After using a TiVo for the past two years, I’ve recently discovered the first downside to using one. When you own a TiVo, the typical usage is to simply watch taped shows whenever you have time. Ever since my last TiVo hard drive upgrade, and moving to Directv, there is so much stuff recorded that I’ve ceased watching live tv altogether. The problem when you no longer surf live tv is that you’ll never discover new shows. For the past few months commercials for other shows during taped episodes was enough to find new things, but once in a while I hear about something via word of mouth that I would have only discovered by randomly channel surfing.
Rough Science is just such a show I only found out from a friend. The premise is pretty simple, put a bunch of scientists on an island and give them challenges to build, create, and fabricate modern instruments and chemicals from the random bits you find on an island. While it may sound a lot like every other reality show like Junkyard Wars or Monster Garage or even like Gilligan’s island, the quality of output, lessons to be learned, and scale of challenges just seem a good deal better. Each episode involves a team of scientists combining classic lessons from engineering, chemistry, and biology, and they end up doing amazing things.
I have the same problem with music that I have with a TiVo. A couple years ago I found myself listening to CDs in the car and at work, and eventually mp3s, and stopped listening to live radio altogether. I only find out about new bands via word of mouth among friends, things I hear on movie soundtracks, and from reading websites. While TiVo’s suggestion recommendations have historically been helpful, and their showcases section aims to advertise new shows, there are so few good shows on TV that I’m surprised to be missing the few I am.
TiVo’s collaborative filtering worked ok when I had 30-40 channels with cable, but given 300, it falls short. I think the solution lies in the community realm. The problem could be solved with buddy lists, where I tell my TiVo to make my season passes readable by friends I trust, and I can read theirs, using the power of a few friends with similar tastes to figure out what I should be watching but am not.