At a Startup Weekend event in Seattle four months ago, a group of geeks built a service called Shubz.tv that allowed groups of friends to watch video clips together. The idea — inspired by the son of venture capitalist Greg Gottesman — never firmly took root after the weekend-long event. Now, Seattle’s Giant Thinkwell is moving in that direction itself, with plans to launch a new service called FlickMob.
The Giant Thinkwell team — best known for its Mix-N-Match social media game developed around rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot — unveiled the FlickMob idea publicly at the Lean Startup Meetup in Seattle this week.
It is similar to the popular service Turntable.fm, which allows friends to gather to listen to music in an online “room.” In fact, the idea for FlickMob sprung from a DJ session that Sir Mix-A-Lot hosted on Turntable.fm as part of the launch of the Mix-N-Match game.
“We found that a majority of the users that engaged with the Turntable experience actually had a phenomenal experience,” said Giant Thinkwell’s Kav Latiolais. ”People were taking photos of their screen, taking screenshots. There are people to this day who still mention the time that they were in the Turntable room when Sir Mix-A-Lot played Devo for everybody. So, we decided that this live experience and live direct engagement with celebrities and friends was the way to go.”
Madrona Venture Group’s Gottesman, who also attended the event and served as a judge during the startup pitches, agreed that FlickMob is similar to the concept he helped create at Shubz.tv. Watching Giant Thinkwell move in that direction isn’t such a painful thing for him since Madrona is one of the backers of the young upstart.
But, will people actually want to gather to watch YouTube video clips together? (Got to say, this is not an experience for me, primarily because of time constraints. TV is very much a passive, in-the-background type of activity for me).
Social TV is a booming arena, and it is about to get even bigger. A new study by Ericsson found that more than 40 percent of peopled used social media on various devices such as smartphones and tablets while watching TV.
Kyle Kesterson, a co-founder of Giant Thinkwell, said that the FlickMob experience is different from some of the other services out there.
“With Shubz and even with Google Hangouts it was Webcam viewing. You are watching your friends watching videos,” said Kesterson. “What we are really looking to do is drive the game mechanics, the game layer, the avatars, the stories. The fun stuff.”
Kesterson is a talented artist, and his artwork makes a mark on the products he touches. Bringing that artistic eye to the video rooms will help set the company apart.
“Where Giant Thinkwell is going to shine is how we tell the story and drive engagement. We have a lot of fun ideas that are being built into the experience to help drive the way that people want to share videos,” he said.
Another difference is that the company is setting up topical categories, so users can quickly and easily find online rooms that are of interest. For example, there’s a “Fail” room where individuals can participate in chatting about various videos of people wiping out on bikes or other mishaps from Cheezburger’s Fail Blog. (Interestingly, Cheezburger CTO Scott Porad also was a member of the Shubz.tv team).
At this time, only videos from YouTube can be uploaded into the FlickMob experience.
FlickMob is currently in closed beta, and the company didn’t give a concrete date on when a public launch may be coming. The goal would be to get a few hundred users participating in the service, kicking the tires on the experience.
“We’re definitely looking for feedback,” said Kesterson.
Given the new direction at Giant Thinkwell, what’s the status of the company’s celebrity-based games?
Giant Thinkwell CEO Adam Tratt said that concept is not yet dead.
“I wouldn’t say we’re getting out of that game,” Tratt tells GeekWire. “Working with celebrities may prove to be (an) important partner tactic for us with FlickMob and in the future. The change is that we didn’t make that the center of our strategy. Similarly, we didn’t put Facebook as the center of our strategy for FlickMob. We still see the social graph as interesting and important, but we’ve decided to step back and just build an awesome live web experience that can stand on its own.”
Previously on GeekWire: Can these three funny guys build a viable startup?