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Suggestions for TiVo

The NY Times announced today that TiVo will be introducing some new features to their service, allowing people to watch content from the Internet on their TiVo. As with Apple’s AirTunes & AirPort Express, Slim Devices’ Squeezebox, and networked DVD players, the idea behind the new TiVo is that people should be able to play their media, independent of file format, source, or delivery mechanism, on the device or through the interface of their choosing.

Many companies seem to be heading in this general direction, generating lots of buzz about convergence or whatever it’s called these days, and I guess it is exciting, but I can’t help but feel that TiVo in particular is missing (and has been missing for a couple of years now) an opportunity to expand upon their core business in a more meaningful way for their customers.

First off, TiVo still does not allow you to view or modify your To-Do list over the Web. The TiVo Web Project fills this need for hardcore TiVo hackers, but a consumer-friendly version is needed. I should be able to everything I can do while sitting on the couch in front of the TiVo (short of watching programs) over the Web. And you can imagine other ways in which you could talk to your TiVo: SMS messages from your phone or IM from your computer to the TiVo message center (“hey lazyass, before you watch that six feet under, go pickup groceries for dinner”) for starters.

Along with that, TiVo should provide recommendations about what I should watch, displayed both online and on the Tivo. The current recommendations suck, especially if you consider the massive amounts of data that TiVo gathers on their users’ viewing habits. They can do better than a list of 50 shows that are vaguely related to ones you may have watched before. Take a page from Amazon’s book. When a user views a particular show’s details, offer a short list of similar shows (“people who watched this show also watched…”). Break them down by category into recommendations for sports, for movies, for whatever. Along with the collaboratively filtered recommendations, TiVo should publish lists of new and notable shows, categorized appropriately. TiVo has largely abstracted away the idea of television channels and networks and turned the TV experience into watching one big TiVo Channel. With so many shows available on this huge channel, they need to give each of their users many ways to compile their own personal channel.

Above all, television is a social experience for many people. Even if you don’t watch sporting events, reality TV, game shows, or even Sesame Street with friends or family, yelling, joking, and laughing at the TV and each other, chances are you’re going to talk about it at work or school the next day. Or, TiVo willing, on TiVo’s Web site. TiVo needs to more effectively harness the views and opinions of their customers and push them back out to everyone. Create a community…not people interested in TiVo but people interested in watching television. Think Television Without Pity. Or, again, Amazon with their user reviews. Let people share their television watchlists with others, like Apple or Mixmatcher do with music playlists. The social software / online community space is ripe with ideas that could be applied to TiVo and their users.