How Xtranormal Could Redefine Web Creativity and Economics

By Letting Users Create Original Animated Videos, Service Unleashes Clever Form of Storytelling

By Published on .

David Pakman
David Pakman
I am fascinated by Xtranormal. This company is pioneering one of the most remarkable trends in peer production: social entertainment.

Xtranormal is service that allows anyone to create an animated short. You choose the characters and the setting from a limited selection of scenes, and then you write the dialog. The company renders your text into various pre-created voices. Basic scenes are free, and you can customize your characters by paying for virtual items. Then, you share your video with your friends and the wider world at large. You have most certainly had someone send you one of these videos by now. The breakthrough video, I believe, was the "iPhone4 vs HTC Evo vs iPhone" video released in June 2010 and viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube, but by now you've probably seen at least 10 of 'em. Each one is better than the next.

Although it has been hard for me to get any real statistics on the company, there are more than 6,000 video results on YouTube related to "xtranormal." The Xtranormal site itself boasts more than 9 million projects created. I believe the company has unleashed a remarkable trend of individual creativity and is tapping into a very important part of us -- our interest in expressing ourselves through stories and sharing them with friends. Some of the funniest web videos I have ever seen have come out of this site, including "Logic vs The Tea Party", "Quantitative Easing Explained" (more than 3.8 million views) and for you hockey players out there, "Life in the Beer League."

One perhaps accidental feature of the service is that a few of the voices are innately funny. A combination of the diction, tone and natural flaws in text-to-speed technology produce genuinely funny partial mispronunciations and staggered speech patterns. These are now crossing over into our general culture. I have even seen a T-shirt with a picture of the female character from the iPhone4 video, exclaiming "I don't care."

The business model around this content could only exist on the web: content costs are free, consumers buy virtual items (i.e., 100% gross margin) as revenue stream, distribution/traffic costs are zero, and advertising emerges at scale.

I presume many of these videos are being created by amateurs like us who have a story to tell and would like to use humor as a mechanism to do so. Xtranormal gives us the tools to unleash this form of storytelling. It's as if they have given us the tools to become a political cartoonist, a general satirist, or an irreverent animator without any training. And because of social media, after creating one, we can instantly share it with our built-in audience: our friends. From there, things can easily get shared and explode through the power of viral networking.

David Pakman is a partner at VC firm Venrock in New York that invests in digital media and internet companies. He is the former CEO of eMusic, co-founder of Myplay, and co-founder of Apple's Music Group. Read more of his thoughts on Twitter or on his blog, "Disruption."
Most Popular
In this article: