Friday, April 02, 2010

Coactive viewing of TV and the Web -- the stars are aligning?

MTV, Sony, Verizon, Twitter, Facebook and others are moving into position. Some of the stars seem to be aligning, even if the full impact is still mostly unrecognized (even by many of them).
  • A majority of people multitask while watching TV, increasingly using the Web while on TV
  • Much of that is driven by the Social Web -- tweeting and IM-ing about the TV shows (or other video) we are watching.
  • Some of it is driven by other services, such as looking at IMDB or other Web content related to what you are watching.
Some basic aspects of this are now widely recognized, as noted in a 2/14/10 front page NY Times story: Water-Cooler Effect: Internet Can Be TV's Friend. There has been a drumbeat of announcements by large and small players in support of this. Some are specific to a particular TV program, but some recognize that what we really need is a platform that works for whatever we are watching. Just as with the Web, what we need is not isolated apps for each program or network, but a platform that, like a browser, works for any content. You don't get mass audiences on niche platforms!

I have been seeking to develop such "Coactive TV" services since before 2002, and am happy to see more and more steps toward that vision.
  • One of the most important milestones is the Verizon FIOS Twitter and Facebook widgets. These are TV widgets that run on your TV (if you have FIOS) and can be triggered to sense what program you are watching and send a tweet or update your Facebook status to inform people that you are watching it. Right now, these are for interaction on the TV, with limited integration with a PC or phone.
    -- That should be easy to add -- all it takes is a widget that talks to a Web server that coordinates other Web services with whatever is on your TV. There is no limit to what the Web services might be. Wouldn't someone like to be in the middle of that dynamic? ...Verizon? ...Anyone else?
  • Another interesting step is by a startup called Spot411, that uses audio recognition to figure out what TV program or DVD you are watching, and link you to a Facebook page with others who are also watching that. They got some visibility with a PC and iPhone app done for Fox DVDs that is called FoxPop. Now they are doing the same thing for TV. These guys get the idea that we don't want different apps for each show -- we want one app that works for any show.
  • Sony is doing an interesting variation for their Blu-ray discs, building on BD-Live Internet connectivity. It started as movieIQ, announced last June with IMDB-like information from Gracenote (the people who tell your PC what song is on the CD track you are playing). Soon they will be adding an iPhone app called movieIQ sync that will let you get the movieIQ information on your phone. Great for Sony discs, but what about all the rest? Repeat: You don't get mass audiences on niche platforms!
  • Many media companies have iPhone apps that tie to their specific TV programs, DVDs, or games. Repeat: You don't get mass audiences on niche platforms!
  • Miso is an app that lets you "check in" to any TV show or movie and send it to Twitter, Facebook, or foursquare. You have to manually enter or find the show (unlike Spot411), but it is an interesting start.
  • MTV is one of the first of what may be a wave of companies building similar apps for the iPad, which they suggest "could be the appendage that makes interactive TV a reality." A nice start but...One more time: You don't get mass audiences on niche platforms!
Right now it is still a zero billion dollar industry, but we have come a long way from the days when people asked why anyone would want to use the Internet while watching TV. I have been seeing movement in the right direction for a long time, but it seems things are heating up rapidly all around this space, and flashover may not be far off. iPad may be a very nice base for some of this, but there are many ways to skin this cat. ...What is the missing link? Hmmm...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Sent BMW into the shop -- but it was a server problem

Thinking about The Internet of Things, as IBM is promoting it, it struck me that my recent automotive service experience was a telling landmark in the coming of the new order.

My new 3-series has a BMW Assist feature with its navigation system that lets you find a destination on Google Maps in your home or office, and then send it to the car, so the guidance system can take you there.

I tried it several times, but could find no messages in the car from Google Maps (which said they were successfully sent to my car). BMW Customer Service remotely fixed some errors they had in my account email address, but it still did not work days later, so they said I had to take it to the shop. Seemed like a server-side problem to me, but that is what they wanted...

After a couple phone calls while working on my car (over the course of 3 days), the dealer service rep finally called to say the messages were there, but that it was hard to find them (he had never worked with the feature before). We assumed I must have been looking in the wrong place. He suggested I come in for instructions, but I suggested I call from the car when I could. BMW needs to hire some people from Apple to work on UI, but wait, there is more..

After getting the car back and sending it a new destination to look for, I got in and looked around, starting with the same menu selection I had looked into before ("BMW Assist/Messages"). Lo and behold: there were my previous message, a couple dealer test messages (opened), and my new message (unopened) -- right where it kept saying "No messages" before.

I can only conclude that the car had been fine, I had been using it properly, and something changed on BMW's end (either in some server, or in the setup entered into some server by BMW Assist staff.

Imagine the cost of sending thousands (eventually millions) of cars into the shop for problems that could be diagnosed and fixed remotely! BMW does not yet realize they are in the network services business (and selling network node devices). I hope they realize it soon.

Internet of things, Internet of computers, Internet of people. ...Convergence every which way ...I can't wait for the next release.