Lexington-based Punndit enables video comments

March 19, 2012

Lexington technology entrepreneurs have created what they think could be the next revolution in social media, and they will get a chance soon to show it off on an international stage.

Their software, called Punndit, allows people to use smartphones or computer video cameras to easily attach their video comments, rather than just text comments, to videos posted online.

Punndit was chosen Friday as one of 10 winners of an international competition for innovation in television technology. It was one of 45 companies competing and the only winner from the United States. The competition was sponsored by MIPCube, part of the Paris-based organization MIPWorld, which hosts the world’s largest annual television and media conference.

Punndit’s selection means entrepreneurs Randall Stevens and Chris Winfield will be heading to Cannes, France, next week to make a presentation about their software at a two-day pre-conference event focused on start-up companies and digital creativity.

One of the 10 presenters will be selected as an overall winner to present at the main MIPWorld conference, April 1 to 4. The exposure could give the company a head start in what Stevens, Punndit’s chief executive officer, thinks will be the next wave in social media interactivity.

“We’re out front now in showing the first steps in a new way to engage,” said Stevens, 44, a Pikeville native who has an architecture degree from the University of Kentucky.

“People are not just going to want to interact with text, but with video, because most smartphones and computers now have video cameras built into them,” Stevens said. “Because this is new, the design challenge has been making it easy enough and intuitive enough for users.”

With Punndit’s software, he said, “We feel like we’re two years ahead of where this next wave is heading.” Stevens said he wasn’t aware of any competitors with similar software that allows users to isolate Internet video clips and easily make video comments about it to share with others.

Stevens hopes the conference will lead to contracts with global media companies. “We’re ready when they’re ready,” he said.

Punndit’s business model involves selling the software to media companies to allow viewers to comment on videos posted on their Web sites. That commenting increases site traffic, creating potential for additional advertising revenue.

“We’re positioning ourselves as the media companies’ and copyright owners’ best friend,” Stevens said, adding that the software also can be used with videos that are freely distributed by such sites as YouTube.com and Vimeo.com.

Punndit also is looking at applications for the software in video conferencing. “Any place video currently is used, we could live there,” Stevens said. “We think that it could become literally a new platform for social engagement.”

The company’s Web site, Punndit.com, has been taken down for retooling until after the presentation in France. But the software’s capabilities can be seen in some limited demonstrations online.

One demonstration is at TheRecoveringPolitician.com, a political discussion site created by former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Miller.

Stevens and Winfield spent two years developing Punndit with David Slone, James Smith and Jeff Ruth.

“I wouldn’t have gotten into this if I didn’t think it was a big market opportunity,” Stevens said. “Video is ripe for innovation.”

This is the third software company he has created. He also runs Base 163, an office space for start-ups on the third floor of an office building at 163 East Main Street. And he is active in In2Lex, an organization that promotes technology innovators and other creative ventures in Lexington.

“We’ve got some companies in Lexington that are doing really innovative things,” he said. “Punndit is just one example of what’s possible here.”

You can follow Punndit’s progress in France beginning March 30 at Twitter.com/punndit or Facebook.com/punndit.


Idea Festival: preserving humanity in a virtual world

September 22, 2011

LOUISVILLE — Spoken-word poet Azure Antoinette struggles with the problem as much as others do.

She worries that we are losing our humanity in a virtual world of digital communications, where many people pay more attention to their Facebook friends than their actual friends. Still, she said, she is addicted to her BlackBerry and is constantly on Twitter and Facebook.

“It’s this false popularity that’s very strange,” Antoinette told her audience Thursday at the Idea Festival. “We are all so self-centered.”

Technology has opened up amazing new ways to expand communication, she noted, but we must avoid short-changing the genuine interpersonal communication that enriches our lives. “We are moving away from a time when things are physically tangible,” she said, and that is not good.

As a poet, she also worries about what social media is doing to young people’s language and grammar skills. And she fears that popular culture is being confused with meaningful art and literature.

During a question-and-answer session after her lecture, an audience member had the best line I have heard this morning: “I’ve heard it said that a book commits suicide every time somebody watches Jersey Shore.”