Sunday, February 8, 2009

Serendipity, Discovery and Digital Media

So I saw a tweet from Fred Wilson earlier today with a link to an op-ed piece in the NY Post titled: "The Future of Television".

It was a well written piece and has a great flow-chart depicting the capabilities and limitations of many of the video offerings currently available to consumers (on both traditional television and the web). It really gives a clear picture of Boxee's position in the digital video market.

I have yet to try the service (no spare macs right now) but it looks pretty damn cool. Think iTunes if it had no DRM and allowed you to pull from a dozen other services.

At the same time I was reading the NY Post piece I had my XM-radio in my house pumping some Brian Eno. While I LOVE listening to Eno while working this was completely coincidental, I just had the channel set to "Chill" and Eno came on.

That got me thinking about new content delivery services such as Boxee and iTunes and how they've fundamentally altered our experience in discovering and consuming content.

When you use a service like Time Warner's Video on Demand, Boxee, iTunes, YouTube, whatever, it requires that you:

  1. Actively seek or search for a particular piece of content
  2. Make a concious to decision to view that piece of content (relative to other options)
  3. Commit to viewing (or listening) to it for at least a little while
Think about that for a minute - those are A LOT of steps. They all require a level of thought, comparative analysis and some element of stress when determing which show/song to select.

Now think about what usually happens when you come home after a long day at work (or on a lazy sunday) and you flip on the tube (or your radio). You can sit back, flip through a few channels randomly and through a divine act of serendipity, you stumble upon one of the greatest movies you've ever seen -- FYI: this is exactly how I first found The Shawshank Redemption.

There's something so pleasurable about accidentally finding a great song or movie. The process of accidental discovery - serendipitous content discovery, if you will - adds so much to the content consuming process. The level of enjoyment just seems to increase dramatically for me - not only did I get to enjoy a great piece of content but I also got to feel like I just won at the craps table too.

However, many of the newer services being built today are ignoring this concept.

It's what makes services like Digg so fun, it's why I keep Twitter open all day and it's why no matter how big the Video on Demand selection is on Time Warner, I'll ALWAYS default to channel surfing before heading to Channel 1000.

I'd love to see more mechanisms for serenedipitious content discovery baked into some of these new media services.

But don't get me wrong here either, services like Boxee and Video on Demand are amazing for their intended purpose: quickly browsing a catalog of content, finding the video you were looking for and having it delivered quickly and elegantly. But I think that before anything becomes the "future of TV" or radio, the recognition and utilization of serendipity in the content discovery process will be critical.

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