Watch What I Watch

I’m often amazed about the “real world”.  Naaman would say here that I have yet to experience it but my case in point is I got cable tv.  I haven’t had cable tv…well.  Ever. With the exception of couch surfing at my friend’s places.  Comcast in SF gives you some unreal number of channels…most of which require an additional fee – and with the exception of Anthony Bourdain and Alton Brown (on Travel HD and Food HD)…ok and Top Chef on Bravo. I really don’t need cable tv.  So I’ve thought about canceling it after the 1.5 months I’ve had it.  What’s curious here is, I’ve lost my old pattern.  I used to just go to a friends place and watch my stories there.  Or better yet, one friend of mine always wants to show me her favorite new show on SpikeTV.   TV just isn’t fun by yourself.  Now I find myself IMing my friends to see if one of them is watching a show…so I might chat and watch.

While this has been the recent subject of much research and discussion, I want to talk politics for a moment.  Throughout the debates, CurrentTV ran a ‘hack the debate’ program. 

Current TV's Hack the Inaguaration

Basically, while you watched the presidential debates, they would show Tweets from Twitter’s public timeline marked with the tag #CURRENT.  This was an amazing feat indeed.  Why?  They not only did it on the web—they did it on their cable tv channel!  While this may seem like just some technical wiring, there is more here. CurrentTV was using Twitter as a filter for op-ed content which (one could only assume) was filtered by their editors in real time.  This is an example of not just ‘send your photo to us and we will put it on the air’.  Rather, the production of the entire show revolved around the success and the compelling nature of people and how they tweet.  Unfortunately, for me and TV, I don’t care what other people think.  I care about what my friends think.

Enter CNN. Together with Facebook, they made an app which is dead simple. In 2006, I was on faculty at the Medill School of Journalism where I was teaching News and New Media. I recall demoing Facebook to the class and explaining this was going to be the future of aggregation, but that’s another post. Moving on, show me the TV and what my friends status updates are!

CNN Facebook Inaguration

And now, I get to see what my friends are saying. Plus, I can individually respond to each status message. This creates a mini conversation. Sweet indeed. I watched the inauguration with all my friends at the same time. There was some debate (amongst my Facebook friends) if this was really a conversation. Ustream had a nifty stream and chat room (which you could interact with from your iPhone even) – but the chat room is a different thing. Its continuous. Not episodic. Me, I liked the status messages and short conversations. Not as telegraphic as twitter, not so committal as a chat room.

Course this brings me back to my TV. WGNTV in Chicago published my watching of the event (in a piece edited by a former student of mine from Medill). I saw her update her Facebook status asking if you have an iPhone and are watching the inauguration, send a photo.

Two streams. One conversation. It was sweet indeed. More so, the lull of silence during the inauguration address really did add to the experience from the sofa. Even if it was in the form of a visual mute. Hey readers, how did you watch the inauguration?

9 thoughts on “Watch What I Watch

  1. naaman

    Yes, #current-Twitter was nice but the CNN-Facebook inaugural address was a game changer, no doubt. In the future, it will be marked as the moment that TV watching had changed forever (with all due respect to early researchers, and respect is due…).

    Speaking of early research, Rahul, I am going to risk it and say that we can take credit for the Tweetmap. When I presented at the Times last year, they were very impressed with our TagMaps / World Explorer (demo still alive!). One of the Times designers said to me, after the talk, that I can expect to see them use a TagMap soon… so there you go.

  2. ayman Post author

    the superbowl viz isnt really a ‘tag map’. however, it is using a tag cloud like representation in a geo layout. what made tagmaps interesting (as i saw it) is the indirection (from photo to tag to geo to represent a summary of a localized area).

    the thing that left me high and dry about the super bowl viz (and how it represented soliloquy conversation against an event timeline) is a general lack of insights it leaves the viewer with save the moment the whole USA shouted the Boss’s name. But were they happy or angry about the show? Hey NYTimes: I told you I want to see difference maps!

  3. naaman

    A “tag cloud viz on a geo layout” is exactly what we called “Tag Maps”, and the only place I know of that had them before us was Stanley Milgram’s work on “cognitive maps of Paris”. Our idea of putting tag clouds on the map propagated to Flickr, and now the Times…

    “World Explorer” is what we called the Flickr-based system that used the Tag Maps viz; we kept the distinction mostly in our heads 🙂

    And, yes, they added a timeline, and forgot to extract the terms in a more interesting way (e.g., difference map). All we’re left with is the fact that the state of Arizona just talked about the Cardinals!

  4. ayman Post author

    Funny – I always assumed it was more ‘map’ than ‘cloud’ and/or that TagMap and WorldExplorr was the same thing. 🙂 Anyhow, the deeper semantic labels will always be the cooler part to me.

  5. Rahul Nair

    Personally the superbowl tweet visualization really gave me a good idea of the ebb and flow of the game. It was kind of like sitting in the back of a bar and seeing different groups of fans yell and scream when the teams score/screw up. A difference map would have been nice but I think the current viz does a decent enough job as is.

    P.S.: You guys really need to install the Subscribe to comments plugin ( or you will have a hard time getting into a real discussion with your commenters.

  6. ayman Post author

    Installed. I would rather you say ‘Nice new style’ or ‘cool your site is iphone optimized’ but no…just ‘install this!’ 🙂

  7. Rahul Nair

    ‘Nice new style’ and ‘iphone optimized’? Looks like the hipster design mindset is alive and well with at least one author 😛

    I on the other hand am an engineer and believe in form AFTER function

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