October 19th, 2004


Innovation on the TiVo

I love my TiVo; it's the only way I've been watching TV for the last few years. However, in reading the online journals about TiVo, one thing that some people are all upset about is that the TiVo service collects a lot of data about how you watch TV. Personally, I don't mind this data collection so much, as I think they have a good privacy policy, and it's able to let them determine really interesting things about how TiVo fans watch TV that might encourage producers to make more programs like the ones I like.

However, I was thinking about the TiVo Super Bowl report, and I had a brainstorm. Why not use the data collected from TiVo to provide an interesting service back to its subscribers?

Here's the antecedents to the idea. Back in the 1990's, people that read USENET had an idea to setup group filtering where the collective votes of the readers of a newsgroup could be used to highlight good posts and hide ones that were flames or spam. I'd also seen some of the post-debate coverage where they did studies with an audience that was able to continually say if a candidate was favorable or unfavorable during their responses.

Software running at the TiVo HQ could use the data collected from people watching a program to determine what are the highlights and what parts are people skipping over. I'd expect for most programs, the highlights would be the actual program, while the skipped items would be the ads. Then, when watching a show, your device could pull down that aggregated data and use it to provide chapter points, letting you skip over boring sections and get right to the good stuff. While useful for regular shows, I think this could be really interesting for things like awards shows and sporting events. If you were willing to delay watching something for a couple of days, they could probably get enough data to build a pretty good navigation map of the program, letting you easily skip to the next play or the next presenter.

Of course, I can see why TiVo wouldn't want to implement this, as it could really tweak the content providers. A few years ago, Sonic Blue was sued over their commercial skip feature that used blackouts to determine when a program had gone to commercial. TiVo still hides their 30-second skip feature behind a back door code. The studios are pushing for copyright law changes that would make TiVo and related services outside the realm of fair use. Still, it points at some ways that understanding the collective behavior of a population can make our own interactions smarter.

Campaign Idea

Lorenzo Sadun is running for the House of Representatives seat in my district. He's a University of Texas math professor and a Democrat, but since the party didn't run anyone in the primaries against the Republican incumbent, he has had to wage a write-in campaign. Despite getting an endorsement from the Austin Chronicle, it's going to be tough for him to get enough votes to win.

I went and did my early voting today. On the electronic voting machines used here in Travis County, you use a jog dial to pick choices and an "enter" button to go with the selected item. For Sadun's race, there was a "write-in" choice, and then you had to go through another screen, entering his name one character at a time. This was a little frustrating and time consuming, but it made me think of a new tactic: Sadun should sent out mailings to all of the video game players in the district, encouraging them to write-in his name, because it's like entering your own name in a high score list. So, if you want to combine the thrill of getting the top score on Donkey Kong with the importance of voting, go with Lorenzo this election day!

For Sadun's own FAQ entry on how to vote for him, see http://www.writeinsadun.org/writein.shtml.