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Under the Hood: Our New Feed for the iPhone

From the day we launched Showyou in April 2011, we’ve tried to do one thing well: show you the videos being shared by your friends and people you know. Videos from people you follow on Showyou, but also videos being shared on other social networks and video services you might use: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and Vimeo.

On the iPad we can and do show you 100s of videos, all browsable with through with a few swipes using our 2D grid. People seem to like it. But of course that approach wouldn’t work on the iPhone or iPod Touch.

We’ve struggled with how best to adapt Showyou to the iPhone and iPod Touch. Instead of a grid, we provided a feeds you could vertically scroll. But the feeds were simple, reverse-chronological lists,  and it was all too easy to miss the best stuff if you didn’t check your feed frequently (a peril of so much of social media). You had to check multiple feeds to see everything. And, you often missed the social commentary.

The ideal solution, we felt, would be to have a single feed that showed you the 20-30 “best” videos at any given time. A feed where we could magically highlight the right videos for you from all the videos being shared by people and channels you follow — on Showyou, as well as any social networks you’ve connected to Showyou (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube or Vimeo). A few that would show you the conversation around the videos, too.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done with the new feed for the iPhone. We aggregate all the videos we find for you from friends and people you know, put them in a list, and then rank them.

The ranking algorithm is a little like PageRank, but using social signals from multiple heterogenous social networks instead of backlinks. We look at dozens of criteria to figure out what should go in your feed; including who shared the video, your relationship with that person, and how many other friends or people you know shared it.

We also look at time. When was the video first shared on Showyou or uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo? When did you last check your Showyou feed? With that, we try to build a feed for you that shows you the best stuff, whether you last used Showyou three hours ago, or three days ago.

The net result is that we deliver a feed with videos picked just for you by people you know and follow, on Showyou and other social networks.  A feed that works for you, rather than making you work for it, by showing you the best videos, not just the most recent ones.

It ain’t perfect yet — these things are always complex, and improving and perfecting this will be a central challenge for us in the months and years to come.

But we think we’ve laid a solid foundation for that future work with this effort, and that we’ve done something unique and ground-breaking. A new way to harness human intelligence and taste to help you find something great to watch.

To make all this work, it’s important to note that we’re the lucky beneficiary of two important developments — open source software and cheaper, much more sophisticated hardware. Specifically, the combination of fifteen years of work on and improvements to Postgres and the power and economics of SSDs.

With that, small startups like ours, not just billion dollar corporations, can do more ambitious things. We’ll blog about that in more detail later.

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One thought on “Under the Hood: Our New Feed for the iPhone

  1. Pingback: Simple Is Hard « MHALLVILLE

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