What would happen if a pedestrian spontaneously burst into “I’m a Little Teapot” on a busy New York City intersection? Or what would a hot dog vendor say if a customer asked that everything on his menu become a fixing on his hot dog — down to the frozen mango shake? And would a taxi driver let a tired mother pay for just a drive down the block?
With the Web site modmylife.com — a “do-it-yourself” live cast created by Andy Keidel ’00 and his colleagues — these and other odd occurrences could become a bizarre brand of entertainment. The Web site, which bears the slogan “wanna control someone?”, capitalizes on the latest mobile video technology to test social situations created by the online audience.
The Web site’s creators hire actors called “mod stars” to venture into the real world wearing hidden cameras that allow the site’s users to observe their activities in real-time. Users submit pranks, dares or socially awkward situations they want the mod star to act out, a list of which appears on a live chat system next to the mobile video clip. The most popular suggestions are then conveyed to the mod star, who improvises them on the spot — regardless of who is watching.
Keidel said the site was originally conceived as a forum for asking “what if?” lifestyle questions — ranging from where to find the juiciest burgers to how to get dates using pick up lines — and getting immediate answers. While recently created sites like justin.tv and ustream.tv also use mobile streaming technology, Keidel said modmylife.com is the first site on the Web that couples this technology with real-time interaction.
“The basic idea is giving people the chance to interact in real time and see the world from someone else’s perspective,” Keidel said. “This [Web site] takes the live-casting phenomenon to the next level, giving users the facility to create totally their own reality experiences.”
Keidel and his colleague Martin Codyre launched the Web site’s private beta — a stage of testing in which users can sign up by invitation only — in October and expect to open the site to the public in early 2008. Although the site only has a couple hundred users to date, Keidel said the creators hope it will eventually support several thousand. The site is fully self-funded, he said.
Codyre said a secondary aim of the site is to expose the cultural uniqueness of different cities and to interact with the people who walk their streets.
“The interesting conversations you can have with people are endless,” he said. “So many people will talk to you about anything if you approach them in the right way. Everyone’s got a story.”
The Web site currently hosts two- to three-hour sessions featuring mod stars every day. But Keidel said the site will eventually have live footage 24 hours a day.
He said the organizers also plan to have the actors travel to cities around the world to test whether different cultures respond to the same social situations in different ways.
Keidel said the site is evidence of a growing trend — start-up businesses created through the Web.
Keidel, who was a computer science major at Yale, said as the IT world continues to expand, the major has become more popular. Many of his fellow computer science graduates have gone on to use their skills in start-up Web businesses, he said.
“Start-ups are a very popular option these days,” he said. “It’s so possible to do something using the Net that you couldn’t have begun to do even 20 years ago. I didn’t even have an e-mail account when I started Yale.”
Because television and the Internet are merging with the creation of technology such as mobile video streaming, start-up Web businesses have absorbed much of the creativity previously reserved for television shows, Web site Production Manager Micah Ross said. Indeed, Keidel said he and Codyre initially envisioned modmylife.com as a reality show.
But they changed its format into a Web site when they realized the difficulty of breaking into the formal media world and the Web’s conduciveness to real-time conversation, he said.
But Keidel said he started out behind some of his peers in the IT world upon graduation because the computer science major at Yale was “largely theoretical.”
Computer science major Sam Strasser ’08 said the major still focuses on the theory behind computer science rather than its applications, and many courses do not even require students to write computer code.
But finding a job was still easy for Keidel, he said, since 2000 marked the beginning of the first major “Web bubble” — a time during which the Internet was growing exponentially.
“We may be entering another Web bubble,” he said, adding that it is now much easier than just a couple years ago to attract investments for Web site ideas such as modmylife.
But whether or not start-up businesses on the Web sink or float ultimately depends on whether they can sustain user attention, Keidel said. And on this point, only the test of time will tell for Keidel and his colleagues.
Most students interviewed praised the uniqueness of the site’s concept, and several said they would be interested in signing up.
“[The Web site]’s pretty interesting, and it definitely has the potential to be funny,” Jennifer James ’08 said. “It almost sounds like an anthropological study.”
Although she would not be interested in it herself, Presca Ahn ’09 said she expects the Web site would appeal to a large core of students — especially “reality show fanatics.”
But Strasser said while the site may have the initial appeal of novelty, he would likely lose interest in it.
“I think it’d be funny, but I can’t imagine it to be a sustained, interesting thing,” he said. “I’d probably start getting bored.”
Keidel said the site’s administrators hope to hold mod star sessions on college campuses, including one at Yale, in the near future.