Channels are currently a bit of a buzzword in the online video world. YouTube is supposedly investing $100 million in creating and populating them with professionally produced content. Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer’s new venture Bedrocket is reportedly based around slates of programming (aka channels) that can be sold to distributors.

Channels are intriguing to online video and entertainment entrepreneurs because they mimic the traditional, lean-back, television viewing experience with which the majority of Americans find comfortable. They’re also a cure for paralysis of choice. There are a billion online videos to watch on a million websites. A channel ideally acts as a filter, aggregating the best, most relevant material so you can be entertained without thinking too hard about where to click.

The problem with channels is they generally follow a particularly staid taxonomy. There are channels for Food, Entertainment, Cars, Classics, How To, and So On, and So Forth. But why is online video discovery and consumption generally broken down into groups defined by a common genre? Why can’t they be grouped by a common place in time? Why are there no channels for years?

Justin Johnson asked himself the same question. YouTube Time Machine is his answer.

The former Next New Network-er, current YouTuber, and perennial online video creator and connoisseur created YouTube Time Machine with Matt Capucilli as way to quell viewers’ pangs of nostalgia for entertainment and advertising from yesteryear, as well as give those viewers a novel way to consume online video. You simply go to the site, select a year, toggle which kinds of videos you’d like to see (Television, Commercials, Current Events, Sports, Movies, and Music are the current categories), and you’re delivered hand-selected video after hand-selected video meeting your criteria. There’s everything from clips of Billy Nye in 1993 to old school Looney Tuneslogos from 1969, and everything before, after, and in between.

Johnson and Capucilli recently released an iPad and iPhone version of their in-browser Video Time Machine application. People like it. A lot. The application’s climbed up to the #1 spot on the iPad Most Popular Overall Apps list, #2 on the chart for iPhone Entertainment, and #30 on the list for iPhone Overall Apps.

I caught up with Johnson over e-mail to find out how the idea came to be, why so many people like browsing online video by year, and how he finds such wonderful clips.

Tubefilter: How’d you come up with the idea for YouTube Time Machine?
Justin Johnson: I was up late one night with a toy I had bought – a tiny hand held projector that would connect to my iPhone. I was watching through a bundle of old clips of Michael Jordan in 1996 being totally freaking amazing (as he always is!!). It just made me feel all gooey inside, like I was 14 again, watching NBA on a Sunday afternoon with a home made vanilla milkshake.

I went on to watch other random stuff from the same era, and the feeling continued! I told my friend Del, who was visiting, this story the next night over at Alligator Lounge, I said something along the lines of “YouTube is like a time machine!!” and he immediately stopped me, and said “DUDE THAT SHOULD BE A WEBSITE!” — we started sketching up designs on the spot on a napkin for our “time machine” – and within a couple weeks a basic system was in place for us to start adding and categorizing videos.

TF: How many people have downloaded the application?
JJ: A ridiculous amount. I was solidly in the red in terms of investment into YTTM as a whole before the app launched so it’s great to finally be in the black. We’re floating around the #1 spot for ALL paid iPad apps, and we’re #3 entertainment on the iPhone.

TF: Why do you think so many people like the app?
JJ: Our genius co-creator Matt came up with an amazing slogan – “the only reason you wouldn’t like this app is if you are dead or haven’t been born yet” – and it’s totally true. If you’ve absorbed any popculture, you’ll discover something new that you forget you remembered! I have video of my 88 year old grandmother using it and going through songs in the 30s and 40s, it’s stunning the amount of content on YouTube that people may never find just because they’d never think to look for it.

TF: How many videos do you have in YTTM?
JJ: We have over 12,000 videos listed in the system right now (though some have been disabled and removed from rotation) – submissions vary greatly – some days zero, some days hundreds! Typically one user will just got nuts and add like a ton around a topic that they really love. I myself have added about 1,700 videos, and we have other users who have added even more. Users can find the little green “Add Video” button on to add to the library.

TF: How do you vet all the clips?
JJ: We look for ones that feel like they’ve been taken right off the TV back in that time. The clips need to be basically pure to the time they were made. By stringently curating YouTube, we’ve created an experience that’s more than the sum of it’s parts. Searching YouTube, is amazing, because there’s so much content, but there can be a lot of dead ends, and we’ve done our best to organize it for people, and keep the experience from being frustrating.

TF: What’s next?
JJ: We really need to find a good Android dev!!!!

Download the app for yourself and re-watch video ephemera from the year of your choice at YTTM.TV.

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