Dabble Dipping into New Business Models

Video search startup Dabble is branching out into providing conversation tools for groups, including corporate sponsors. The company plans to beta-launch a new product, Dabble Groups, in January.

DabbleThis is a deviation from Dabble’s strategy to date, which has been building an audience for video search by indexing (not hosting) large amounts of video and using social cues — such as linking, emailing, and tagging — to rank it. Dabble has seen moderate traction, with about 15,000 visitors per day and 10,000 registered users. However, the key word in video is “viral” and Dabble isn’t yet close to being considered a user epidemic.

Dabble’s Groups will be forums with embedded video, both hosted on the company site for anyone and everyone, and white-labeled for corporate customers. The Groups will be an augmented version of Dabble’s current playlist feature, in which registered users compile videos from various sources, usually with a common theme. With the Groups tool, moderator and participant roles will be expanded, meaning multiple people can maintain a list and converse about it.

Dabble runs cheaply off $350,000 in angel funding. CEO Mary Hodder is hoping to score a venture round sometime soon, but in the meantime she’s working to sign up an advertising network to provide banner ads. The Groups feature is proposed as an alternative revenue stream.

Hodder suggests a brand like Palm could use Groups as a platform to share videos with enthusiast customers, and customers could talk back by posting videos of a cool ways to use their phones or of annoyances like Treo’s notorious rebooting habit. This could also work in a travel category — for instance, fly-fishing videos sponsored by an outdoors store. She cites the Cluetrain Manifesto idea of markets as conversations, seeing the tools as a way for “users to put themselves on the same footing with advertisers.”

This seems like tricky territory for Dabble. We can see how video could be useful in these instances, but such conversations aren’t necessarily video-oriented. Furthermore, all this hypothetical Groups activity would revolve around uploading video to contribute, something Dabble doesn’t do.

Sponsored conversations might be a more creative business model than simply showing ads against aggregators’ content that’s actually created by someone else. But the idea doesn’t seem to make use of Dabble’s strongest asset as a young company, which is its impressive library list of more than 6 million videos, compiled by aggregating feeds from hundreds of video sites.

The feeds come in through explicit arrangement where possible, or when not, from simply what’s publicly available. No deal is exclusive, but Dabble brokered a big chunk of them before launching in July. (You can see initial coverage of the company on GigaOM in February.)

Many of the sites we write about — whether it’s finding fresh video, adding labels to video, or setting up video screening rooms — only service a select group of video aggregators, say YouTube, Google Video, and Metacafe. Bringing together all this content in all its diverse formats, as Dabble does, is a useful service.

Even among video search sites, Dabble’s claims of superior indexing seem well-founded. Sorting for YouTube videos on blinkx, for example, brings up 26,000 results. On Pixsy, there appear to be about 1,000 YouTube videos. Dabble, on the other hand, claims to have about 4 million, finding tens of thousands of fresh clips added to YouTube each day.

The proportion of YouTube to other video is pretty sizeable — Hodder thinks it’s 35 percent overall, but it’s even more accentuated in the Dabble index. Video search is an interesting space for startups and we like seeing all the distinct approaches — between metadata, speech recognition, fingerprinting, and social cues. But there will be very little need for Dabble and its ilk if the vast majority of video on the web can be found on a single site.