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ViewDo.com Helps People Help Themselves

One of the great things about technology is that ideas can be recycled as new technologies emerge. In 2000, I was briefly involved as interim CTO for a startup that wanted, in part, to post product manufacturer’s instructional videos on the web. The thought went something like this: if product manufacturers didn’t have to package instructional videos with their products, they’d be able to guarantee their instructional videos were updated and more readily available. Plus, for the lawyers, they could track how many customers had viewed the videos. Unfortunately, the technologies available at the time for the average target audience–hunters and fishermen–were limited, as most of those customers were on AOL dialup, so the company shelved the idea and moved on to in-store kiosks.

The launch of ViewDo.com resurrects the idea, with both a content and technology twist. The new website is geared toward instructional videos that can be downloaded onto portable media devices in order to, according to the site, "simplify the process of how-to projects."

The advent of the iPod and other handheld digital video players allows the instructional videos to move away from the living room VCR or the computer and out to the point of need. Whether it’s learning how to tie a Windsor knot for the first time, how to change a tire, or how to throw a 2-seam fastball, Viewdo.com has short videos that show and describe the process. "We know that online videos are nothing new, but being able to see tedious instructions in video form and actually take them with you can be extremely valuable," says Gordy Wray, co-founder of ViewDo.

ViewDo splits its content into departments (or DoPartments, playing on the "can do" theme) that include arts, auto, computer, electronics, fitness, and food, among others.

"Currently our content is a mix of ViewDos that we have created and that have been submitted by our users," says co-founder Alan Puccinelli. "That said, we recognize that in order to scale to become the community for how-to videos online, the "idea" of ViewDo is much larger than just us. We enjoy creating ViewDos on things that we know and interest us, but we know that the future bulk of our content exists with the rest of the world. Therefore, we are really working on encouraging submissions from the public, as everyone has knowledge that's worth sharing."

The planned business model for the site consists of four components, according to Puccinelli.

First is content created by consumers, driving by a social networking model that rewards sharing of knowledge by featuring contributors and their how-to knowledge, which the site currently does effectively.

Second is advertising, as the site is at present, and hopes to remain, free. "The goal is to make advertising as transparent to the end user as possible," said Puccinelli. "It is our hope that the user will look at the linked advertising as a resource and not a nuisance." Currently, advertising on the site is limited to text ads.

When asked about a model explored by the 2000 startup mentioned earlier in this story–that of integrating the advertiser’s product into the instructional videos–Puccinelli confirmed that product placement could be beneficial to all three players–the manufacturer, the site itself, and, most importantly, the end user.

"We never want the content to become gratuitous solicitations for product or services," said Puccinelli. "However, we recognize that product placement can be an extremely effective way to provide a service to both our end user and advertisers alike. Advertising in this fashion is much less ‘invasive’ to the end user than a pop-up or banner ad that may or may not relate to something they're interested in."

The third area of potential growth is hosting product instructional videos for the manufacturers themselves. "Though we currently don't have videos from product manufacturers, we do see the value in potential partnerships here," said Puccinelli. "We're positioning ourselves as more of a supplement to [manufacturers’ instructional videos] by posting an online/portable version. It's also a great opportunity for the manufacturer to increase their distribution to include the entire web community and not just the current owners of their product. Ideally, manufacturers will eventually choose to replace the included instructional video with a link to their ViewDo to save on production costs and expand their reach."

The fourth area, which Puccinelli says is being explored, would be a "Pro" version of the site. "We have also discussed launching a spin-off ‘pro’ site that would be subscriber-based or pay-per-download," said Puccinelli. "This site would have content that requires intricate detail and is much more specific to specialty tasks or products, such as how to swap out the carburetor on a '57 Chevy."

The launch of the site has already created some "good" problems, according to the co-founders. In order to avoid becoming victims of their own success, Puccinelli says they’re focusing on three areas for initial growth: optimizing the submission process, prioritizing capital expenditures to handle the growth, and optimizing website code to scale the service offering.

"We’ve refined (and continue to refine) the submission process to be as automated as possible," said Puccinelli, "though we will always have someone personally review all content for appropriateness."

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