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Gawkk, the online video Twitter?

April 1, 2009 | 10:33 pm

Gawkk, online video, online TV, Hulu, Twitter, social media, Facebook I'm sure someone has quantified this phenomenon by now, but one of the truisms of user-generated content sites is that most of the work -- posting, linking and reviewing -- is done by a relatively small percentage of the users. Gawkk, a new entry into the burgeoning online-video market, is trying to raise that percentage by leveraging the Twitter phenomenon.

The New York-based start-up announced the formal launch of its site today at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, but it's been refining its approach for more than a year. Gary Culliss, the online entrepreneur behind the Direct Hit search engine and a phone-message broadcasting firm called SoundBite Communications, founded Gawkk in 2007 as an online video aggregator. Culliss said he always had in mind the idea of users organizing the content for themselves; the question was how to do it. Although Digg was an early inspiration (hence the extra "k"), by late 2008 Gawkk had settled on the idea of microblogging, a la Twitter. Instead of prompting users to write about what they're doing, as Twitter does, Gawkk asks, "What are you watching?"

The site's approach is simple. There are thousands of channels of video to browse, fed by a wide array of sites including vlogs, Hulu and CNN. All the videos that play on the site are accompanied by a comment box, where you can share your thoughts in 140 characters or less. You can also click a "Like" button to note that you liked the video (there's no "dislike" button, however). The site broadcasts your comments and "Likes" to your followers on the site, adding them to the top of the "activity stream" that dominates their personalized Gawkk home page. You can also broadcast links to videos you've found on other sites, and automatically send your comments to your Twitter followers as well (with similar Facebook and Friendster capabilities to come, Culliss said). Just as anyone can become one of your followers on Gawkk, so, too, can you follow any other user, adding their comments, likes and discoveries to the activity stream on your home page. The point is to capitalize on people's urge to tell others what they've found, turning those comments into feeds rich in recommendations for what to watch.

Gawkk, which Culliss says he's funded with $250,000 of his own savings, has plenty of competition, even in the nascent field of social TV sites. But it's focused on the right challenge, I think, which is how to help consumers sort through the overwhelming -- and growing -- volume of video online. Enabling users to find the good stuff for each other is much more cost-effective than paying staffers to do it for them. If the past is any guide, however, Gawkk could have trouble persuading people to make the effort of posting comments -- even at 140 characters or less. After all, most people just like to watch.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

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