"This is really addicting," I admit to my wife after more than an hour of my distracting her from reading with a new iPad app called Video Time Machine. From gangster films of the 1930s to Ford commercials of the mid 60s, Wonderama in the early 70s to Chet Huntley explaining to Dick Cavett why he was signing off from the Huntley Brinkley Report, this app is a trove of historically indexed video for the hard and softcore media mavens.
"Ya think!" she shoots back sharply.
Well, until I happen upon a clip from her childhood.
"Sigmund the Sea Monsters!" She yelps. Yes, Sid and Marty Kroft (who had to be on some of the wildest hallucinogens this side of magic mushrooms) descended from the twisted genius of Banana Splits and Lidsville with this throwaway Saturday morning sitcom involving a green pint-sized sea monster and two boys, one played by Family Affair child star Johnny Whitaker. "Ew, wow, this was a lot worse than I remembered it," my wife says after a few minutes of the clip."
And so it goes with media nostalgia. It almost always plays better in memory than in actual rerun.
But the brilliance of Original Victories, Inc.'s Video Time Machine, also available in a less polished Web version, is that it is video aggregation/curation done with real style and purpose. The iPad iteration lets you set the year and one of about half a dozen topics (news, movies, ads, etc) to call up one to 60 or so clips that have been curated by the editors and submitted by users. The iPad interface is perfect for this activity because you can swipe across the pile of results.
A few perhaps obvious lessons come from this great app. First, video is data. Like all of the other names, dates and places online or in any spreadsheet, when properly indexed all of the video pouring onto the Web can be creatively recombined and parsed into new products and offer new insights.Second, what Video Time Machine does is very simple in that it leverages and streamlines for us a behavior many already use at YouTube. Many people already go to YouTube as a nostalgia machine, calling up TV and film clips from their childhood. This app recognizes that YouTube is a Wayback machine. The best digital products don't try to introduce new behaviors so much as complete behaviors that many consumers already perform in a less efficient way.