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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Ramblings in response to Viddler ramblings

June 8, 2007

One of the most difficult things about building a software product is dealing with feature requests. They come from everywhere. At Viddler we’ve got a forum specifically for jotting down feature ideas, because we all realize that people will have really great ideas on how Viddler could be of use to them. Then, and I know I’m not alone here, we’ll get Instant Messages, e-mails, Tweets, and blog posts that document new ways that people would like to use Viddler. Try as I might to keep up with documenting them all – it would be impossible to act on all of them.

Which leads me to my response to a post by Michael Meiser who has some Ramblings about Viddler’s time based commenting and tagging… among other things. Michael has some really great ideas on how Viddler could improve commenting (he doesn’t really get into rambling about tagging) – but perhaps he’s missed our first step to solving his problem. Michael says:

Viddler’s time based tagging and commenting is interesting but let me know when they get the comments out of flash and use the blog API (blogger.com, moveabletype, wordpress) to post them as “real comments” to your blog post where they belong? where they can be read with the rest of the comments, where they can be tracked with co.mments.com and other trackers, where they can be syndicated with RSS? where I can actually READ them instead of them being in a tiny little 320×240 little window.

The bottom line is there’s two different conversations here. There’s the one in viddler, which is? whatever? can’t follow it. And then there’s the one in the page? which is awesome and useful?. and I can actually read? and which I will actually get responses on because I?m tracking it with co.comments.com.

When I started at Viddler in January of this year, one-month after the site went live, this was my primary complaint about Viddler. The comments were trapped. The conversation was stifled because the UI didn’t lend itself to inline responses. So, we set forth a roadmap to fixing these issues. The first step was improving the timed-commenting interface and creating a way to thread responses. This improved conversations inside the flash-player very much. The second step, which was completed and launched during our last major version upgrade, was to pull the conversations out of the flash player and onto the page to make them much more readable.

Michael’s suggestions fall on the heels of his watching Chris Messina‘s excellent rant about Mozilla. A video that has received a great deal of attention and with that – a good deal of conversation has been had on the timeline. Some 26 comments have occurred on the timeline, mottling up the interface a bit (something that Viddler is always striving to improve upon). Looking at the main video page for Chris’ video it becomes very easy to follow the conversation happening on the timeline.* So in a way, we’ve already taken steps to improve the ability to follow conversations.

Let’s say, however, that Chris wanted to keep his conversation completely on his site so that he could keep track of it much more easily. All he’d have to do is adjust the options for his video to turn off comments on his video and post the video to his weblog. Or, if Chris wanted only timed comments, he could have easily turned off comments on his blog post and pointed everyone to Viddler for commenting. But Chris chose to allow both, knowingly or unknowingly I don’t know.

Michael also remarks that he’d like comments to be “…syndicated with RSS?…”. This, again, was one of the first things we took care of in our latest revision of the system. Every single video has a feed for subscribing to comments (just like most weblogs do). Simply append /feed/ to the end of any video URL. For example, to subscribe to the comments Chris’ Mozilla rant, you’d use this url. The feed will not only syndicate the comments made on the video, but also will link you to the moment in time the comment was made. Perhaps we do not have enough of a visual indicator for these feeds (since we only broadcast their availability via “feed detection” enabled browsers). If this is the complaint I’m sure we could update the site to make the existence of these feeds much more apparent.

So what is the next step regarding Michael’s ramblings? Will Viddler start using the MetaWeblogAPI to post comments made on the timeline onto the user’s blogs? I am not sure that is the clear cut answer. I think the interface for that could get a little crazy and most people’s weblog designs wouldn’t really work to link back to the moments in time that these comments happened (but that doesn’t mean that Michael’s thoughts on this haven’t gotten my brain’s wheels spinning and I hope to address this in greater detail with the Viddler team in the near future). In the meantime though, perhaps improving the way some of the options are worded, or perhaps some more tips are in order? Maybe explaining to the content producers that if they’d like to keep their conversations in one place, that the best way to do that is to either turn commenting off on Viddler or on their blog. Either would work. Lets not lose sight of the fact that Viddler is doing something very new with timed-comments – and that it will take some time before all of the dust settles and the right solutions for these problems become very clear. Remember when Trackbacks started mottling up Comments? Now every blog has trackback support, but each of them “shows them differently”, but yet most of the time they work for what they are. Viddler is taking steps to allow trackbacks, perhaps the trackback API would be the next evolutionary step to keeping conversations in one place? We’ll see.

Ok, enough about that – lets address Michael’s next rambling:

One last thought on viddler. While the interface is interesting there’s a lot more to a company than a cool flash interface? look at blip.tv. My fav video blog host. The key to blip’s success thus far is serving the core videoblogging community? which unlike youtube.. wants to have their own domain? their own blog, the ability to monetize? to OWN their own content and have control over it? to not have it deleted or removed because of some arbitrary DMCA notice. Anyway? none of that has to do with a slick interface. It has to do with strategy and architecutre and business direction. Then again.. blip could REALLY stand to have a slick viddler flash interface? maybe the two should partner? of course maybe viddler sees blip as competition. They shouldn’t, but maybe they do.

Lots to chew on here. I’ve been asked several times what I think of “our competition”. I’ve had entire conversations on how so-and-so is “doing this” and why doesn’t Viddler “do that”. This “Us vs. Them” type of attitude (UVTA) can very trapping. In every company I’ve ever been apart of, the UTVA has always been omnipresent. Some have used it in inspirational ways while most of been trapped by it.

When I worked for a securities trading firm it was Us vs. Ameritrade. Constant comparisons between how much Ameritrade “paid per account” and our method of gaining accounts. When I moved onto a sports memorabilia agency it was always Us vs. The Bigger Company. Comparing athlete contracts, etc. Then came 9rules where comparisons between Us and other weblog networks would constantly be drawn. Other weblog networks would
even begin to debate the idea of whether or not 9rules should even be considered a weblog network. Talk about worthless chatter. In every case described above there has been some level of balance and imbalance. In one case it may have been one executive of the company that would get completely trapped by the UVTA, while another executive would swoop in and rescue the other. I’ve even seen entire teams get sucked into this line of thinking and begin to lose focus on what they wanted to accomplish. That is the trap.

The point is – the UVTA can be used to either help your company progress or could end up trapping your company from making any progress on its goals because you get sidetracked. Each product is typically built to solve a problem or set of problems. When that focus is lost by trying to keep up competing products, everyone suffers. Especially the original goals set out by the founders of the company/product. The balance of paying attention to your competition and remaining on a course to complete your own goals is very difficult to strike. A moving target sometimes. But not impossible.

After over five-months with Viddler I think they do an incredible job at this balancing act. Does Viddler consider other video sharing sites competition? Perhaps competition for your attention, but not necessarily from a feature or business perspective. Are other video sharing sites doing some things that Viddler should be doing? Absolutely. But here is why comparisons are completely unfair and should never be harped upon too much. Viddler has only been live since December 2006. There are several sites that have been around much longer, have a larger team, and great resources. I’ve never heard these reasons used by the Viddler team as an excuse, or a crutch, to under-perform. But these facts remain.

In other words; Any comparisons drawn between Viddler and any other service will be taken seriously from the standpoint of trying to improve Viddler’s platform. Playing catchup is nearly impossible and Viddler doesn’t consider itself behind the 8-ball. We’ve got our roadmap. Rob Sandie is quite possibly the best product manager I’ve ever met and he’s only 24. Did I mention the service has only been around for 6 months? Go take a look at Viddler again. Dive deep. Six months.

To Michael, thank you very much for jotting down your ramblings. They definitely got me thinking about the next step for Viddler in trying to both revolutionize commenting on the timeline of video – and trying to create seamless conversation. But comparing two services this early on in development is really unfair and getting stuck in that attitude would do more harm than good. The Viddler team is dedicated to helping our Viddlers have the best possible experience using the product envisioned by its founders – and that will continue to be our mantra.

* Most of the “comments” on Chris’ video was him using the comments feature as a way to inject URLs into the timeline of the movie. This is something we are working to fix in a future version of the player that would give the producer of the video the ability to add clickable URLs on the timeline which would, in a way, remove the need to “hack the system” in such a way.