Networks' newest RealPlayer player appears to be a huge departure from
their earlier client-side products. While the Helix server
technology and the RealVideo codecs have been ones-to-beat in streaming
media technology, the RealPlayer has been the face of the
to the user community - and it hasn't always been a pretty face.
Real's marketing folks, in the heat of their battle for
with Microsoft, saw RealPlayer as a the company's direct pipeline to
Let's face it - the
despite its technological excellence (SMIL 1.0 & 2.0,
universal format support, the
industry's best codecs, and support for
nearly every OS and browser out there) became an abomination - big
heavy download, cumbersome registration required, ads and eye candy all
over the place, "notifications" that pop up and annoy with marketing
Fast-forward to today -- In the new world
of the Web,
Flash is taking over because its player is everywhere and its user
experience is simple, unmarred by distractions, and an easy download in
the unlikely case you need it. I've even been able to install
the Flash player
XPI Flash installer - no UI whatsoever, just one click and
with many of Real's remaining customers (there are many, especially in
the higher-education industry) avidly looking for alternatives
to RealPlayer, and Real rapidly
approaching irrelevance in the video technology space, RealNetworks has
come up with a new approach. Real's new player (RealPlayer 11) boasts
two major innovations:
The player is small
and unobtrusive, with a quick, easy install that asks no
questions, takes over nothing, and generally leaves you alone.
what could be a stunning new capability, RP11 will download
non-DRM-protected video from any website, in any format (Flash. Real,
QuickTime, WindowsMedia, etc). While you're watching that
video on YouTube, Google,
Metacafe, Brightcove, or anywhere else, RP11 will add a little "save
this" button to the video itself.
The idea is that RealPlayer becomes the base of your personal video
library. You can share (by sending around links to the original
source), or with a $30 upgrade, burn to DVD disc. Presumably, one of
these options will let you easily flip content to your iPod.
There's a pretty good video
demo given by Real VP Jeff Chasen at Scobleizer.com.
Now aside from the obvious idea
that content owners may revolt at the idea of people being able to save
their content whether they want them to or not, I just don't see the
value to RealNetworks in a new player. Why offer it?
And I think the bigger question is, do we really need more players in
the industry? Isn't it already hard enough for consumers? How many more
players and plugins are we going to try and force viewers to have to
The new RealPlayer gives the
users lots of control over Internet video -- watching it offline,
burning it to CD or DVDs, storing it in a library, etc. Sharing content
links directly from the RealPlayer library can be really useful. A
number of people whoâ€™ve tested the pre-beta have told me that they love
watching a few seconds of a video on a web site, then using RealPlayer
to download a copy for later viewing.
Looking at the education industry, up to now I see a large
investment in Real's technology that's been feeling more and more like
a liability, strictly because of the horrendous RealPlayers of
the RealONE/RP10 generation. Folks are looking at
costly switches to Flash video infrastructure not because the video or
server technology is so great, but mainly because the player has
mindshare and doesn't do anything to piss-off its users.
if Real's new player is something that a) is a no-brainer to install
and use; and b) provides truly useful functionality on top of
the enormous-and-growing world of online video content, it may just
become relevant again to online users. And that's good for Real's
existing customers, for sure. How that helps Real acquire new
paying customers isn't clear to me, but I'd guess that anything that
makes RealPlayer more relevant in the marketplace has to be a good
Dan Rayburn points out in his Business
of Online Video blog that streaming video isn't a Web 2.0
technology. But while Dan's point is that streaming video
has been around way too long to be considered part of the Web
2.0 "fad", I think the relationship between video and Web 2.0 is more
complicated than that.
The key ingredient of "Web 2.0" technologies that makes them worthy of
that label is that they have open APIs and are freeform
platforms that allow user behavior to define and create value.
Business School professor Andrew McAfee says it well...
...the use of technology
platforms that are initially freeform (meaning that they don't specify
up front roles, identities, workflows, or interdependencies) and
eventually emergent (meaning that they come over time to contain
patterns and structure that can be exploited by their
members). Email is a channel, not a platform; groupware is
not freeform and typically not emergent; and knowledge management
systems were essentially the opposite of freeform -- they
presupposed the structure of the knowledge they were meant to
...so, to build a Web 2.0 service, Andy says,
Build platforms, not channels
Make sure they're initially freeform
Build in mechanisms for emergence. These
mechanisms include links, tags, powerful search...
...and, I'd add, simple APIs for combining and syndicating content from
one site to another. Sites like YouTube are on the edge of
Web 2.0 because of the ease with which users can publish their content
not just to YouTube, but to other sites. Web 2.0
facilitates video mashups: videos can be embedded across
sites, search results can be published as RSS, users can "mash-up"
collections of video with photos from Flickr and maps from Google or
The kinds of standard
affordances that we take for granted on the textual web —
select, copy, reorganize, link, paste — are missing in action
on the audio-visual web. The lack of such affordances in our current
crop of (mostly) proprietary media players suggests that open source
and open standards can help move things along. But nobody in the open
world or in the proprietary world has really figured out what those
affordances need to be in the first place.
Standard ways to search within video, associate a video timeline with
other media, and deep-link into video content simply don't exist.
RealPlayer and WindowsMedia always did offer a way to deep
link using start parameters in the .ram or .asx file URLs, but the
endless variety of custom Flash video players (since there isn't really
an official, usable "standard" one) means that even that simple method
is no longer available on most sites. And as for search --
while web search engines crawling into a Word document or a PDF file is
routine, video content search hasn't caught on, even though the
technology, from (the defunct) Virage,
(now part of Comcast) , Pictron,
and others, has been around for years.
So, Online Video 2.0 is yet to be born - while video is a part of the
Web 2.0 ecosystem that generates value from unscripted user behavior on
freeform platforms, it's not yet ready to BE one of those freeform
The standard video players - RealPlayer, Quicktime and WindowsMedia -
all have APIs that help make it easy to embed interactive video onto a
Web page. The major video platforms provided simple run-time
customization capabilities that developers have come to expect from
video platforms. By setting values in either the web page or
the metafile (.ram, .asx, .qtl), you could accomplish a lot:
support for metafiles that can be generated on-the-fly
background colors and logos
control over the appearance of the player controls
autostart and repeat behavior
Naturally, if you are a Flash developer, you can make a player
that handles all of this. Indeed, unless you're simply
hard-coding an .flv URL into the stock Flash video player, you have to do
Flash development to make a more capable player. Jeroen's
Flash Video Player 3.6 solves all that. With an elegant API
that works through metafiles or FlashVars, you can customize the
playback experience without having to do a lick of Flash development.
API includes controls (playlist navigation, play/pause, scrub
callbacks, and metadata extraction.
This player covers all the important bases in terms of the
video player capabilities Web developers need, and makes publishing
Flash video as easy as publishing Real, QT or Windows Media.
It's distributed under a Creative
Commons License, free for non-commercial use, and nearly free
for commercial use.
The folks at Read/WriteWeb have put together a terrific Online
Video Industry Index that provides a snapshot of the current
online video marketplace. It's not about hardware or software
vendors, like Sorenson,
Adobe, but rather
sums up the online services space very well. This
list breaks the industry down into categories that include Video
Sharing, Video Search, Video Editing & Creation, Video
eCommerce, Video Streaming, and others.
I've been working in this space a lot lately, and have worked with many
of the providers on this list, including some as-yet little-known ones.
While the authors disclaim the index as "not complete", to my
eye it looks pretty comprehensive. One useful addition would be Sorenson Media, which is getting into the space with its Squishnet video management service.
This is a great resource. In particular, many of the vendors in this index, as well as being consumer-oriented destinations for video, offer enterprise services and developer APIs that let companies and educational institutions build custom, branded video services on hosted infrastructure. Because of this, the consumer video Web is relevant far beyond the entertainment focus that's driving its growth.
Which Web video format is the best? Which encoding tool is the best
one? Which tools handle high-action video best?
If part of your job involves encoding digital video
delivery, you must read streamingmedia.com's research reports on codecs
and encoders. Some of the key points are summarized
in Jan Ozer's
a Codec. Some highlights for me:
RealVideo is the best overall codec of all the tested
choices, and became the benchmark against the others were compared.
Differerent codecs were best at handling each combination
of encoding bitrate and content type (e.g. talking head vs. sports
Some tools encode some formats and content types
exceptionally well, while doing a poor job on others.
VBR (variable bitrate) won't always offer an improvement
over CBR (constant bitrate), even for high-motion content.
User-Generated Media - Challenges & Solutions for Business and Academia
Social networking and user-generated content (UGC) sites present unique
technical challenges, which lead to unique business challenges.
While unexpected growth is a potential problem for any online
site, it is both the holy
grail and (in the spirit of "be careful what you wish for") a ticking
time bomb for social networking sites.
User-generated content sites are the fastest-growing
category of web site (by unique visitors) on the Net, showing, in some
cases, triple digit year-over-year growth. Of the ten fastest growing
web brands, five are UGC sites (for example, Flickr and
Social networking/UGC sites have, by definition,
unpredictable storage and bandwidth needs, making technical
infrastructure (and therefore, budget and capital expense) planning a
crap shoot. Outsourced capacity on-demand is an important
option to consider before you're faced with site-crippling runaway
Success is tied closely to having a fast innovation cycle
-- try stuff out, see how it works for your users.
Continually sense-and-respond to user needs to find that sweet spot of
simplicity, functionality, and sustainability that makes your site
sticky and social. One way to do this is to minimize the time
and effort you put into infrastructure build-out and put it into more
If you're an ad-driven site, performance is directly tied
to revenue, as faster loading pages keep eyeballs on the site, lead to
more page views per user, and therefore register more ad impressions.
When Friendster moved to Akamai's delivery network in March
2006, they saw an immediate
33% decrease in page load times, and a threefold
uptick in page views.
Even for an educational institution, outsourcing certain infrastructure
is appealing. With service-oriented Web APIs, it can be
easier now to work with a vendor/partner than it is to build it myself.
If I want to put up a quick video recording/encoding/sharing
service for my users, I can:
Build it myself - not always a bad idea, and definitely a
quick-and-dirty solution for a pilot or proof-of-concept, provided I
have to staff and the time to move it from P-O-C to production-ready if
the need arises.
Acquire and deploy an inexpensive product. I was
surprised to find YouTube clones like Clip'Share
VideoShare for a few hundred bucks or less. Again -
good for a proof-of-concept. May or may not offer enough for
coping with real success.
Use a Web Service API like that from Video Egg or JumpCut
to handle all the media operations, while you focus just on your
website. These services handle media input (in the case of
Video Egg, from webcam and cell phone, as well as file upload).
transcoding, online editing and delivery. It can provide a
platform for rapid development of your own custom solutions,
as well as a scalable solution in case your solution takes off.
I'm generally a big fan of institutions building their media solutions
in-house, but the combination of the unpredictable needs of
user-generated media, the ease and excellence of some of the vendor
service-based APIs, and the need to be able to innovate quickly without
up-front investment in big infrastructure creates some interesting
The Akamai white paper, Successful Social Networking and
User-Generated-Content Applications: What You Need to Know, (which, by
the way, I wrote) addresses some other challenges of social and UGC
sites -- how edge-caching works with dynamic content, how to control
costs when growth is unpredictable, options for exercising editorial
control over UGC sites, and some examples of how social networking is
being used by businesses to build revenue and create new opportunities.
That got me to wondering about the engines behind these sites -- is it
all custom code or are there vendors developing and separately selling
parts of these solutions? My initial digging around didn't answer
that question, but it led me to one rather simple, but very interesting
video manipulation tool called VideoScript.
Available on Windows and MacOS, VideoScript is a free tool that lets
you write simple Basic-like code that manipulates, analyzes, assembles
and edits video. Record time-lapse movies, detect motion in
video frames, subtract backgrounds, extract keyframes, blend and
composite frames...it's all here and it's
suprisingly simple to do. It's not entirely
bug-free - I found that my own first script, which extracts keyframes
from a QuickTime movie (based on diff'ing frames and extracting as a
JPG any frame that differs more than 25% with its predecessor) and
writes an HTML page to look at them, tended to hang the program upon
completion. But it's a neat tool and sheds some light on how
folks who aren't Google or Yahoo can do some Web-based video
manipulation of their own.
set frame_count to (length of m) - 1;
set new_movie to movie;
set keyIndex to 0;
set keyFrame to m;
set n to 0;
set i to 1;
set myHTML to "><html><head><title>Video Keyframe Extraction with VideoScript</title></head><body><br><br>";
repeat frame_count times increment i
set currentFrame to m[i];
set diff to Math.Difference(currentFrame, keyFrame);
if (diff > 0.25) then
set n to n+1;
append keyFrame to new_movie;
set file "frame"+n+".jpg" to keyFrame;
set myHTML to myHTML + "<img src='frame"+n+".jpg' style='border: 4px grey outset;width: 90px; height: 70px;'>\n";
set keyIndex to i;
set keyFrame to m[i];
set file "keyframes.html" to myHTML as text;
set file "keyframes_only.mov" to new_movie;
Creating & Delivering Podcasts & Other Downloadable Media
new white paper from Akamai, Creating
& Delivering Podcasts & Other Downloadable Media,
tells you (nearly) everything you need to know to create, encode, and
podcasts. Not just a basic "how-to" on podcasting, this paper
explains the real details of codecs, formats, and gotcha's for
delivering audio and video podcasts. Akamai
knowledge of storing and distributing digital media. I was surprised to
see how easy it is to replicate your digital media across Akamai's Edge
distribution network (my own subdomain, media.learningapi.com, lives on
the Akamai network). Akamai knows that it's good for them to
help people do
more with digital media. In turn, white papers like this are good for
everyone who wants to know more, whether they
are Akamai customers or not.
The paper includes details on the differences between the
different (and incompatible) flavors of MPEG4, the best way
to encode podcasts and vodcasts for the Creative
Zen Vision and Sony
well as the ubiquitous iPod, some player bugs (even the iPod
has 'em) you need to know about, maintaining RSS feeds, and even
creating downloadable media for "alternative" devices like the TiVo and
XBox. The article also includes quick-start directions for
Squeeze for all your encoding
needs, and of course, how to leverage
Akamai's distribution network for handling the storage needs and load
that podcasting can generate.
I should note that I wrote this paper. I think the value-add
of articles like
this lies in describing the difference between how it's supposed to
work, and how it really does work. As is usually the case,
this piece I came across numerous technical procedures
and processes that are supposed to be straightforward, but that don't
really work as documented (or that simply aren't documented in one
place where you need it). As such, this paper, while brief,
reflects the way it really works and will hopefully save some people
a bunch of that "figuring it out" time!
Multimedia Training for reporters and storytellers
As noted in my last blog entry about "writing
with video", for personal video publishing to go anywhere,
people have to not suck at it. Whether it's journalism,
commentary, or human interest stories, good storytelling is essential
to make something anyone wants to watch.
Starting with Five
Steps to Multimedia Reporting, and going on to inlcude basic
tutorials on cameras, recording audio, editing with iMovie or FCP,
Photoshop and more, the The Western Knight Center for Specialized
Journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and the USC
Annenberg School for Communication has created a comprehensive site
dedicated to helping people learn the skills necessary to author and
create multimedia stories. It's written for journalists, but it's
a great resource for anyone who wants to be a better video storyteller.
Consumers are increasingly interested
communicating with one another visually. And there’s really nothing
easier to use than IM so there is no learning curve associated with
starting a video stream from any desktop computer with a video camera.
Christine goes on to quote Spencer Johnson, director of product
marketing for the Logitech Video Business Unit:
We anticipate millions more people are
about to discover value in having a webcam connected to the personal
I've been looking at Serious
Magic's "Visual Communicator" product for
a possible review on streamingmedia.com,
where I write a regular column on streaming media technology.
I've only just started
playing with the product, but two things strike me right away as
notable. First, the
quality of the printed (yes...on actual paper that you can read in the
bathroom!) manual is superb. It covers not only the software
product, but also the most basic basics of video production in general,
and does so in an effective, lighthearted tone.
The second striking thing is this paragraph in the last section, A brief history of broadcast communication:
Television has forever altered our
society, but here at Serious Magic, we don't believe TV has yet reached
its full potiential to inform, educate, entertain,.and enrich our
lives. To reach its full potential we believe that the power to
make television (or television-like communications) must be in the
hands of millions of people (not just a few thousand broadcasters and
TV producers). ... Perhaps someday Visual Comunicator will
be rememberd as a major step forward in democratizing the tools of
Lofty, yes. A bit overblown? Perhaps. But I like the
premise - that the tools of personal publishing will make a difference
in video media as it has in text. I'd love to hear from anyone who's used it. What
did you use it for? Was it effective? I'm as interested in
the ways its "broadcast" presentation styles are used in the real world
as in the technical details of the software.
As I'm looking at solutions that will make personal video publishing
easy enough to do (while still maintaining a job and a life!), I was
amused by this
tidbit in Halley's Comment that refers to a tagline in a John Perry
"I have always wished that my
computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone."
-- Bjarne Stroustrup, computer science professor, designer of C++ programming language (1950- )
A whole list of applications from other
vendors will help companies
lock down who can access what information, control how information and
documents are disseminated inside and outside a company, and make it
possible to track who has accessed specific information and
documents.....I can't help but get the feeling that these software
designed for worthy goals, will end up being used to protect all kinds
of corporate information and stop whistle-blowers before they can get
Many of these secure computing initiatives are well-intentioned.
We all have the right to secure communications - much as been written
about preserving our right to PGP-signed email and other personal
encryption technologies. Much has also been written about the
misuse of such technologies for exerting unprecendented control over
how and when people use information and software.
In this case, we're talking about good, legal initiatives fueling a
side-effect that may be hard to live with. There's no question
... whistle-blowing is often the courageous act of a lone soul that
initiates the unravelling of corruption and other illegal and harmful
activity. It seems to me that the tools of personal publishing,
including cell-phone cameras and Weblogs, provide the counter-balance
that levels the playing field. It may be that there will be
increasing efforts by corporate and government entities, each persuing
their own honorable and less-than-honorable goals, to lock down
information, criminalize the sharing and publishing of information, and
eliminate open and public access to the tools of personal
publishing. But, in the words of William Gibson,
If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one there to hear it....
But today, with video cameras in cellphones and the ubiquitous
publishing and social networking technology available, there will never be no one there to hear
it. In this story
from e-Media Tidbits, a student in Singapore captured video of a
teacher mistreating another student. The
story at ChannelNewsAsia wrestles with the issues.
While some wrestle, I think the lesson is summed up nicely in this
quote by the story's author:
I have always taught my children
that they have to learn to judge
whether their behaviour can stand up to scrutiny, whether by the
parents or the public.
Here's some breaking news...personal media creation and publishing can
controversial. In one short week we've seen this story ["Camera-Equipped
Phones Spread Mischief"] that
people are using cameras built into cell phones in unexpected
ways...from the benign (capturing snapshots of public events) to the
nefarious (sneaky snapshots inside locker rooms) and lots of places in
area between (snapping photos of magazine pages to send to a
friend). Then we hear (by
way of Dan Gillmor) that Samsung has banned video phones in some of
its facilities in an effort to prevent industrial espionage.
People are worried about their privacy being lost. Companies are
their secrets being leaked. Publishers and media producers are
worried about their
markets being undermined by actions that fall somewhere between fair
use and copyright infringment.
What's odd about seeing these developments this week is that it comes
right on the heels of William Gibson's excellent commentary that
appeared in the New York Times last week. In The
Road to Oceania, Gibson takes on the notion that the power of
surveillance and data mining has created an Orwellian world of hopeless
disempowerment for the ordinary citizen. Instead, he notes that
the technology of information creation, information sharing, and
information finding are available to all of us. He says "It is
becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a
secret." In short, like it or not, you have no privacy.
None. But neither do "they".
Cameras aren't what they used to be.
Increasingly, they're not about
long term persistent storage and "saving precious memories." Instead,
they're visual aids for real-time social interaction.
Putting the means of personal publishing in the hands of all of us
might be "democratizing". Even more so, it might be invasive. For sure, it
changes all the mechanisms of society
that relate to information scarcity (including publishing) and secrecy (including government, business, and expectations of personal privacy). We can fight it,
but there's no
fighting it...the rules are changing as much as they did when the
printing press became available. That particular innovation was
used for everything from
copying other people's work to spreading misinformation and propaganda
to enabling a society that was informed enough to establish democracy
and fuel the industrial revolution. Anyone who's tried to outlaw
or regulate printing
presses may have bought some time, but they've lost out in the end.
So, in the face of technology like cellphone cameras, P2P networking, and Google, companies and governments try to contain information, limit
distribution and control access to their copyrights and
secrets. Individuals everywhere try to preserve their privacy. I wonder what society will look like when they fail.
In my search for examples of the technology, the people and the content
that will make personal video publishing work in the real world, I came across this gem from Aisling
Kelliher at the MIT Media Lab Interactive
Cinema Group. The content on here is a mix of interesting
(even captivating), but not necessarily related, personal
projects. Following the link buried in this
post led to a very focused weblog chronicling MIT's Digital
Dialogues conference. You can spend some time exploring here!
An example of true personal video publishing of the type Eric
Schmidt predicted - Lisa
Rein's Weblog is rich with homegrown media and original content.
I'm impressed with the quantity of material that's available
here. If this is the future of personal publishing - and the
future of video publishing - then the thing that'll have to be added is
the ability to "google-search" it the way we can with text.
The Web is about filtering and finding information. How do we
make personal video weblogs such as this one more accessible? Virage
used to have a product called "My Logger", which was a personal version
of their flagship video metadata extraction product that extracts
keyframes and associates other metadata with the content of a RealVideo
file. I'm thinking that that's the missing element that will make
personal video publishing fly. It brings HTML-like processing to
video content - not unlike what accessibility expert
Matt May suggests:
Coordinate a single stream of video
packages provided by several authors. Wrap them in a common interface.
Require all participants to caption and mark items in SMIL.
Use the linking functionality in media players (which has been in there
for years) to allow users to navigate meaningfully from one
bit of content to the next.
Are there other examples of sites that make as extensive use of video
as Lisa's? Send 'em along!
Video blogging - ready for prime time? Depends what 'ready' means...
After my notes about Google
CEO Eric Schmidt's betting that video and multimedia blogging will
become Big, I began looking for examples. This DailyWireless
piece covers the growing number of options for personal publishing
of audio and video. Something clearly is happening here, although
I agree with Matt May
that it's subject to the golden rule: professional video production
requires video professionals. Part of his summary:
People can scan textual content meaningfully. In fact, scanning is the dominant
information-gathering mechanism in Web browsing. They couldn't scan in
audio or video players if they tried.
Text blog reading is done actively, as users scan and read the
information that interests them. Audio and video content is inherently
passive; therefore, the only value you can provide is active and
engaging personality and good quality imagery and sound.
...which you won't provide, because you're not as
gregarious or photogenic as you think you are, your lighting sucks, and
your bare walls look just like mine. The ability to buy a camera and
some software does not help you in this department.
Both Matt and Eric are right...personal video publishing will continue
to grow, but as with any creative or expressive endeavor, having good
skills will continue to be important to reaching and keeping an
Matt goes on to point out that the key ingredients required for
personal video publishing to take off (in the blogging sense) will be a
robust ability for cross-linking and the ability to browse and scan
video information the way you can with text. The technical
underpinnings for this are SMIL, SVG, SlideML, and other open,
text-based standards. The right creative approach to content....I
haven't seen that yet.
Broadband will drive the self-publishing of video and audio, expects Schmidt. That view explains their recent purchase of Pyra Labs (maker of Blogger), which was met with skepticism by many commentators. (Some others see it as a good fit. ) Traditional Big Media and Big Software will try very hard to kill standard, open formats for video and audio. According to Schmidt, unless they succeed, self-published "multimedia blogs" will one day rule.
Glaser's RealNetworks, with the hard evidence of over 1M subscribers paying a monthly fee to access CNN, ABCNewsLive, Major League Baseball, and other traditional content, sees more and more traditional media showing up on the Web. Metadata and searching is the power of the new paradigm. Is the ability to search rich metadata and random access to well-targeted content enough?
Or is TiVo on track to be the new RealONE Superpass (on-demand, random access to all the traditional media you want) while personal publishing rules in the Web world?
It certainly was interesting to participate and hear the differing opinions of Schmidt, Glaser, and the other industry luminaries that took part in the colloquium. Thanks go to HBS Profs Rob Austin and Steve Bradley for an excellent event.