It's been more than a year since video discovery startup Shelby.tv pulled its product off the shelf and began working on something new. For those who had been watching the company, that seemed to mean the company was doomed, that it was packing things up and calling it a day.
Then a funny thing happened: Shelby.tv's investors, including Avalon Ventures, DFJ's Tim Draper, Salesforce's Mike Lazerow, and Simulmedia's Dave Morgan, doubled down on its vision and invested an additional $2.2 million in the company, as Shelby set out to quietly rebuild its video discovery and recommendation engine from the ground up.
It's taken a lot longer than expected, but the fruits of that labor have finally arrived, as Shelby.tv is launching the next version of its product - an iPhone app for short-form video discovery. The new product, which is different from the “Genius” iOS app the company had been testing last fall, is designed to help users seamlessly discover and watch playlists of new videos that are relevant to them.
Just like previous versions of Shelby products, the app uses your social media accounts as a starting point for surfacing interesting videos. While users will be able to watch videos without logging in, those who connect their Facebook and Twitter accounts will be treated to videos that appear in the streams of Facebook friends and Twitter accounts they follow. You can also follow other user accounts from within Shelby itself, as they build their own network of videos that they've shared.
With a swipe, viewers can get more info about the video that they're watching, including the original tweet or comment that was posted along with videos that are lifted from their social network. And, of course, they can share videos that they like, either within Shelby or out to those other social networks. And all videos that they Like or favorite get added to their own channel of favorites.
Ok, so that's all stuff that we've seen before, both from Shelby and any number of other video discovery apps.
What's cool about the new Shelby.tv is how fast and seamless the whole thing is, how it enables you to flip through videos by swiping up and down, left and right, almost like channel surfing on TV. Shelby does this by pre-fetching videos that are coming up in your queue, while also caching those that you've already started. That way, if you want to go back to a video that you had previously started, it'll pick up right where you left off.
It's pretty dope.* And, as CEO Reece Pacheco told me, that's all stuff that's pretty non-trivial, from an engineering standpoint.
The real beauty of the Shelby app presumably comes later, when it knows enough about you to step outside the comfort zone of recommending videos from your social feed and actually starts suggesting things based on what you've watched, liked, and shared. That's where the real heavy lifting of the app comes in.
Of course, Shelby.tv isn't the first and probably not the last video discovery app out there, but I wondered why the team spent the last 18 months rebuilding this from the ground up when the appetite for this type of app has kind of waned.
But for Pacheco, the fact that there was no clear winner in the market despite the fact that users are watching A TON of video online and on their mobile phones was a good thing. It meant there was still an opportunity for someone, maybe Shelby, maybe someone else, to create a product that actually captures user's imagination.
“Are we smarter or are we just stupidly determined?” he mused. “Well, hopefully a little of both.”
* And I say that in a totally non-apologetic, totally non-ironic '90s-type way.