Human curation is just a starting point

An automated discovery engine can help us find fresh things we never knew we loved, but it needs a guide to follow.

This is meant as a quick explanation for how my co-founder, Antti Kupila, and I started creating an automated internet video player: Autoplay.co. A site that aims to show the latest and greatest of the web in never-ending channels.

The internet has become a mass network of recycled content, burying the fresh and upcoming behind a scrolling wall of aging gifs and video clips. While the TV model was notably flawed, it did give an extremely simple way of keeping up with the world. But now with all the individual preferences and piles of daily information, a linear schedule based channel changer can’t keep up with it all.

There’s no way curators can keep up with how many great things drop every day. So we rely more and more on algorithms.

It’s noted that when people are overloaded with decisions and information, they become passive and are more likely to eat a cupcake. This is known as the great decision fatigue. It seems a bit silly that with all the decisions you make during the day, when you want a break from it all you still decide on how and where to waste your time. Hence the gravitational pull of cat video YouTube playlists. So my question is…

Why can’t spacing out still be productive?

Just press a button and start watching a feed of fascinating, bran-new internet stuffs. Get a quick update on the world, be inspired by amazing new concepts, have a few laughs, and all without having to watch or read a single thing not relevant to you. That’s the dream. Completely clutter free relaxation time. Great. So where do we start?

Gathering sources

When Spotify created it’s newly released Discover, they made a point to focus on sourcing existing curators. Your weekly engineered playlist is then a mashup of curated tracks by people whom their algorithm thinks are similar in taste to you.

Everyone is already curating the internet, it’s just not collected in one place yet.

While starting autoplay.co, we’ve set about finding where the best content in key genres is being uploaded and what publications are shining the light on it. Lot’s of good stuff is cranked out by creators like VICE, Fact, Dezeen, Hypebeast, and news sources like Al Jazeera. However, the most unexpected nuggets are uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo by individuals: The people with dash-cams who happen to see an asteroid crash into a building.

When a cat sneezes in Tolyatti, Russia… how do you make sure everyone hears it?

Aggregating feeds

Over-time as we’ve been curating at Autoplay, we’ve collected the best platforms and blogs, noting the most consistent in quality. Our hand-built admin tool has become a mass of YouTube/Vimeo channels, twitter users, and rss feeds. Settings get tweaked to make it less-and-less manual so we can make the site as automated as possible.

No one source should be saying what’s good. It should be a collective opinion within specific genres.

When one of our sources posts a video, as long as it fits general pre-defined criteria (must be recent, under a certain length, etc.), it will show up in our admin almost immediately. Every day we scan through a list of added videos and pick out what fits well in our channels. More and more, things are even published to Autoplay automatically.

Collecting user submissions

Maintaining a channel takes a lot of work. We want to save people time, not ask it of them. People are already curating videos by posting on social media. So instead of creating another platform for people to maintain, we started tapping into existing ones using our own hashtag.

#AutoplayThis

Now we don’t have to rely entirely on our own pre-selected sources. Individuals and niche blogs can enter the aggregation with a simple hashtag. One issue with aggregation platforms though is that they by nature tend to downplay the source whether it be someone’s tumblr or a blog who’s traffic is their livelihood.

We want to give credit where credit is due.

It’s important to keep track of who discovered what. Linking to who first shared a YouTube or Vimeo video with #AutoplayThis is one thing. But what other influencers were a part of bringing it to light? Also, who directed the video? Who’s the actress with the killer spinning dance moves? This can all be pulled in automatically.

Automation

Now content is coming in. A LOT of it. There’s little patterns starting to emerge in the highest quality pieces. As I sift through day after day, I make notes and we adjust our filters to make the system continually smarter.

We’re still in the early days of building this out. There are many approaches to filtering, so it will be exciting to see how things play out. Right now we’re finding incredible content every day and it’s slowly getting easier to dig up undiscovered nuggets of gold.

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Autoplay.co is an Amsterdam based startup which just launched earlier this month. We’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts on the topic. Feel free to give us a shout on twitter @autoplayco or email info@autoplay.co.

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Key image is my own illustration based on a photo taken by Mayur Gala.