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    The Bungee Line was an audio podcast for web developers, covering web API's, software development, and the creation of richly interactive web applications.

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TiVo needs to be Identity-driven.

As an avid TiVo devotee, I’ve been thinking a lot about how TiVo could be made better with some basic identity-enablement. TiVo is a Linux-based personal video recorder (PVR), so I have some interest from the “it’s Linux” part. But having worked at Novell for several years has trained me to always consider how identity could make something better. Here are my thoughts on this.

Two things you could do immediately with some basic identity capabilities in TiVo are:
1. Identity-based program management for families
2. Social networking based on TiVo

1. Identity-based program management for families

TiVo includes some basic parental controls that allow parents to control what content can be recorded on a TiVo. When you look at what’s included, though, one quickly sees that it’s either an unfinished implementation, or the TiVo engineers didn’t quite understand the whole problem that families would face with a personal video recorder. I put emphasis on personal, because it seems fairly apparent that a lot of single/no-children people created TiVo. (I recognize the thought pattern because I spent a lot of time being single, and still have no children.) When it comes right down to it, TiVo was not designed for multiple users. So, way out beyond parental controls on content, an identity infusion for TiVo could be huge for families.

The problem started becoming apparent when I got my first TiVo, which coincided with the early days of my relationship with Kim. Kim, it turned out, liked much different television programming from what I did. That created my first understanding of this problem. (How could Ally McBeal possibly be more important than Nova?!) Then, when my friend Erin got a TiVo, the problem suddenly became acutely poignant. Sponge Bob dominated his TiVo’s “Now Playing” list. (Nickelodeon airs a lot of Sponge Bob.)

So, what would make a lot of sense is to allow a good system of familial prioritization–beyond what the Season Pass Manager currently allows. And, more importantly, disk space management.

If you have kids, it makes sense to me that you would want to constrain how much space the little bastards get to use on your system. Perhaps more important would be the ability to restrict your favorite, recorded programs (which may include a lot of boobies) from your kids being able to view it. TiVo has already implemented folders, which could be quickly adapted to this purpose. Some simple access controls on a folder and we’re there.

The TiVo that we use today was clearly designed by single people with no kids. As a married person sans kids, I can see the gap pretty clearly, as well as the bridge to solve it. (I congratulate myself often on being wise beyond my years. And for my keen sense of potty humor–very good at that.)

The question is really whether TiVo will get on this soon, or whether MythTV, now gaining in popularity among the geek base that TiVo needs to keep appealing to, will get there first.

2. Social networking and TiVo

TiVo’s popularity is predicated on the idea that broadcast television sucks. There’s nothing on. Channel surfing is a huge time waster. And the shows I like are not on when it’s convenient to me. Also, I hate commercials.

Social software like del.icio.us has shown that a social network can form around like-minded people sharing their interest areas through their bookmarked web links. The more you play with del.icio.us, the more you start to see how it can get you to new content upon which you might not have otherwise stumbled. (The only problem is that web browsing requires reading, which is a fairly active mental activity. Watching television is not, and lends itself well to social networking around content.) However, Web sites are not so different from TV programs. We try to watch those that appeal to us, just as we spend time reading sites that interest us.

Here’s the scenario: Recently, I was watching a National Geographic program on human evolution. During the show, it occured to me that I would really like to tell my friend Erin about it. However, TiVo has no feature to allow me to share the program with Erin. And that’s not to say that my TiVo would have to transfer it’s recorded content to Erin’s TiVo. The show will most likely be aired again, so Erin’s TiVo could just record the next showing.

Ideally, Erin would be able to include me in his social network, and authorize me to suggest programs for his TiVo to record. His TiVo could then record “Ted’s Suggestions” much like it already records “TiVo’s Suggestions” as low-priority recordings. And if Erin could perhaps prioritize his different contributors in his trusted TiVo social network, he could ensure that he gets what he considers to be the best programming first.

TiVo of course gets a certain amount of gain from this. The algorithms currently used for selecting programs to record absolutely suck. No further proof is needed beyond the joke from a couple years ago about “my TiVo thinks I’m gay.” The coders at TiVo can offload the “what would he like?” question to the far better fuzzy logic calculators (brains) that reside in a person’s social networks.

I’ve spoken enough. TiVo, make it so.

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