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First on Mars, Take 2

March 31, 2009 |  1:11 pm

First On Mars, social TV, online TV, Hulu, TVLoop,, First On Mars, an online TV site, formally launched a new version today that adds a social twist to the process of deciding what to watch. The site now features two news feeds -- personalized and, umm, impersonal -- that offer links to episodes and related material submitted by users (e.g. reviews, photos, quizzes). The feeds appear on almost every page, chronicling the new material posted by users ("Couch_Potato_75 commented on American Dad today at 5:05AM") and the site's administrators ("FOM added Gossip Girl S02 E19 today at 9:50AM"). It also has added to each episode's page a Facebook-like wall where users' posts are displayed. The changes bring First on Mars more squarely into the social-TV realm occupied by TVLoop and CBS', among others.

The site's take on crowdsourcing is a bit more subtle than, say, YouTube's. Users aren't curating the site -- the videos they choose aren't elevated to the home page. Instead, the site's omnipresent news feeds suggest episodes by noting who's commenting on them. "We want users to be an additional way to find content," CEO Tuhin Roy said. Significantly, the feeds don't provide links to the comments themselves, just to the episodes. From there you can toggle over to the wall and see what other users had to say. And just by mousing over the feeds, you can see what shows the commenters are following through the site.

First On Mars remains a work in progress. My quibbles include the overwhelming number of choices displayed on the home page, the need to realign some videos with the site's viewing window and the occasionally nonintuitive navigational controls (would it be so hard to provide a "back" button?). But Roy says the goal is to integrate social tools deeply into the online TV experience, and he's heading in the right direction.

In another bit o' news about online TV, a report released today by Parks Associates estimates that 2.5 million Americans and Canadians would be willing to pay up to $100 extra for a TV if it could connect to the Internet. What they want most, according to Parks' research director John Barrett, is the ability to watch TV shows and movies on demand. Ahh, if only set manufacturers would provide TVs that could connect to any online VOD service, rather than just a hand-picked few.... Anyway, consider those households the first adopters for portals such as Boxee, which offer a TV-style user interface for online video.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.