Current TV gets the Web site it deserves

Al Gore's TV network gets a new Web site with strong sharing and social features, and a very attractive design.

Current TV launched in 2005 with a dual-platform message: It was a TV station with a built-in Web component. But it was clear that it was really a TV station first, that the site was its feeder system. Today, though, Current TV becomes just Current. The new Web site is a much better destination than the previous version, and makes Current into an honestly multinetwork media product. Current's Web site has content and social features that make it interesting if you never bother to tune in Current on TV.

Current's new site brings excellent design to standard social bookmarking features.

Current has become a good-looking social bookmarking and community site. Topic pages are far more visual than on Digg or Delicious, and it's extremely easy to create an entry with good art on it: When you paste in an URL, Current immediately grabs all likely photos and videos from the page and lets you choose any of them for your intro art. Users can respond to posts with their own links or via Webcam--there's a Flash-based cam recorder.

One of the biggest features of Current is that user-contributed content can end up on the TV channel. Current milks our fascination with being broadcast for all it's worth. Current's editors curate user-generated content through "Assignments" that work much like standard Current topics pages, except that users know the editors are scanning them for content to put on the air.

The argument clinic

Current also solicits for viewer-created ad messages, or "VCAMs." The advertisers provide resources (logos, music, and so on), and filmmakers can try their hand at real commercial video. They can even earn a few bucks. I don't like the idea of a media company asking viewers to create advertising for other viewers, but there's no question that some of the ads created by the Current community are leagues better--and very different--from what Madison Avenue would turn out.

In addition to the core function of the site, which is sharing and commenting on media, there are some cool bonus features. The "Viewpoints" feature is an entertaining wall of video arguments. There's also a clever interface for viewing Current's TV lineup. It shows you what's playing at the moment so you can play it on your computer if you like. It's designed more so dual-screen viewers (TV across the room, computer on the lap) can quickly find the ancillary materials for what they're watching. There's no actual live feed of the Current TV broadcast on the Web--I was told the cable and satellite companies didn't want that.

The weirdest programming guide you will ever see. But it works.

Current.com is missing a few features: There are no RSS feeds and there's no Web-based video editor. There's also no Facebook version of Current. I got vigorous "we're working on it" nods from the Current developers when I asked about these features.

It is very difficult to make both parts of a Web-TV hybrid product work financially and for users. The economics don't easily mesh, and the user experiences are very different. Current (whose chairman, of course, is former vice president and newly minted Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore) brings new thinking to both parts of the equation. It's still primarily a TV business, but the Web site works as a standalone product as well as complimenting the Current mission very nicely.

 

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