StumbleUpon has been one of those well-known modestly -- if not monstrously -- popular recommendation engines that keep on chugging along, satisfying a claimed 30 million users. You never quite know what you are going to get from the engine, but its behavioral algorithms perform the neat trick of surprising you with the new and the novel -- somehow within your range of curiosities. It is both serendipitous and targeted at the same time.
And with the newly launched 5by app they bring a similar trick to mobile video. I launched the handsomely designed, clean interface and was posed a few basic questions about myself and general interest. It then puts out a constantly updated flow of clips edited into categories like On the John, Getting Caught Up, Unwinding After Work and Showing Your Friends. In other words, the app is targeting use cases or modes.
Drill into one of these categories and you choose from a sub-channel like (under Getting Caught Up) TV, Wow, News and Politics. Then you choose how much time you have, between 2 and 15 minutes. The app then builds your customized stream from multiple sources. The sharing tools are neatly integrated -- as are the tagging, via three emoticons, and commenting.
The app is a welcome answer to YouTube's growing unfriendliness. Compared to the iOS YouTube app, 5by is much more the kind of thing I would want to fire up if I just feel like leaning back and watching videos. YouTube has become so cluttered with its categories, subscriptions, channels, etc. that it is nigh impossible to do something simple like find funny clips or catch up on the day's news.
The company tells me that it plans to monetize the app experience essentially through native means -- branded video placed into the streams. They believe that getting the right branded video into a well-targeted stream will result in the kind of relevance that blurs the line between ad and content.
Yeah, well -- that is what every publisher says now, so we will see. Can the app really generate sufficient scale in these niches to attract the branded content? Is there really enough branded content out there, targeted narrowly enough, to feel “native”?
Regardless, the apps comes closer to being a Flipboard or Zite for video than other video front ends I have seen. I could use more customization – shortcuts to favorite stream choices, for instance. But still it nudges us toward some of the interfaces and curation approaches needed in the migration from desktop to mobility.