Sidereel: Your Dial Tone for TV
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the Web itself. Among the troves of data users had uploaded to Usenet were videos—home videos and much else, all allegedly copyright-safe—and Guba organized those files in a way that made it into a kind of “Flickr for video,” Arzhintar says. The difficulty was that you had to download the video files first, then find the right software to play them. Unfortunately, this was around the same time—2005-2006—that another video startup came along with the idea of transcoding users’ uploaded videos into Flash so they could be viewed in a Web browser, with no downloads. That startup was YouTube. “That was the killer app,” says Arzhintar. “So we got buried.”
Arzhintar and colleague Bart Myers left Guba at the end of 2006 to start something new. “We thought the Web was going in a different direction,” Arzhintar says. “Not only was video being watched on the Web, thanks to YouTube, but that was the first point at which people started devoting significant resources to producing Web video content. On top of that, you started to see the TV networks making available some of their shows and clips. We decided the people really needed a personalized online directory of all the stuff worth watching on the Web.”
If this doesn’t sound exactly like my description of Sidereel up top, it isn’t—the idea still had a little more evolving to do. “People back then were enamored by Wikipedia—the concept that you could throw a site out there and users would contribute to it,” Arzhintar says. So Sidereel started out as a giant wiki, with links to Web video series and TV shows and their latest episodes added by users. But just as with Wikipedia itself, it turned out that most users weren’t there to contribute. They just wanted to find a particular show. So the startup pivoted, creating a Web crawler that grabs episode data from around the Internet and a content management system that presents the data on a calendar customized to each users’ preferences.
Users are still involved—there’s a discussion board for every episode of every show, and users also help Sidereel’s moderators clean up episode metadata or spot missing shows or episodes. “It was vital that we had a user-contributed site, and to this day we maintain a close connection with our usership,” says Arzhintar. “On the other hand, we had gone overboard about that [with the wiki], to the point where users were also the main curators of content. It’s really hard to predict what will work.”
Today, the typical Sidereel user is an 18-to-34-year-old (average age 29) who comes to the site to figure out which episodes of his favorite shows are available, and where to watch them. The site includes episode previews and recaps, and lets users keep track of the episodes they’ve already seen by clicking on a “watched” check box. Sidereel also creates some of its own … Next Page »