Hot Potato Is Ready to Eat: Do Twitter, Facebook Users Want Another Real-Time Chatter Service?

Last month I told you about Hot Potato, one of the buzziest start-ups in the very buzzy “real time” sector. Now you can check out the service yourself. But not really.

The New York-based service opened its doors last week, but it won’t really kick into gear until Apple (AAPL) signs off on its iPhone app, and that’s taking a bit longer than the company expected. Founder Justin Shaffer still thinks he’ll be up and running on Apple’s platform in a few days, but until you can check out this video interview I shot with him yesterday, where you can get a sense of how the app will work.

[ See post to watch video ]

Or, if you’re impatient, here it is in a nutshell: The service is supposed to let users converse in real-time about “events”–whether it’s a football game, a business conference or maybe even a really good house party.

You can already do that on Twitter and Facebook, but the pitch is that Hot Potato will help “curate” the chatter, so you will end up talking to both your friends as well as interesting people you don’t know–and that’s something both Twitter and Facebook don’t do well right now.

If it works, there are some obvious advertising/sponsorship opportunities available for the service: The NFL could sponsor chatter about its games, for instance. Or someone who isn’t related to the football league could sponsor chatter about the games–since this is user-generated content in its purest form, Hot Potato isn’t required to get the go-ahead from anyone before it creates a conversational stream.

In any case, the company now has a pile of money to help it figure this stuff out. Last week it closed its first funding round of $1.4 million (I had originally reported that it was raising “about $1 million”), and in addition to VC backers First Round Capital and RRE Ventures, it has an array of high-profile angel investors who have pitched in.

Here’s the roster: Super-angel investor Ron Conway; realtime start-up incubabor Betaworks; Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer and his son Ben Lerer, who runs Thrillist; New York Observer owner Jared Kushner and his brother Josh; ZelnickMedia’s Strauss Zelnick; Hunch co-founder Chris Dixon and Founder Collective; co-founder Scott Kurnit; Facebook executive (and Apple vet) Dave Morin; Boxee’s Zach Klein; angel investor Allen Morgan; entreprenuers and investors Scott & Cyan Banister.

Video: Roku Launches Channel Store with Facebook Photos, Pandora and More

Roku vice president of marketing Chuck Seiber only gave us a teeny-tiny sneak-peek at the new Roku Channel Store at NewTeeVee Live couple weeks back, but the company officially launched the feature along with ten new free channels today.

Roku owners will now be able to get content on their big screen TV from: web shows (though NewTeeVee videos weren’t available yet when I searched)
Facebook photos: see yours and your friend’s pics on your TV, or use…
Flickr: for photos, if you prefer
FrameChannel: lets you view photos and updates from your social networks
MediaFly: web shows and podcasts
MobileTribe: another service to connect you to multiple social media sites
Motionbox: for personal video sharing
Pandora: lets you listen to Internet radio
Revision3: original web shows like Diggnation
TWiT.TV: Leo Laporte’s raft of tech-related content

Linking your Roku box to these services is snap, though you will need your computer on hand to enter the proper registration codes (see video embedded above for a demo).

Channels are easy to navigate and finding content within them was straightforward enough, but as we’ve brought up before, navigation is limited to just a left and right scroll, which can be a hassle. Search requires an on-screen keyboard, which is even more of a hassle.

Overall video quality was excellent, though it did look a little “streamy” sometimes, and there are lots of factors that determine quality on channels like blip and Motionbox where users upload their own videos. Speaking of which, I asked Roku why it has Motionbox but no YouTube channel, which was widely expected to be available on Roku by now. Roku wouldn’t comment, but perhaps it has to do with the same Terms of Service issue that blocks set-top box company Popcorn Hour.

The Roku Channel Store is available on all three Roku models starting today. While they are a nice to have, we’re not sure how many people will be swayed by the inclusion of select podcasts and internet radio on their TV to buy a Roku (Boxee, another competitor in this space will reportedly unveil its CE device in January). And then there is the whole question of whether people will want dedicated set-top boxes when their TVs will soon have these types of channels already baked right in.

Regardless, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the Roku store. As we talked about with Seiber, Roku is opening up the platform so that just about anyone can create their own channel.

Profiles in Courage: Social Media Editors at Big Media Outlets

During a recent trip to see an editor I work with at The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper in Canada, I passed by the newspaper's cafeteria. My editor looked in and pointed at a man who was sitting with his back to us.

"There's Mathew Ingram, doing his office hours," he told me.

Ingram is the Globe and Mail's communities editor, a job he took on after being a technology reporter, columnist and blogger for the paper. My editor explained that Ingram's "office hours" consist of him making himself available in the cafeteria so that anyone can come see him and talk about Twitter, user comments, blogging, or anything thing else that falls under the social media/community banner.

Five years ago, there was no such thing as a community manager or social media editor at large media organizations. Today, this role exists at places such as the New York Times and NPR, among others. To get a sense of the role of these new social media editors at big media organizations, I spoke with four people currently filling these positions.

Mathew Ingram

Name: Mathew Ingram

Title: Communities editor, The Globe and Mail.

Time in the Position: Close to a year.

Previously: Technology reporter, columnist, blogger for the paper.

What the Job Entails: "There was never really a job description so we have been making it up as we go along," he said. "The general idea was to have someone who was thinking about how we interact with readers online, and all the ways of doing it and ways we could be doing it."

Biggest Challenge: "To be blunt, complacency is the biggest danger, the biggest risk," he said. "The biggest challenge is raising awareness of these tools, and convincing people that they are worthwhile. That's something that has been easier with certain people than with others. There's a wide spectrum of awareness and openness to trying new things. Let's face it: being a newspaper reporter hasn't really changed in a huge amount [over the last few decades]. You use a computer rather than a typewriter. So the change taking place right now is maybe harder to deal with if you've been doing that for a long time."

Best Initiative So Far: Using CoverItLive for discussions and liveblogging. "For certain things, like our swine flu discussion, we have gotten 10,000 or 15,000 people, and hundreds and hundreds of comments, along with interaction between editors and writers and readers," he said. "To me, that is a magical thing that never would have happened if we hadn't used that tool. We can also wind up making what we do better. In the swine flu discussion, we were feeding news into the live discussion and we had a Google Map that an epidemiologist had created. Someone said in the discussion that the map was not up to date. Our editor asked if anybody knew of a better map, and three minutes later a guy posted a link to a better map that we never would have found."

Lesson He's Learned About the Globe Community: "We get surprised daily by the things that people are interested in, and the things they want to read about or talk about," he said. "...For me, the big benefit of using these tools is getting a better idea of what readers want. Before, we kind of just had hunch and found out long after the fact. Now we can watch in real time."

Biggest Mistake: "I'd love to say we haven't made any, but I wish we had gotten involved in Facebook earlier on, and built an audience there or made better use of it."

Final Words: "Focus on the small victories. It's quite easy to get overcome and disillusioned when people are not interested in what you think is valuable, or when the things you try don't work."

Shirley Brady

Shirley_Bradysmall.jpgName: Shirley Brady

Title: Community editor, BusinessWeek.

Time in the Position: Close to 18 months.

Previously: Editor of the website, and a reporter at CableWorld magazine. Previously held editorial positions with Time Inc., among other media organizations.

What the Job Entails: "I spend a lot of time in the comments observing the trends, featuring people across the site, and trying to connect with our writers and say, 'Hey, there's this really interesting conversation going on, you may want to chime in.'" She also works on their blog, "What's Your Story Idea?":, and was brought on to help manage the magazine's Business Exchange community.

On Interacting With the BusinessWeek Community: "We've done things that feature our readers on the site by using their comments or contributed articles," she said. "Our audience is business professionals and they are on the front lines of all the stuff we're writing about. They are doing what we're just observing."

Best Initiative So Far: "We had a reader dinner and invited 10 really avid readers to come in and tell us what they like and don't like," she said. "The big takeaway was that our comment system, which is pretty basic, needs to get better... We got to sit face-to-face with these people, some of whom we only knew from their user names."

Biggest Lesson Learned: The need to manage expectations for new initiatives. "It's been interesting watching our Business Exchange platform launch because there were very aggressive expectations for it internally," she said. "As a user, I know the demands on people's time are really intense, and to expect people to adopt another social network is a lot to ask."

Next Big Challenge: Integrating with the magazine's new owner, Bloomberg. "We've been acquired by Bloomberg and are waiting to find out what their strategy is," she said. As this article was being finalized, Brady announced on Twitter that her "role isn't continuing with Bloomberg," and her last day at BusinessWeek will be December 1.

Andy Carvin

andycarvin.jpgName: Andy Carvin

Title: Senior strategist for NPR's social media desk.

Time in the Position: He's been the social media/community guy at NPR since September 2006.

Previously: Ran the non-profit Digital Divide Network.

What the Job Entails: "I work with a team called the social media desk, which is an editorial unit that focuses on ways for our reporters to interact with the public," he said. "The way I look at it is NPR has this large, loyal community of more than 26 million listeners around the country who tend to see us as more than just a content producer. In some ways, being involved with NPR is almost a lifestyle choice for them. We've had a long history of reaching out to the public and having hem contribute ideas and content. But there's never been a platform before social media that enabled us to interact with the public and give them tools to interact among themselves."

Biggest Lesson Learned: "The key thing is to come up with a variety of ways that people can interact and work with you," he said. "On one end you might have people contribute long stories and put together thoughtful narratives, whether in text or video or audio. At the other end, you may have some who are just wiling to share a quick snippet and move on."

Best Initiative So Far: "Last fall when Hurricane Gustav was approaching, we asked for volunteers on Twitter to come together and list hurricane-related resources. Over 48 hours we had over 500 people signed up to build a wiki called," he said. "They built Google Maps with evacuation routes and shelter information, and some people listened to ham radio and scanner traffic for information and transcribed that." He also notes that Scott Simon and the team at NPR's Weekend Edition have done a good job using Twitter.

What He's Learned About the NPR Community: "These are communities that love us and our mission and what we do, they want to help us succeed and prosper -- and we ignore them at our peril," he said. "Thankfully, we are not ignoring them. It's about understanding that people who use social media and are fans of NPR are our most powerful supporters. They can be advocates, soldiers, messengers. They can assist in editorial matters as well."

Final Words: "There's no edict here saying that every person has to be on Twitter or Facebook. We do it somewhat organically because we want to make sure the staff that are using social media understand why they are using it, and have editorial goals in mind."

Jennifer Preston

jennifer_preston.jpgName: Jennifer Preston

Title: Social media editor, New York Times.

Time in the Position: Close to six months.

Previously: Edited the Sunday suburban section of the paper. Has also held other editing and reporting roles at the paper, along with jobs at other media organizations.

What the Job Entails: "I don't really have a typical day. I would say one of the challenges is not doing things on a piecemeal basis, and I'm sure my colleagues would share that concern. We know we have to put effort into getting more people to begin using these tools."

What She's Learned About the Times Community: "Surprise, surprise they like us. I tell anybody who is having a bad day around here just to go to the Twitter search field and look at what people are saying about our work," she said. "People are sharing and recommending the work... One of the really cool, fun, powerful things about social media is that, through the power of recommendations, your loyalists can share the stuff they like. We produce a lot of great stuff, and it's been heartening just to see people share that with enthusiasm."

Best Initiative So Far: New York Times Twitter Lists. "One initiative that helped us move forward quickly, and in an area where there is tremendous potential, is Twitter Lists," she said. "It was an opportunity to go across the newsroom desk-to-desk and talk with different editors and reporters and explain how the feature works and say, 'Hey, how about giving me a list?' I'm mindful that the landscape changes rapidly, and we will change with it. But I do think the Twitter Lists project for the newsroom has helped us get more people interested in Twitter." Preston noted that the paper built new Twitter Lists as reports rolled in about the Fort Hood shootings. "I sit in the middle of the newsroom with the continuous news desk, and so we were all jumping on the story and trying to figure out what was going on," she said. "I walked over to Jenny 8 Lee and said, 'Jenny can you help me put together a Fort Hood list?'"

Biggest Lesson Learned: "One of the most important lessons learned is that much of the best ideas, and the really creative approaches and innovations, come from the developers, many of whom work here in newsroom," she said. "This job is also a public role, and I was unprepared for that. Some people were very kind and helpful and welcoming, but there was a group who were not. I had to figure out what my role is on Twitter because every broken link I sent out was seen as a crime. In any event, you have to be resilient and have a sense of humor."

Final Words: "The New York Times did not discover social media with my appointment, and vice versa," she said. "For the last two years we have had more than a couple hundred accounts on Twitter, and we now have 2 million followers on our main feed. We have half a million fans on Facebook...We're going to be doing something interesting very soon with Tumblr. The really fun part of this whole moment is that you can really play in the space and have fun and figure out what works. And if it doesn't work, that's okay, you can try something else."

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author and an associate editor at MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is the founder and editor of Regret The Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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Nielsen: Facebook Now the No. 3 Video Site

Looks like the sleeping online video giant that is Facebook may finally have awoken. According to Nielsen’s latest VideoCensus numbers, Facebook jumped to No. 3 behind established video powerhouses YouTube and Hulu in terms of total streams. That’s up from No. 10 just last month. Facebook generated more than 217 million streams in October to more than 31.5 million unique viewers, up from 110 million streams to 23 million viewers in September.

Top 20 Online Web Brands Ranked by Total Streams
Video Brand Total Streams (000) Unique Viewers (000)
YouTube 6,632,964 105,923
Hulu 632,662 13,472
Facebook 217,765 31,594
MSN/WindowsLive/Bing 183,556 17,301
Yahoo! 173,482 24,265
Fox Interactive Media 160,698 13,142
ABC Television 136,348 5,642
Turner Sports and Entertainment Digital Network 119,850 5,741
ESPN Digital Network 109,799 8,625

Source: Nielsen VideoCensus
Note: Includes progressive downloads and excludes video advertising

Facebook actually had more than double the number of unique viewers than Hulu had for October, though this isn’t too shocking given the nature of short, personal video sharing that goes on on Facebook versus the longer-form viewing that happens on Hulu. But the social network’s ascendancy should have the Hulu folks on alert. Facebook already got the early premiere of the NBC (and Hulu owner) show Community earlier this year, and Zuckerberg and Co. could flex their newfound video muscles to snatch even more premium content from the Hulu-gurus.

Overall, the number of total U.S. video watchers dipped slightly to 138.6 million unique viewers from 139.3 million in Sept., but the number of total streams was up to 11.2 billion in Oct. vs. 11.02 billion in Sept. The number of streams per person was up to 81 in Oct. vs. 79.1 in Sept., and the time spent per viewer was up to 212.5 minutes vs. 195.2 in Sept.

Online Video Viewing Overall Usage
Unique Viewers (000) 138,623
Total Streams (000) 11,226,935
Streams per Viewer 81.0
Time per Viewer (min) 212.5

Source: Nielsen VideoCensus
Note: Includes progressive downloads and excludes video advertising

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Soundbite: Sarah Palin’s Facebook Is The New Politico

spfbBack in 2004 the must-read politico was Mark Halperin — the New Yorker called him the “leading purveyor of inside dope.” That, of course, was before the entire country became readers (and arguably purveyors) of inside dope thanks in large part to Politico. However! There is a new player on the scene, according to National Review editor Rich Lowry: Sarah Palin’s Facebook page. Lowry describes it as a “must-read organ of conservative opinion.”

Palin has lived to tell the tale because going rogue is now her operating principle. Her base of support is so intense, she doesn’t need supply lines into the political or media establishment. She transformed her Facebook page into a must-read organ of conservative opinion by lobbing “I can’t believe she said that” rhetorical bombshells. No political consultant would ever approve of her M.O.; for Palin’s purposes, no political consultant could possibly improve on it.

Find your new must-read here.

PS3 Joins the Facebook and Twitter Party

Sony’s PlayStation 3 seems to be continually a day late and a dollar short compared with Microsoft’s Xbox. As we learned at NewTeeVee Live last week, today is the day that social features like Facebook and Twitter integration landed on Xbox LIVE. And the PS3? Well, in a corporate blog post yesterday [via PC World], Sony announced that it too is getting Facebook and Twitter. Kinda. From that post:

The latest update incorporates Facebook into the PS3 experience. By linking your PlayStation Network account to your Facebook account, you will have the option for the PS3 to automatically update your Facebook News Feed with Trophy and PlayStation Store activity. This update also enables developers to set specific criteria in their titles to publish additional game information to your News Feed. You can then check out your updates, and those of your friends, on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media favorites through the PS3’s built-in web browser.

Like the PS3’s Netflix solution, which requires a disc to be played in order to connect to the Netflix streaming, Sony’s foray into social media doesn’t seem fully baked. While I’m still unsure about the current role of social media on game consoles, at least Microsoft included Facebook photo sharing on the TV and created a slick user interface for Twitter.

Sony’s social update will be here “soon.”

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