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Friction.tv: a virtual soapbox for the online masses

Coffee shop debate without the froth?

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Those with stuff they just have to get off their chests now have a new venue: Friction.tv. The site has been running in public beta, but had its official launch this week.

The site's creators, Omar Shaikh and Andy West, hope to make the site a virtual Speaker's Corner, where anyone can speak freely about the things that matter most to them.

"The idea came last summer when I was walking through Hyde Park, Shaikh told us. "I passed Speaker's Corner and it seemed very quiet. I thought there could be a way to hook into this lack of open debate in real life, with user generated content and opening debate online."

He points to YouTube and MySpace as a good example of how people are happier to air their views via video on the web, but argues that it is "reasonably trivial" stuff that is being discussed.

"Would my mum post a video on YouTube airing her views on the Labour party? Probably not," he says. "But would she text into Question Time? Yes, now that I've bought her a phone and taught her how to text."

But it is not a silver surfer service he hopes to set up. Rather, a forum for people who share their musical tastes on MySpace, and watch the funny vids on YouTube, but then want to discuss how music royalties for videos on YouTube should work.

The site has been set up to work as simply as possible, Shaikh says. Friction.tv itself provides some of the content, almost starting points for debates. But anyone can upload a video of themselves nattering away on any subject they like.

There is no editorial agenda, Shaikh says, and Friction.tv staff do not moderate content before it goes up. The range of content going up is certainly broad: a swift search of the front page turned up posts on 4x4s, why VSO is a stupid idea, (followed by why it isn't) why bombing Iran would be a good or bad idea, and the lunacy of new bin regulation, to cite just a few.

Parenthetically, some posts are more interesting that others: it will be interesting to see how the "um...er..." quotient drops off over time as people get better at framing their views for broadcast.

West notes anything that is defamatory, or in breach of the law is swiftly removed. There are lawyers on the Friction.tv team, and West says "we defer to their expertise": in deciding whether or not to remove any posting.

"We've had a couple of possibly defamatory comments that we took straight down," he says. "But no videos that have breached any laws."

The site is backed by a couple of private individuals, and Shaikh and West outline several possible streams of revenue: banner and button advertising, content syndication, sponsorship deals, white label offering (ie, providing their technology to other sites which would then say they are "powered by friction.tv") and offering access to their user base for market research.

The site already claims 250,000 unique users, and the owners say it received 2m page impressions during its beta phase. By the end of the year, Shaikh wants a million unique users per month, and five million page impressions.

"The goal is simple," he told us. "We want to own debate online." ®

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