I only found out about Stroome last week–and promptly wrote up an article about their approach to collaborative video editing and creation. Imagine my surprise when co-founder, Tom Grasty, reached out to let me know they were launching a new-and-improved version of the service this week. I'm intrigued by the idea of collaborative video creation and crowdsourcing in general, so I was thrilled when Grasty was willing to answer some questions about the company's direction.
Crowdsourcing is nothing new. It's been a buzz word for a couple years, and an actual practice for even longer. You can crowdsource software and applications now. You can even crowdsource the financing to pay for it. But we've only just begun to see that kind of group-creation in the world of video. So it seems to me that Stroome is a bit ahead of the curve.
The new version has a fresh set of widgets and functions to help foster collaboration, and will even have two video editors for users to choose from–one basic, and one advanced. In fact, almost everything is new: design, layout, and logo. I wanted to get a better overall picture of the genesis and evolution of Stroome to help understand where they–and collaborative video in general–are headed. (The links in his answers have been added by me.):
Q: How is Stroome doing? I won't ask for any specific numbers you're not comfortable giving out, but how's the user-base? What's the growth pattern like?
A: By all accounts (winner of a Knight 2010 News Challenge grant; audience award winner/best new startup, the 2009 Online New Association; named one of the Top 5 Social Networks Worth A Browse by the Guardian UK) Stroome is already starting to make a mark. Since our beta launch in April 2010 at the University of Southern California's Annenberg's School of Communication, Stroome has amassed thousands of users in over 60 different countries around the world.
Most recently, Stroome was used by protesters in Egypt when the government blocked Twitter and Facebook. And we were recently invited by TED to participate in their third annual conference at USC, where we took advantage of the unique opportunity to unveil the site's new look by engaging the 1200 conference participants in a video scavenger hunt.
Q: Tell me about some of the new things happening at Stroome. What's new? What's going away (if anything)? Is the core concept and service the same, but with new features… or is this a major overhaul?
A: We've spent the last 12 months beta testing and focus grouping the Stroome site specifically, and the concept of collaborative video editing in general. We've personally talked to hundreds of people, gotten their feedback on what they like, what they don't like, what features are important to them, what features aren't. And the big takeaway? "Simplify the platform.”
From the beginning, people have sparked to the 'promise' of the site. We saw our job as finding a way to best deliver on that promise. Make it easier for people to find other users and other content so that they can work together. And we think our new site–a complete re-tooling of the platform–makes finding ways to collaborate easier and more apparent. In the end, of course, the core concept–edit online anytime, anywhere, with anyone–is still at the heart of the site. In fact, those words are the first thing you see when you land on the front page. But the site is much easier to navigate based on a concept of "progressive discovery," rather than pushing all the features to the forefront all at one time. Ironically, paring back the features for the TEDxUSC launch is, we think, going to make the concept of collaboration blossom as 'bells and whistles' take a backseat to an easy, highly engaging interface.
Of course, some of the most exciting and ultimately distinguishing features—follow feeds so you can keep track of what's going on in the community, notifications so you can stay on top of requests for footage and new projects that are forming, and groups so that you can create content with people who share your goals, taste and objectives–had to sidelined for the next iteration. Groups had been in the beta release and were immensely popular. The Follow Feed and Notifications are new additions. But they all revolve around building a community around what is essentially a commodity– the online editor.
Speaking of the editor, we're going to be giving people two versions of the editor to play with– a basic editor that's essentially a robust mash up tool, and a more advanced editor that resembles iMovie in the cloud. We're curious which one the users will ultimately gravitate toward. Right now the simple editor seems to be the audience favorite.
Q: To what extent, if any, did collaborative films like Star Wars Uncut and YouTube's Life In A Day inspire or influence Stroome?
A: I had the opportunity to meet the creators of the Star Wars Uncut project at last year's Open Video Conference where we were presenting. I also met the folks behind 'The Cosmonaut,' who as I am sure you aware, are doing some very neat things with crowdsourcing both content and financing. But truth be told, I didn't know about either of these projects until Stroome was well beyond that first grad school iteration that caught the eye of some students at the New School's 'Mash up Culture' class. That was back in the spring of 2009 when we were just beginning to piece this whole thing together.
Q: What brought about the new Stroome, was it user feedback… testing on your own end? Or did you have several stages planned out in advance when you started the company?
A: Originally we build in Drupal largely because of the backend CMS and ability to get developers who could build quickly and cost efficiently. But as we quickly realized, Drupal is not the most video-friendly. Of course, when we started this project as students at USC, we weren't really even thinking about that. We were just happy someone could build the initial prototype and do it in the five weeks we had. But once we started getting noticed outside the education community, we found that user experience was getting more and more important. And we were limited by what we could do with a modular building structure. So we took a step back and invested time and money in a really hot LA design shop. Rather than driving the process with features, we decided to drive it by how the users would experience it.
The site we're unveiling at TEDxUSC embodies the new look, feel and flow of the site. But the rest of the features will be organically expanded over the next few months. We anticipate having what we call the 'full release' by June, when we return to MIT's Conference for the Future of Civic Media (where we received our Knight grant last year).
Q: What are some of the more common projects you see Stroome being used with? Professional? Or amateur? Commercial or educational? I'm sure there are all kinds, but I'm curious to know what you think your company's strengths are in terms of the kinds of videos you find yourself serving the most. Who is in the target demographic?
A: Stroome has already been used by producers of the X-Games who used it to shoot UGC content in the parking lot outside the competition. The Friars Club Comedy Film Festival used it to solicit web films from aspiring comedians across the country. A group of students at Chicago Columbia College used the platform to document the recent the mayoral election in Chicago. The platform has also been used by dozens of sports enthusiasts, travel aficionados, bloggers and a more than a few civically minded journalists.
The Egyptians who used Stroome at Tahrir Square remain the most visible use case, of course, but we feel it's really just the tip of the iceberg. Obviously, you have to have a plan for marketing the service and what it can do for certain groups. And we have that plan. But we also are well aware that when the guys at Twitter rolled out their 140-character, microblogging platform at SXSW a few years back, they didn't have a clue how the platform would ultimately be used. Needs change, technology changes, and in the end you have to change with it.
But for now, we see the strongest market being the education market, where we already have a strong foothold. Advocacy media–we got a tremendous response at the recent NCMR conference in Boston last week–is another large market for us, as is local and civic media. And if you step back and think about it, it only stands to reason that because the concept of collaborative editing is relatively novel, the groups that are embracing us the most are those who have a specific task, with a specific start and end date, and specific stakeholders. We're just giving them a more cost efficient, more expeditious way to complete those tasks. We're really not competing with AVID, Final Cut, Adobe or any of the other professional, client-based editing suites. We're about getting something up and out the door quickly.
Q: What potential, if any, do you see for branded video with regard to Stroome?
A: Branded video is a huge opportunity for the entire online video space. Up until now, I've been talking largely about a 'virtual editing studio in the sky'–the ability to create content with multiple stakeholders in geographically disparate locations. That's one aspect of Stroome.
The other is to look at what Stroome offers as a branded, user-engagement application. And I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. For years, Fortune 500 companies have been putting their content in the hands of their users and asked them to do something cool and clever with it. Now they can augment that 'professional' content with video their fans are shooting. How these two very different content creators will comingle has yet to be determined. But Stroome offers a platform that could open the dialogue between them. In fact, we're been talking with a few companies who are interested in doing just that.
Collaborative Video's Future?
I'm impressed with Stroome's focus on the user experience. And I like how open they are to letting the service become what the community turns it into–letting the users drive the evolution. Actually, it's rather perfect strategy when your core business is all about the wisdom of crowds and collaborative decision making.
Crowdsourced video will never overtake traditional video–not every video benefits from collaboration. But it can carve out one heck of a niche. As Grasty's examples of the X-Games and the citizen uprising in Egypt prove, there is a demand for this kind of service… and it's growing. And he's dead on about education being a huge opportunity; collaborative video could bring more power to education than standard one-way video ever could.
Time will tell if Stroome can grab hold and become this market's leader, but I'd say they're off to a pretty good start. They've won praise and accolades from some pretty respectable sources and seem poised for success. I'll continue keeping an eye on them, that's for sure, and it's probably safe to say we'll be hearing about them again soon.
Check out the new Stroome here, and let us know what you think in the comments below.
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