Brian Houston, founder of Videosift has agreed to a grilling about one of the hottest video aggregators on the web.
Videosift is one of the new Digg clones which are popping up all over the place. The community is a bit more mature than the one at Digg with less smart ass comments and more conversation.
I conducted the interview via Email.
What inspired you to come up with the idea of Videosift.com?
I used to work as a Product Manager for the biggest Sat. TV provider here in Australia. In 2005, one of my big projects was to investigate making an “online play” to distribute video over the Internet. I did a lot of research, and became a very passionate evangelist for online video. Unfortunately, my former employers weren’t biting. “Who would want to watch TV on their computer?” So, I quit. I sold the family home here in Australia, and took a 5 month trip around the world with my family. I guess that’s where VideoSift was born- the idea at least.
During the trip, I spent a lot of time hanging out on the community site MetaFilter. I really liked the way the community hung together, and I wanted to create something similar around video.
Is Videosift.com built from the ground up or do you use a ready to use system like pligg.com?
VideoSift started from a basic Pligg installation in February 2006. Here’s what it used to look like:
Over time, some very dedicated developers and designers have risen out of the community to make modifications. Our development manager is based in Orange County. We have a very talented Flash and layout designer in Krakow, Poland and a graphic designer here with me in Australia. So VideoSift is a highly modified Pligg CMS created by about about six people, all from within the ranks of the Sift community. ( http://www.videosift.com/people.php)
What do you think of all these Digg clones popping up everywhere?
I think that where a lot of them are getting it wrong is on focusing on the voting mechanism. I think they need to work more on building a real community that happens to use voting to sort their posts, rather than making the voting the reason to visit the site. Also, the ads- god my eyes water from all of the Google ads and animated smiley banners.
What is your favourite video on Videosift.com?
That’s a tough one. My current favourite is this one. I bet you can’t watch this without laughing:
This is what I list as my favourite on my profile; I guess I’m a bit of a sadist:
Are you a heavy Digg user?
No. I read Digg through PopURLs but I find it too big and chaotic to visit directly much. I feel like I’m lost in a big city.
What experience do you have with building websites?
I’ve been working in Web development since 1996. It’s only recently though, that I’ve figured out I’m not very good at it. Having the opportunity to work now with some really talented coders on VideoSift ? I’ve realized I’m better at writing documentation.
What is a day in the life of Brian Houston like?
In my day job, I work for Telstra’s ISP. Telstra is the national telecom provider for Australia. I’m a Business Analyst. Please don’t ask me to explain more, I don’t think I could do it. During the night I spend 5-6 hours working on VideoSift: responding to emails, tweaking code, emailing my partners about future releases and bug fixes.
What is your background?
I was born in Anchorage Alaska. I lived there with my family until I was18. I went to university for 2 years in Honolulu, HI ? then spent a year in Spain at the University of Salamanca. I finished up in San Diego, CA with a degree in International Relations. After graduating I went to Japan for 3 years. That’s where I met my Aussie wife. I got my first IT job managing an Internet caf? in Osaka back in 1996. I learned HTML when I wasn’t busy pointing Salary Men to all of the good porn sites. After Japan, we moved to my wife’s hometown – Brisbane, Quensland. And that’s where I live with my 9 year old girl and 6-year old boy.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to set up a Digg clone?
Voting is a great way to organize content, but focus on building the community first. At this point, general/tech news Digg clones are fairly saturated out there. I would recommend a niche. The paradox then becomes, if it’s a small niche, how does one build a critical-mass community around it? I don’t know.
I presume a big problem with a site such as this is gaining the critical mass to make it useful. How did Videosift.com attain its present traffic?
VideoSift launched in February 2006, right as YouTube was beginning to make its amazing rise. I’m sure that helped us a lot. We also got a big push from MetaFilter. Our (then future) operations manager James Roe posted VideoSift to Metafilter. That’s how we met. We’ve also received a lot of traffic from the gaming site Blue’s News and the content aggregator PopURLs.
I see you have an 11k ranking at Alexa which means you are getting good traffic. What does this translate into with regards to eyeballs?
600K uniques, 1.6 million page views per month.
Digg is reported to have a hard core of a few hundred people who make it
what it is. Do you find that Videosift also has a hard core of video
Absolutely, it’s the classic Long Tail phenom. We probably have about 50-60 members that are really dedicated, and the rest of our visitors get to reap the fruits of their labour.
How do you persuade people to submit videos?
VideoSift has a couple of unique features that encourage submissions. There is a member rank for every member on the site. This is based on the sum of all votes you have received for videos that have been published to the front page. We keep track of the top submitters via a “Top 15 Members” panel on the front page. This makes VideoSift a rolling competition. I used to be number 1, but I’ve fallen off the top 15 completely.
We also award moderator privileges based on the number of videos submitted. After a member has had 15 videos published on the front page, they receive a bronze star, and are able to “down vote” videos. After 50 videos, a member receives a gold star and pretty much runs the site. At the moment we have 50 Gold Stars, with a new moderator being born about once a week.
Have you ever had to ban users for spam?
Our Gold Stars ban about 1 user per day. Usually for violating our No self-link videos. In the past month we’ve banned viral marketers from NBC, CBS, Sprite and lots more. We almost banned a Googler from the Googleplex for posting a Google related video, but decided to discard the video and keep the member, as he posted in good faith.
What does the future hold for Videosift.com
PC World named us the best Video Aggregator is their most recent issue, That’s what we would like to continue to be. The Best Video Aggregator on the Web.
Our traffic continues to grow on a month-to-month basis. The challenge for us now is to grow without spinning out of control the way the community at Digg has. So we’re hoping for “sustained growth” with lots of quality members coming on board and becoming moderators to help us control the site.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is looking to develop their own website?
Don’t try and be a jack-of-all trades ? get help and let talented specialists share in your success.
Thanks Brian, you can visit Videosift and start voting on videos right now.