HapYak lets users make their mark on Web videos

HapYak lets users add annotations to videos.
HapYak lets users add annotations to videos.

Can a Waltham-based video annotation company turn a tool beloved by Call of Duty junkies into an e-learning and business tool of the future?” HapYak chief executive Kyle Morton thinks it can.

“Video is one of the most effective ways anyone can communicate online,” according to Morton. “Your attention is already there, but there’s always additional information that could be added. Video annotations close the gap.”

Annotating a video means you are adding other content that will playback synchronous with the video.

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“Video annotations,” Morton said, “are meaningful when they are the right annotations used the right way. The real value of video annotations is when they allow people to communicate better with video.”

HapYak does not serve any of the videos. The company takes embedded players from various sources and adds an HTML layer on top of the video that in no way alters the underlying video. Users can turn the HapYak annotations off and the original video is not modified in any way.

Morton spent five years at Boston-based RAMP, a company that focuses on content optimization where it became clear to him that there was a very clear need to drive specific outcomes for videos.

“Ultimately, the goal was to take a video asset they had and turn it into something meaningful for their business,” Morton explained. “They wanted to get people to share the video more or to get people to be more engaged, perhaps as a lead generation tool or as a way to train their sale force.”

Once he had this revelation, Morton began to devote some of his off-work time to focusing on video technology that was outside of what he used at the office, including the open source project Mozilla Popcorn. According to its website, Popcorn “adds interactivity and context to online video.“

YouTube already offered video annotations which are often seen in forms like a “subscribe to my channel” overlay that pops up as you’re watching a video, but Morton had bigger ideas about using the technology which led to the creation of HapYak.

“It occurred to me that Mozilla Popcorn was a kernel of a democratization of that type of annotation technology,” Morton said. “The goal of HapYak is to take that kernel and develop a complete commercial solution that business, educators, and everyone who depends on how video is used to facilitate driving an outcome.”

In November of 2012, Morton raised $850,000 in a round of funding led by Waltham venture capital firm Kepha Partners. The company then began building it staff and creating the prototype for the current HapYak.com site. The company now has five full-timers and four contractors all working virtually. Morton said he made a deliberate decision to forgo a traditional office so he could spend his money elsewhere.

“You can either spend money on an office, which for developers means less time spent writing code and more time stuck in traffic, or, we could not have an office and hire extra contractors who really bring a lot of value to the team,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you can have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day and it’s not a big deal. It’s also really nice for me to see people checking in code at 11 p.m. on a Saturday”

With his team in place, Morton began focusing on building out his product and his business. The company is currently pre-revenue and its public site is not its planned source of income. Instead, the site exists to gather user stories so the company can refine its tools for eventual sale or licensing to businesses and educational institutions.

Morton has already seen a number of individual educators use the site and he’s excited about some of the ways he has seen his site used.

“There was a Spanish teacher who challenged her students to add commentary in Spanish on top of short films,” he said. “It’s such a simple activity, but because she made it an interactive learning experience, it became really effective in that classroom setting.”

HapYak.com’s tools work with all the major video content sites including YouTube, Dailymotion, and Vimeo. Morton said he was surprised by some of the uses the site’s visitors have come up with. One of the first was users taking game play videos from games like Call of Duty and adding their own annotations to help other users pass levels.

“That gave me a sort of epiphany that the natural sort of e-learning communication that occurred on HapYak.com through that videogame scenario showed we could use video annotations to share a type of information that could not have been communicated otherwise,” Morton said.

Though the company has not yet made any money, Morton said they are on target with their business plan and that discussions are ongoing with a number of companies.

“Fundamentally, we’re looking to be the commercial grade solution which seamlessly works with every video content management system that’s out there,” he said. “We want to give them the piece so that they’re not just using video, we want them to be able to use video as a primary means to drive their outcome. It could be a learning outcome, it could be a sales lead outcome. It could be a knowledge-based outcome to help people more effectively navigate a piece of long-form content.”

HapYak will soon be introducing a series of commercial-grade annotation including an interactive table of contents. This will allow businesses to take videos they already have and put in chapter markers and then automatically have a table of contents generated that will let viewer to quickly navigate the content inside the video.

“We are pre-revenue,” Morton said, “but the amount of in-bound interest from companies has been gratifying. We expect to have some deals to announce in the coming quarter.”