Categories
Social Software Technology Television

Social Software for Set-Top boxes…

You can download the core part of the material that follows as a PDF presentation entitled Social Software for Set-Top Boxes (4Mb).

A buddy-list for television:
Imagine a buddy-list on your television that you could bring onto your screen with the merest tap of a ‘friends’ key on your remote control. The buddy list would be the first stage of an interface that would let you add and remove friends, and see what your friends are watching in real-time – whether they be watching live television or something stored on their PVRs. Adding friends would be simple – you could enter letters on screen using your remote, or browse your existing friends’ contact lists.

Being able to see what your friends were watching on television would remind you of programmes that you also wanted to see, it would help you spot programmes that your social circle thought were interesting and it could start to give you a shared social context for conversations about the media that you and your friends had both enjoyed.

Obviously there might be some programmes that you might wish to view with a significant other, but wouldn’t necessarily want to advertise to the rest of the world that you were watching. For this reason your personalised settings would have to have all kinds of options to help you control how you were being represented to the wider world that were as simple to use and unobtrusive as possible. Primary among the tools at your disposal would be your ability to tell your set-top box not to advertise that you were watching any shows marked as for adults only and to mark certain channels as similarly private. These settings would obviously be on by default.

Presence alerts:
One of the core functions of a socially enabled set-top box would be to create the impression of watching television alongside your peer group and friends – even if you were geographically distant from one another. One key way to do this would be to create a sensation of simultaneity – to remind you that there are other people in your social circle doing things at the same time as you. This would allow you to create a mental impression of what your friends were doing.

Here are two versions of an alert that could fade up gently onto the screen when someone on your buddy list changes channel. These alerts would work in two ways – if the person was changing channel and landed on a station as a programme was just about to begin or within the first three or four minutes of a programme, then the alert would be immediate. This would give you the opportunity to change over to that channel as well without missing too much of the show. If – however – they were changing over to a channel in the middle of a show or they changed the channel again within ten seconds, then the alert would not be sent. They would have to have been watching the new channel for a few minutes before an alert would be sent. There would be nothing more intrusive and irritating than watching someone compulsively flick between channels at a distance (except perhaps being in the room with them as they did so).

The most important part of all these alerts is that they provide you with the option to join the person concerned in whichever programme they happen to now be watching…

Watch with your friends:
Now we have the concept of joining a friend to watch a show, we have to ask what should that experience be like? How should your parallel engagement manifest itself. Traditionally, net-mediated social spaces have tended towards text as a communicative medium. But this would seem like an enormously clumsy way to interact during a television programme.

Television is an audio-visual medium and there’s no reason why your engagement with your friends shouldn’t also be audio-visual. For this reason a simple high quality webcam above the television would help you see how your friends were responding to what was on screen – it would help you feel an experience of shared engagement without there being a need for overt discussion. By default your conversations with your friends would be muted, and you could – of course – minimise their images if they started to get annoying, but if you wanted to shout and scream alongside your friends, then you’d simply turn the sound back on. This would be the perfect form of engagement around certain sporting events, or for making a well-known television programme or film just the backgrounded context for a shared conversation.

In the mock-up below, you can see the cameras of three of your friends on the right. One person has wandered away from their TV…

Chatting and planning:
If your friends were in the room with you during an ad break, you might chat about the programme you’ve just been watching or bitch about the adverts in front of you. You might turn the sound down low for a few seconds and talk about something else completely. There are lots of contexts where the programme on television might not be the main focus of activity around the television. These might be times when it’s still important to have a sense of what’s happening on the screen, but where the social activity has been dragged to the foreground.

Set-top box social software would have to support such engagements. So how about a second view when you’re in one of these social situations? From having the programme in the foreground, one simple switch of the button could drag your friends into the limelight. The programme could be fully or partially muted, and your friends automatically unmuted. Then you could chat to each other about the programme you’d just watched, or wait for the adverts to end together. You could even use these opportunities to plan what to watch next. If this was handled in a similar way to group formation and parties in online gaming structures like Halo 2, then perhaps one person could even set up the next programme and stream it to everyone else, or cue forward to show their friends the best part of a particular dance sequence or the key quote from a political interview.

Choosing channels and playing games:
Having this technology in place under your television could create a tremendous platform for all kinds of other applications or games to be layered on top of your television experience. And these could be equally usable with people in the same room as yourself. If you gave everyone a personalised remote control (or installed universal remote control software in something like a mobile phone) then people could propose changing channels but be over-ruled by other people in the room. The wonderful browsing experience of flicking through music video channels could be turned into a game, with each song being rated on the fly by everyone present or telepresent and records kept of channels and songs that people tended to enjoy. The same controls could be hooked up to other forms of interactive television or to net-enabled functionality on the boxes themselves…

Sharing a social library:
And finally, to return to the idea of media discovery and regenerating a social context around television programming, how about if the shows that many of your friends had decided in advance to record were automatically recorded by your device too. How would it be if you never missed the show that everyone was talking about? And if you had – your box could ask its peers for some kind of swarmed download if anyone still had a copy and it could appear in your local library overnight.

All this of course, is just the very beginning of the kinds of things that you could create with a socially-enabled TV set-top box. It’s all basically just extensions of stuff that we’re already doing in other media. There are still technological barriers of course – bandwidth and synchronisation being core problems. But we’re gradually on the way to solving them.

To repeat – If you’d like to download this piece as a simple to read and print PDF presentation then you can do so here: Social Software for Set-Top Boxes (4Mb).

Addendum:
Here are a few related links that people have brought to my attention since posting this stuff up or since I finished work on the presentation and illustrations. I’m a little cross with myself for not posting this stuff up before, but hey…

52 replies on “Social Software for Set-Top boxes…”

How could your TV set become social?
Tom Coates, fresh from his etech tour de force where he showed how you might tag songs playing on the radio, has written up a lot of interesting thoughts on how to have social software on a TV. Lots of…

Very interesting. I like the idea of the webcam aspect which would be particularly useful for sports events ‘when the boys go nuts’ and giving that sense of community, even with mobile phone cams at the events giving an alternative view.
As for the layer thing and I apologise for staying with sport, but Sky are really exploiting this with the viewer being able to watch more than one match on one channel, the BBC did it with Wimbledon but should exploit it more. They would steal a march on Sky if the technology was to hit the freeview boxes first.
There are also huge privacy issues to be addressed
George.

Yeah – thanks Gordon – I’ve spotted that stuff already. I’m not particularly claiming total prior art here – it turns out there’s all kinds of other people thinking and operating around the same area (although almost all of it was completely unknown to me when I wrote the stuff above). Hopefully I’m contributing some stuff here that isn’t elsewhere – even if it’s just polish or whatever. I am slightly kicking myself that – after working on it and delaying talking about it for months, I could only get this out when other people start talking about it in public again. That’s quite bloody annoying.

I think one of the main problems to be addressed would be, as you say, the possibility of somebody not wanting other people to know they’re “watching” (ahem) Blonde Busty Babes on the Adult Channel.

The issue here arises not with the fact that they can “hide” what they’re watching, but how you’d represent this. Would they just disappear from your contact list, as if they’d “blocked” everybody else and it would appear that they are not watching TV? That seems a bit anti-social and could be perceived as “lying” to friends and family. Or would you have them appear on the list and mark their viewing as “I’m not telling you what I’m watching”, which would automatically make people assume the worst?

Otherwise, a really cool idea.

Interesting, and it would be interesting with live TV… however, I watch live TV about 10% of the time, opting to record shows on my MythTV box or to download shows that I can’t record. Maybe 20% of my viewing is live, and that’s on the premium channels that my tuner card can’t encode from….

Oooh, cool idea. I can think of so many ways in which I would love something like this.
But, how would you deal with issues around friends’ availability status? You’ve already written about the problems with IM and the way that the crude away/idle/available signalling breaks down with the introduction of different methods of IM access. I’d say that it breaks down even without using a pda or hiptop, just by the way that some relationships function because signalling a simple red/amber/green can be too coarse-grained.
With watching TV, the availability status becomes even more muddied because of all of the other things you can be doing at the same time, and I’m wondering if a ‘mute’ would be a fine enough tool to adequately manage one’s availability. If you have a buddy list then it makes sense to add in an IM function which brings with it IM-like problems. Although a webcam adds in some context, there are going to be times when you don’t want to be seen, e.g. when you look like shit, but then, you might also also not want to broadcast the fact, which might create its own problems.
Usually we manage our availability without even thinking about it – in person we can use body language to indicate receptiveness on a non-explicit level, but as soon as you put technology in the way suddenly the hints we are giving in posture all get lost, and we have to make everything explicit. That in itself causes problems because although some people adapt to IM by creating ever-changing status messages like ‘cooking dinner’ or ‘in the bath’, some people don’t even utilise the away/idle/available statuses, resulting in them always appearing to be available, even when they’re not. This creates a whole set of etiquette issues, which you spoke about before, but I could see that problem being exacerbated by being used on an interactive social TV.
Sorry for the ramblingness, but i hope i make a bit of sense. 😉

I really like this idea. It would really add so much to those lazy Sunday television-filled afternoons.
My main issue would be security. Someone that you don’t know getting access to your information, or even worse, your webcam.
I’m particularly paranoid, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable unless my webcam did something physical to obstruct its view when I’m not using it. A cover sliding over the camera’s eye or something. Maybe that’s just me, though.

TV together – remote shared experience by television
We’ve been told for some time that conventional media are merging with computer-like media. Now Tom Coates and co. have proposed something that would really embody that promise – a buddylist for your telly. Imagine AOL Instant Messenger for the…

I think the etiquette problem surrounding IM is that people, in creating arbitrary away messages without switching actual status, are mis-using IM status etiqutte itself. There’s not necessarily anything to suggest we can’t make a *better* IM/availability paradigm for television. After all, the whole thing would have to be a lot simpler than PC IM if it was to work in the lounge. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t have the luxury of the device being able to automatically identify you as “away from keyboard (screen)” because watching TV is a passive experience by default… perhaps you could employ the motion sensing facility already employed in such things as eyeToy to detect whether you’re actually on the sofa or not. Problem is, the shared local experience of watching TV (ie. with your family in the lounge), means that multiple family members may be scattered around the lounge, in different armchairs… who do you set the webcam on? What if the subject of the cam’s gaze gets up to make a cup of tea, leaving everyone else in the room, and the whole family is suddenly detecting as “away”?
Fascinating. So many applications. I’ll be thinking about this all day.
See you later.

Social Software for Set-Top boxes…
A buddy-list for television:
Imagine a buddy-list on your television that you could bring onto your screen with the merest tap of a ‘friends’ key on your remote control. The buddy list would be the first stage of an interface that would let you add an…

Will there also be a virtual buddy for people like me?
Armin is a freak and doesn’t have a television. He’s probably reading a good book or a newspaper at the moment. Or he’s outside in the fresh air. Whatever, he’s not certainly not watching TV.
😉

Interesting idea, but is the domain space large enough [currently, anyway] for it to be of much use ?
I can see how social/collaborative software is really helpful on the web, where the domain space is practically infinite.
But TV ? 200 channels of stuff, most of which is repeated. Sure, there be moments of serendipity which you might like to share with friends, but would that happen often enough for something like this to be worthwhile ?

Social Software for Your TV
There is quite a bit of buzz lately about the opportunity to turn TV watching into a more social phenomenon. It’s about fitting your TV with presence indication/buddy lists, shared lists of shows, Instant Messaging, box-top cameras, all within the cont…

Just rambling out loud, but, I can see nice ways for Tivo/whoever to work in a less social, but still communal experience into this. I’ve often blogged about tv shows I watch, so, why not allow for an easy way for someone to pull up blog entries about the show they are watching, or have just watched. Since TV is increasingly on our own schedule, rather than a live schedule, I think the social aspect of TV is going to move more into archived comments rather than a live ‘Lets go watch what Joe is watching.’

Social TV services
Social TV services: Over the last few years many people have put computers, as glorified hard drives, in between their TV and antenna. Some of these computers are TiVo, some are Microsoft Media Center, some are homebrew Linux (or Win…

Most of this is eminently do-able, from a technical point of view, right now. HTPC’s are the way to go and could easily handle this in software. You would need broadband for sure but I’m guessing 99% (if not more) of the people who have HTPCs now, also have broadband. Infact, if you could make it sort of like P2P (ie you could broadcast anything you’d recorded)… but I don’t want to panic the TV companies too much. 😉

Having read through this now I can see it going one of two ways.
1. This idea, whomever takes it to market, is developed by one of the big guns, takes a year to develop, and spends the first year of it’s life battling against the naysayers of privacy invasion etc etc.
2. This idea, whomever takes it to market, is developed by a small lean company who keeps the fun interaction side of it as the main focus. They don’t get too hung up on status messages, or pleasing everyone they just make it simple and fun.
1. Fox
2. Flickr
Either way it’s fascinating but you know what would kill it? The same people currently focussing on PVRs. The advertisers.
At the moment they worry that people with PVRs don’t watch adverts. With this they have to worry that anyone will watch adverts as you’ll just start chatting with your friends, right?

I’m not a big user of social software at the moment, but I particuarly liked the recommendations system. It would be interesting if there was a central database of users whereby friends of friends could affect the programmes you might want to watch, but less you than your immediate (marked) friends might.

Wouldn’t it be cool if someone invented a technology that made you get up off the couch and have a conversation, go for a run, dance like a maniac, fall in love, create some art, make people laugh, invest in the happiness of others, and oh I dunno, I’m out of ideas. I’m going to see if anything new’s been posted on BoingBoing…

I like your shit here. But I should caution that, if you ever get this thing to an implementation stage, history shows that the ultimate product will be largely inaccessible to many disabled groups (in this case, mostly the blind and dexterity-impaired) even though that inaccessibility could have been relatively easily handled at the design stage.
Simply put, there *are* no accessible iTV platforms in actual deployment. It took the U.K. something like three years just to get audio description rolled out onto the majority of set-top boxes, whose interfaces are still unusable by the aforementioned groups.
It could be interesting to someday add an addendum to this post along the lines of “How to make social software for STBs accessible.” Then at least the ultimate system implementers would have to make a clear and unambiguous decision to discriminate or not to discriminate. (There’s a small shop in Canada facing that same decision. It’ll be interesting to see their final product.)

me and my friends have been doing this for years over msn messenger and stuff. i really cant see people being bothered to do it through a set-top box though

Interesting stuff, Tom, which I blogged over at Onlineblog….
My comment is that people with Microsoft Media Center PCs already have instant messaging and other internet features on their TV sets and it’s dead easy to add a webcam, so it would be interesting to hear if some are using them for TV-related social networking. The Linux crowd is also developing something similar with MythTV.

Social Software for Set-Top boxes…
Tom Coates on plasticbag wrote a long post and a PDF on the idea of adding social features to TV sets and the like. Look at the image below to have an idea of what this means or, even better, take some time to dig through the article: it’s a little lo…

Great stuff… I’d like to see some extension to your ideas where the friends get to DO something, as opposed to just meet… maybe making their own collections for each other… or annotating whats there for use asynchronously…

SkypeTV
There’s a great post on PlasticBag about social software for settop boxes. Where are the points where television and PVR use meetup with Skyping? Share my Skype buddy lists. The Skype network is both huge and international. Save me from duplicating eff…

Just building on it, I’d like to see three more things.
First, integration with Skype. In short, use the Skype network for presence, trigger live conversations, and share media.
Second, asynchronous accompaniment. You know how DVDs can come with a commentary sound track? Let me record mine and share it. We don’t have to be live. My narration (or laughtrack, or audio effects, or…) just needs to be synchronized with the program when you play your copy of it. I saw a screencast today where birds were singing and trucks driving by in the background; the ambient sounds of someone else’s home (or pub, or office) make you feel close even if you’re neither sametime nor sameplace.
Third, collaborative mashup. As long as I have a powerful computer sitting there, why not give me the aud/vid editing tools to do some cool collage? With my friends? Can we distill the Star Trek Enterprise series finale into a 4 minute trailer? Can we make a highlight reel from our March Madness? What happens when I lay some of the Alias soundtrack into the background of a sitcom? With the webcam, let me comment over the evening news. Let’s add urls for funny and meaningful web pages to a political debate, in real time, then evolving over the week as we share it wider.
Great screenshots, btw. Thanks.

It wouldn’t do me a lot of good to know that Phil is watching Buffy if I don’t have the same episode of Buffy on my TiVo that he’s watching. The networks are not going to let Phil stream what he’s watching to me, they would have a complete conniption, never mind the bandwidth it would require. What if Phil skips the commercials, but I don’t? We’ll no longer be in sync.
(I am assuming neither Phil nor I is watching live, since if we both have a computer hooked up to our TVs, with all that that implies, why would we watch any TV program live?)
The Webcam is also a terrible idea. You mean I have to get dressed up to watch TV now? It’s the same reason videophones never caught on. Sheesh.

I’m with Jerry. Social TV watching is social because it’s social, not because it’s TV watching. And antisocial TV watching is the inalienable right of all (pampered, effete, first-world) viewers.
There are things I want to watch cuddling up with someone, and there are things I want to watch for the sake of seeing, but I can’t think of anything I’d want to watch as a mediator of human interaction. Television, in and of itself, really, really *sucks* at that.
[I guess you may have been out of the country for Dawn Airey’s Huw Wheldon Lecture, but I’d be interested to know your reaction to it. To me it seemed desperately self-aggrandizing, co-opting social trends and world events to television’s (and especially Sky’s) cause in a way that was positively offensive. But my opinions on such matters are freighted with too much baggage to be taken seriously.]
But even if we adopt your vision, there are some serious obstacles to making it a reality. Boiling down, primarily, to inertia: the inertia of the installed base; the inertia of broadcast infrastructure; the inertia of huge institutions, public or private; most of all, the inertia of viewer behaviour. Who wants to turn their couch potatoness into part of the show?
You — and me, and probably anyone reading this — hang around a technological wavefront that’s splashing along in its own unruly way, floundering, messy, essentially optimistic. But you — we — don’t get there via the TV remote control. Nobody does. Nobody looks to their TV or STB for a conversation.
Television is great. Social software is great. Face to face communication with real people is great. But they aren’t all great for the same reasons or in the same way, and trying to crowbar them together is a mistake.

FOAF TV
Take a service like tv.bleb.org, GreaseMonkey it to add a button ìI want to watch thisî to each programme on the page (maybe with a ìrepeating itemî checkbox), publish it as an iCalendar file (so you can subscribe to it in your calendar app and be remi…

Maybe Microsoft’s entertainment division was reading…
WIth XBox 360, you’ll be “watching movies, playing music, viewing slide shows or holding video chats”…
“Xbox Live gamers who can already talk to one another during game play will also be able to see their buddies and competitors in video-chat windows off to one side of the screen.”
I’m totally being sucked in by the marketing for this… the console looks fantastic.

Agree with the above chap.

Xbox are building exactly this sort of thing into the new console.

At the moment, as far as I can tell, it is only going to work during gameplay.

But there is no in principle reason that they could not extend it to tv viewing – just have to get the right software on the box to integrate the TV signal and overlay the same functionality.

Whilst everyone is going on about the gaming and comparing to PS3’s power, the new Xbox is going to do some very clever social type things.

Social TV: Everybody Wants It
Everybody is talking about social TV (so I created a new category for it). Olga Kharif posted on research going on at PARC, which will incorporate Tivo and instant messaging elements: Indeed, in many ways, Social TV will be similar…

The issue here arises not with the fact that they can “hide” what they’re watching, but how you’d represent this. Would they just disappear from your contact list, as if they’d “blocked” everybody else and it would appear that they are not watching TV? That seems a bit anti-social and could be perceived as “lying” to friends and family. Or would you have them appear on the list and mark their viewing as “I’m not telling you what I’m watching”, which would automatically make people assume the worst?

[I guess you may have been out of the country for Dawn Airey’s Huw Wheldon Lecture, but I’d be interested to know your reaction to it. To me it seemed desperately self-aggrandizing, co-opting social trends and world events to television’s (and especially Sky’s) cause in a way that was positively offensive. But my opinions on such matters are freighted with too much baggage to be taken seriously.]
But even if we adopt your vision, there are some serious obstacles to making it a reality. Boiling down, primarily, to inertia: the inertia of the installed base; the inertia of broadcast infrastructure; the inertia of huge institutions, public or private; most of all, the inertia of viewer behaviour. Who wants to turn their couch potatoness into part of the show?

Having read the article I still do not see any reason why this new technology is useful for me. Just another sofisticated thing that I wouldn’t pay a penny for.

Having read the article I still do not see any reason why this new technology is useful for me. Just another sophisticated thing that I wouldn’t pay a penny for.

Comments are closed.