Only a few days ago my better half and I celebrated 4 years of long distance relationship. Woop! And in 4 years of long distance, you become pretty creative in how to spend fun time together while being apart.
In a Hackathon I attended a couple of years ago, I realised a few of us were (or had been) in Long Distance relationships. We had one particular thing in common: how we watched movies with our non-present partners.
It goes something like this:
- both you and your significant other agree you want to watch a movie or television episode
- you procure it online, whether renting, Netflix, etc
- you call each other via Skype, and minimise the screen window
- you put the video in full screen, the Skype video chat should now be overlaying on top
- very important: you both put headphones on (otherwise you?ll both have to mute your microphones)
- finally, you count down together: ?3,2,1 press play!?
There are, of course, very significant drawbacks to this approach. You can very easily get out of sync with each other, inevitably resulting in one of you starting to laugh considerably earlier than the other, leading to a few spoiled punchlines. Also, this whole thing relies on Skype, in itself a somewhat shaky foundation.
It is however, a lot of fun.
Naturally this then became the idea we developed and pitched after 24 hours of design and coding fuelled by energy drinks and semi-stale sweets (a.k.a a Hackathon). We called the end result ?FewStream? (we were really tired by then ok?). It combined an iOS app that worked as a ?remote? and a Chrome based video player. Simply put, you invite friends to watch the same video, and can see and interact with each other virtually in real time.
screenshots from the original iOS Hackathon prototype. Left: a tinder-style selector. Centre: list of common interests. Right: ?social play? where viewers can interact via Twitter in real time
Diving a bit deeper, the iOS ?remote? had three main functions:
- It was a method for text-based interaction with other viewers. We decided that by focusing those interactions on a phone (instead of the screen where the movie was being played) would be less distracting and more intuitive. (note: I have since doubted this assumption)
- It was a method for asynchronous content selection. All of us agreed that one of the most challenging things is to decide what to watch in the first place, so we created a ?tinder based? content selection method that you could play with anytime of the day. When you invite a friend to watch something, you would quickly and intuitively find out common themes or movie interests, thus stopping a major source of time wasting, even in close distance relationships 🙂
- It was a method for scheduling sessions in advance, similarly to inviting someone to a cinema screening
The chrome video player was a simple device for watching videos easily. We wanted to sync with Youtube (and eventually Netflix and the like) such that when any of the people controlling the session pressed play or pause, everyone else?s video would respectively start or stop. As you wrote comments on your phone, the timings would get recorded, and people could respond in real time. You get to see people gasp or make silly comments as the scenes progress. In effect, it?s a truly social streaming experience.
The Hackathon was sponsored by NBC Universal, and we pitched how a blend social content discovery and consumption would be provide a very differentiating audience experience, generate live feedback on the content watched (i.e. a bunch of people gasped on that scene, probably a good one), allow for rediscovery of older content, etc. Ultimately we argued that this was likely where content consumption was going to go. Whether watching the latest GoT episode, or binge watching a Netflix series, the whole experience would have a completely different dimension if we could do it live with friends or friendly strangers, all from the comfort of our own bed or couch.
Back then we came a close second in our category (how frustrating!). Over two years later, after watching yet another movie over Skype, I was left wondering whether someone else by now would have built something similar.
I asked, and the mighty web provided. A quick search for ?watching movies with friends? yields the following top results:
All will let you sinc a movie (well, at least a youtube clip) with someone else over the web. Each has their own interpretation of the challenge, some keeping it simple (with Lets Gaze you simply share a link then watch youtube videos together, that?s it), others creating a whole content discovery system (such as Rabbit, which looks like a more serious startup). Synaptop seems to be more like screen sharing optimised for fun stuff, while whatch2gether takes the long distance dating aspect seriously, even allowing to shop together on Amazon.
Honestly, I?m excited. With friends and family spread across the world, this kind of entertainment solution means I can spend more fun time with them by doing something together, as opposed to simply talk at each other via a phone or video call. I am sure VR will come and blow my mind away with much more engaging real time interaction solutions soon. For now, I?m pretty excited to give these services a try with my better half ? and maybe try to finally put Skype away for good.
Any other long distance entertainment solutions out there?
UPDATE IN MARCH 2020: Netflix Party is actually a thing. https://www.netflixparty.com/
Get your better half to install it as a chrome extension too, and you guys are good to go 😉