if you think about it, that’s what Hulu would like to do, if Jason Kilar could get his way. Etc.

Here’s yet one more competitor: Shufflr, a newish start-up run by Bangalore-based Althea Systems. Althea has rounded up $3 million via a Series A round from Intel Capital, and is using the money to build out its product, a browser that works on laptops and, soon, phones running Google’s Android platform.*

Shufflr’s pitch is pretty simple: They sort through lots of video feeds–from everyone from YouTube to Comedy Central to Blip.TV–and offer up suggestions about what you’d like to see.

They’re based in part on what you’ve said you like on Twitter and Facebook, and in part on what your friends have said they like, by forwarding a link. And Shufflr plays the video for you–using the original distributors embedded advertising–on its own player.

It’s an interesting concept, but the problem with all of these machine-based recommendation engines is that they’re more clumsy than you’d like.

Shufflr, for instance, can figure out that I like “comedy,” but then it spits up everything that anyone has ever thought is funny. And there’s a whole lot of not-funny stuff there. At least in my humble opinion.

I think that’s not that much of a problem when you’re sitting on a laptop, idling for a few minutes between meetings and just want to watch…something. If you don’t like it, you flip away very, very quickly

But on your couch, which is the use case Shufflr is pushing here, I think your standards are higher. Or different, at least: I’m happy to flip through dud channels on my own, but if some software suggested stuff that I didn’t want to see, I’m not sure I’d stick with it very long.

And I’m sure that, statistically, I’m much more likely to enjoy something that one of my Facebook friends likes, or that someone I follow Twittered about. But that’s a very big group, and the truth is, I probably only care what a very small number of them say about what to watch on the Web. (I’m still angry at Clicker CEO Jim Lanzone, for instance, for raving about “Kick-Ass,” which I ended up renting on VOD. You owe me $4.99, dude.)

But that’s the problem that most recommendation sites and engines have, no matter what the topic is: You really don’t care what everyone you know says about everything–you care what a few people say about something very particular.

In any case, Shufflr is less than a year old, so they’ve got a bit of time to get better. But they’d best do it quickly: Plenty of other folks are trying to crack the same code.

Here’s a demo video, followed by a video Q&A I did with co-founder Rajnish (that’s his full name):

Shufflr – A Social Video Browser from Shufflr on Vimeo.

*Shufflr runs on Adobe’s Flash, which is why it won’t be available on Apple’s iPad/iPod/iPhone platform for a while–the company will need to spend a little time porting its software into an Apple-approved version.


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