Scouta is a web app that provides you with media recommendations, based on preferences and interests you display by your selections within the application. If that sounds complicated, think Pandora, but for all media on the web (including media available outside the US). Or think Last.FM without the fuss about neighbors. To be honest, neither of those comparisons is quite right either. It's more like YouTube, except all the side column content is actually interesting to you.
Scouta is virtually unique. It takes the recommendation model that everybody seems to be doing with music and expands it to all types of media. The closest similar product I've found is StumbleVideo, but again that is limited to only videos. Scouta allows video and audio - so your media can range from music videos, to movie-length documentaries, to podcasts or songs.
homepage - The new 'Play' homepage allows visitors to test how recommendations work
The recommendations model is simple, although I bet their algorithm isn't! Scouta takes all your interactions on the site and uses them as behavioral indicators of interest. According to a post on their blog by CEO Richard Giles, Improving Your Recommendations, adding media you like from around the web is the strongest indicator, but it also measures your interests based on your ratings of media added by others, groups you join or create, and any descriptions, titles or tags you add.
This is just the kind of modeling system that I advocate to everybody who will listen. It costs the user nothing. There's no extra work for you. No bonus clicks or monkey-dancing to get the application to start working for you. You can just use it and the benefits start to accrue.
This is now much clearer on the brand spanking new homepage. Launched only this past weekend, it allows users to experience recommendations without an account. I logged out and cleared my cache, but the homepage didn't take too long to start recommending more and more Pearl Jam clips to me. Given I started the Pearl Jam group on Scouta on the weekend as part of my testing for this review (and because Pearl Jam rock!), I think that's a sterling indication of what this application can do for you. Obviously, the recommendations get smarter and smoother for members, as they have a longer history of more actions to work with.
member - A member's profile shows their latest media, recommendations, groups and friends
Scouta surfaces recommendations to you on your profile page, but also subtly on media pages. This means that while browsing, you can always find something you want to click on. Profile pages also show the groups you belong to and, of course, in our ever-social web world, your 'friends'. There is no particular functionality around friends in Scouta. It's just an easy way to find people later and see what they've been watching/listening to.
The site feels slow. Although I don't think it actually is, because the pages are quite quick to load. The problem seems to be more the responsiveness of some of the Ajax functionality. I've become used to instant actions when clicking a rating and on Scouta there's a slight pause. The same applies for various other functionality. Worse, at time of writing, I'm unable to add media to Scouta - temporarily the error message assures me.
Anybody will tell you that I'm no designer, but there is something about the Scouta interface that feels unfinished. I applaud the brave graffiti-stylings. That design is really several steps beyond where most startups would have stopped, for fear of not looking "2.0" enough. And I like that. It's some of the content modules that feel out of place, as if they hadn't been designed. My guess would be because that's the case. It looks like the development is getting ahead of the design.
media - The design allows plenty of options for browsing, but feels unfinished
Scouta has a pretty rapid development cycle, pushing out new builds regularly, so I'm sure speed, reliability and design issues will be fixed in due course.
Scouta is pushing a common and effective services model into new territory and doing a great job of it. The recommendations work remarkably well, even with relatively limited use. There are still some issues with speed and reliability. The design needs polish, but over all this is an exciting application that really achieves its claims.