Video Q&A Platform VYou Makes Broadcasting Personal

Mashable Sep 30, 2011 Back to press

Name: VYou

Quick Pitch: VYou is a video Q&A platform.

Genius Idea: A video-sharing site with an interactive twist.


VYou’s homepage is a cross between the stacked boxes of the Brady Bunch intro and the moving photographs of the Harry Potter series — and the result is just as bizarre as that combination sounds.

From one box, a 16-year-old girl waves and mouths, “Ask me a question.” In the box to the right of her is a shot of the SOMArts gallery in San Francisco. The Leo Burnett research and development team takes turns holding signs that spell out LBRD from a box that is sandwiched between a man hyperventilating into a paper bag and another who is chugging from a 2-liter bottle of water.

If you click on any of the boxes, you can ask its star a question or view their responses to a list of questions that others have asked. You can follow them to receive their new answers in a personal newsfeed. The tech press thus far has had a hard time deciding whether VYou is Formspring meets YouTube, Quora meets Youtube, Twitter meets YouTube or, my personal favorite, “Formspring + video + crack.” But whatever it is, it is addicting.

CEO Steve Spurgat started the platform in November 2010 with knowledge sharing in mind. At the time, his idea of an archetypal use case was a World War II veteran who wanted to document his experience. Questions, he reasoned, help viewers find the information that they’re looking for quickly; they essentially become metadata.

While the platform is used by many experts for this purpose — America’s Test Kitchen, for instance, uses its profile to tackle questions like “Can you freeze buttermilk?” (answer: yes) — most people who have created the 500,000 videos on the site aren’t stuck on a particular theme. They’re just sharing their thoughts and experiences. The occasional “Can we see you naked?” question does inevitably come up (answer: hmm, probably not).

VH1 has leveraged the platform for celebrity interviews and has customized integrations for celebrities, customer service and interactive advertising is one revenue stream the startup plans to pursue.

The Q&A structure makes VYou an intimate Q&A platform, not a video posting app, he says.

“[When people are talking about their] knowledge and opinions, the camera is turned facing in,” Spurgat says. “Whereas with experiences, the camera is facing out. When I think of other video sharing apps, they’re really only focused on that third one.”

But the startup is taking steps toward other social video apps like Tout, which focuses on short video status updates, and Mobli, which organizes photos and videos by user, topic and place. On Monday, VYou released an iPhone app that includes a status update feature for posting what’s on your mind without answering a question. The same feature will launch on the website next week.

Even as it becomes more like competing social video apps, Spurgat hopes that the app will stand out by being more focused on one-to-one interactions that broadcasting ignores.

“In the theatre the actors and the audience are all together,” says Spurgat, a former play-writing major. “Then there was film where the audience was together looking at a screen, TV where the audience is in different rooms looking at a screen and now its computers with one person looking at a screen. … Now it’s coming full circle, and that’s part of the background for why we created VYou. There’s this need for intimacy. Social media kind of takes our interactions and puts it into the form of news. And in real life we interact one-to-one.”

But does VYou only create an illusion of personal relationships, or something more? Incidentally, that’s a question that’s already been asked on the platform.

“I think ultimately a friendship is more than just asking superficial questions or even deep questions where you get a 2-minute one-sided response,” responded user Jaimeleigh. “But at the same time, I’ve met people on VYou or talked to them on VYou and sent them an email and then formed a relationship from there. It might be a catalyst for a friendship, but mostly I think it’s satisfying vanity.”

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