I’ve seen some unsuccessful attempts to build tools for video comments and discussions (including an earlier version of Seesmic), so I was a little skeptical when I first heard about a startup called Shortwave. But then co-founder Aditya Avadhanula showed me the team’s new iPhone app, and I have to admit that I’m impressed.
The idea, Avadhanula said, is to facilitate conversations, not the sharing of specific moments, which makes Shortwave different from a lot of the current wave of social video apps. Those conversations can be public or private. On the public side, Avadhanula said, “Imagine if Reddit had video responses only” — there’s a section in the app where you can start a conversation around any topic, users can respond, and other users then vote to either “float” or “sink” each video, with the most popular videos rising to the top.
You can browse the app by looking at the newest or most popular content, or by following different users. And you can share any public video via Facebook, Twitter, or email — the content will be viewable either in the app or on the web.
What I particularly liked was the work that Avadhanula and his co-founder Sean Chen have put into the thread-browsing experience. When you’re reading a website like Reddit, you can mentally skip over the stuff that bores you, and Shortwave tries to replicate that experience with video by letting you skip the rest of a video as soon as you get bored — you just swipe across to view the next video. You can also bring up a diagram of the thread that lets you jump to any point in the discussion that interests you.
Here’s a video demo of the app. The sound is a little rough (and it doesn’t start until a few seconds in), but it should give a sense of what the actual interface is like.
I also liked the range of content that’s already in the app (Shortwave has been testing with a limited group of users, mostly students at Stanford and Cornell). There are users, like a beekeper, hosting “Ask Me Anything”-style threads. Avadhanula also showed me a thread where an amateur singer was taking song requests from all comers.
Now you could theoretically have some kinds of interactions in other video sites and services, but again, Shortwave has an interface that feels natural for these types of threads and makes it easy to contribute yourself. Avadhanula also argued that it’s a great environment for talent (such as musicians) to get discovered, both because the best content should rise to the top through user voting, and also because of the social dynamics of following other users and discovering new users in each thread — when someone participates in a thread, “You’re bringing your fans and friends to my party and I’m bringing my fans and friends it to your party, and it’s the same party in the end.”
And yes, there’s a channel where you can have private conversations with a specific group of users. Avadhanula compared it to a group texting app — except, obviously, for video. He also pointed out that it could be a particularly useful way for family members or close friends in different locations to stay in touch.
You can download the Shortwave app here.