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Yap.TV brings 'Tweetainment' to the living room

August 10, 2011 |  2:48 pm

Yap.TV's Top 20 screen, displaying the 20 shows generating the most comments on Twitter Yap.TV, one of a handful of companies capitalizing on the social dimension of television, released a new version of its iPad and iPhone apps Wednesday featuring better tools for finding programs worth watching. It's a step in the right direction, but it also points out the mixed blessings of a TV program guide that's not integrated into a TV set.

Like SocialGuide, which launched earlier this year, Yap.TV's secret sauce is its ability to find and collect comments specifically about TV shows from social networks (Twitter in particular for Yap). That's a mother lode of content; co-founder Shawn Cunningham said roughly one in every five tweets is related to television. Yap lends order to the running commentary from the global peanut gallery, and it gives people within that group a way to mingle (electronically) with the friends they choose.

The app's home screen offers several different ways to browse through the TV universe. The more conventional views display images of programs arranged by time and day or by genre. The more novel ones display the 20 shows attracting the most attention on Twitter at that moment, or the shows drawing attention on Yap from your Facebook and Yap.TV friends.

In previous posts about Spotify and MOG I've expressed my doubts about the value of using a person's Facebook friends to help them discover music they might like. The basic problem is that there are many reasons for making someone one's friend on Facebook, and most of them have nothing to do with their taste in music.

The same is true of TV, as the folks at ShowYou have observed. But Yap has a way around that problem.

It allows users to edit the list of friends imported from Facebook, weeding out those who can't stop reliving the 1970s or who display an unhealthy interest in tween TV. It's also fairly easy to add people with compatible tastes as friends on Yap by clicking on their tweets, although at this point the vast majority of the tweets are by Twitter users who don't use Yap.

Yap Chief Executive Trevor Stout said the company aims to create "the best experience for navigating what’s on TV," reinventing the way people use program guides. That means helping people find what to watch based on how much juice shows have on Twitter, or how much a show appeals to their friends.

Yap.TV's show page for Glee, offering a Twitter feed and a live chat about the program Another goal, though, is to make the television experience interactive by creating what amounts to a TV-dedicated Twitter client with chat capabilities. The app creates a landing page for each show that features the tweets being posted about it and a live public chat room, in addition to enabling users to invite friends to private chat sessions.

This is where the aforementioned mixed blessing comes in.

Tweeting serves as an added layer of content on top of a TV show, enlivening programs or helping the commercial breaks pass more quickly. Nevertheless, "Tweetainment" (as Stout put it) seems to be the sort of thing viewers would rather experience on a tablet or smartphone than on their living-room TV set. That's not a huge leap for consumers; surveys show that a huge percentage of people have a laptop, smartphone or tablet computer with them when they're watching TV. And the number of people already tweeting about the shows they're watching, Stout said, is "staggering."

The Yap app's program guide, on the other hand, really belongs on a TV screen. Or at the very least, it needs to be able to function like a remote control, changing the channel on your TV set once you've found a program to watch.

Stout won't say whether his company is trying to get its app onto connected TVs -- or even on Android phones and tablets. But Cunningham noted, "We're all about trying to be a second-screen entertainment accessory." In English, that means the company is focused on handheld devices, not big screens.

That two-screen strategy makes sense, considering that the company's business model revolves around selling targeted, interactive advertisements. According to Stout, Yap can analyze users' activity to create anonymized profiles that "give broadcast advertisers a way to connect to their target audience, interact with their target audience in real time." The goal, Cunningham said, is to give advertisers a platform for more relevant and entertaining pitches.

Just about every interactive TV company makes a similar claim, of course. And Yap hasn't added any advertising to its app yet, so one can only speculate about whether it stands a better chance of delivering on that promise.


SocialGuide, providing a social feed for TV

ShowYou brings a new version of TV to the iPad

Hastags and race: Beyond the 'Jersey Shore' effect on Twitter

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him at @jcahealey.

Credit: Yap.TV