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New Buffalo-based social media site to debut Friday when PBS airs Olmsted documentary [The Buffalo News, N.Y. :: ]
[June 19, 2014]

New Buffalo-based social media site to debut Friday when PBS airs Olmsted documentary [The Buffalo News, N.Y. :: ]

(Buffalo News (NY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 20--Jerod Sikorskyj knows everything there is to know about John Hutchinson -- except for his age.

The co-founders of a Buffalo-based social media startup company called Vidbolt have spent the better part of two years together dreaming up, developing and fine-tuning what they hope will become the next big Internet sensation. That required many long nights and countless hours in the attic of Sikorskyj's Parkside home.

But Hutchinson has yet to volunteer his birth date.

"It's just like a weird curiosity about me," he says with a coy smirk. "I don't normally tell people." Hutchinson made a promise to Sikorskyj that he would disclose his age if everything goes well today, a day that could send the local upstart entrepreneurs on their way to making it big.

Vidbolt will debut in prime time Friday when PBS airs its new, Buffalo-produced documentary, "Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America," at 9 p.m. It can be seen locally on WNED-TV and on each of PBS's 354 member television stations across the country.

The film about the life and work of the renowned architect of Buffalo's park system is being branded as the world's first social television and video experience.

That's because with Vidbolt, those watching the documentary will also be able to log in online to share their thoughts with other members of the audience on the video's feed running simultaneously on and WNED's website. It's kind of like tweeting along with the video.

Vidbolt's partnership with WNED began less than a month ago, after Hutchinson and Sikorskyj reached out to Dig, the local startup incubator at 640 Ellicott St. in Buffalo, which connected them to WNED President Don Boswell.

Boswell, intrigued by the possibilities, signed on for a trial run.

"We've always liked to be the ones on the frontier of things," Boswell said of PBS, which launched the first full high-definition channel nationally in 2004. "Vidbolt is new, engaging and exciting. Our hope is it will be something people will want more from." Vidbolt allows viewers to post their thoughts, or "bolt," in real time to a comment feed that runs adjacent to a video they are watching for others to see.

Users who create a profile on Vidbolt can upload videos from YouTube and Vimeo, share them with followers on the site and post to other social media networks like Facebook.

Sikorskyj, 32, and Hutchinson (who "is not that much older") feel they have developed the next big thing.

Sikorskyj is a Canisius graduate and Angola native who, for the past three years, has worked as a web developer at the University at Buffalo.

Hutchinson, from Washington, D.C., is a physics professor at Niagara University who studied at Cornell, UC Berkeley and Harvard.

They first met in 2007 at NU when Sikorskyj took one of Hutchinson's classes while working in campus ministry there.

As Hutchinson explains, the idea was hatched from his penchant for watching videos on YouTube, an experience that for him left much to be desired.

With that in mind, they set out to develop a mobile app and settled on the idea for Vidbolt in 2012. After an extensive brainstorming process, they came up with a plan, recruited a staff and, in April 2013, incorporated the company.

"I told John, 'We could do whatever we want,'" Sikorskyj said, "'but the two things I don't want to do: Make a video site or re-create a social network.' The funny thing is, we end up working on something that's a social network, with video." Unlike YouTube, where users scroll to the bottom of the page to leave a comment after viewing the video, they desired a forum where people would be able to react to live moments as if surrounded by friends watching a television show, making for a more personal experience.

"One thing I realized when watching video, I couldn't really talk to people," Hutchinson said. "You have friends. You want to have an experience share those videos with your friends. I might watch American Idol, but I'm not going to watch it alone. I'm not going to watch the Super Bowl alone. I want to watch it with other people." One of the site's distinguishing characteristics is a color-coded "heat map," a series of annotations on the scroll bar that allows users to pinpoint portions of the video that are most interesting based on the amount of comments the moment receives.

Each time a user posts a comment, a blue line appears at that point in the video, signifying a moment of intrigue. The lines begin to turn shades of red as a moment receives more comments, creating an insertion point for those who wish to bypass excess content by jumping to the parts that interest them the most.

Vidbolt launched as a beta prototype in February and has been active since.

Tonight will be its first big test.

If all goes well, viewers can expect to see more from Vidbolt during future WNED-produced shows as it attempts to bridge the difference between Internet and television viewing.

For the future, Sikorskyj and Hutchinson envision a platform that transcends traditional television, one that would bring the conversations with friends about live shows and movies on directly to the TV screen.

For now, at least, they're content with how far they've come in two years and possibilities Vidbolt presents.

"It's two guys in an attic," Hutchinson said. "It might not seem like much, but we can do great things." email: ___ (c)2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.) Visit The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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