June 21, 2007

Is RealPlayer going to make a comeback?

Real 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 company to the user community - and it hasn't always been a pretty face.  Real's marketing folks, in the heat of their battle for survival with Microsoft, saw RealPlayer as a the company's direct pipeline to users' pocketbooks.  

Let's face it - the RealPlayer, 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 messages.

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 using Firefox's XPI Flash installer - no UI whatsoever, just one click and it's in.

So 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:
  1. The player is small and unobtrusive, with a quick, easy install that asks no questions, takes over nothing, and generally leaves you alone.
  2. In 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.

Dan Rayburn at the Business of Online Video blog wonders what's the business advantage to Real?

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 download?

He's not alone.  Real's CEO Rob Glaser makes his case in his post The World Isn't Flat, and responds directly to Rafat Ali's "Open Questions to Rob Glaser" in his own RealNetworks Blog post.

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 who’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.

My take?  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.  

So, 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 first step.

April 06, 2007

Online Video and Web 2.0 - What's missing?

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.  Harvard 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 capture. 

...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 Yahoo.

But, Dan's right - video isn't really Web 2.0 enough, yet.  As Microsoft's Jon Udell points out

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, Streamsage (now part of Comcast) , Pictron, Podzinger, 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 platforms.

March 27, 2007

A Full-Featured Flash Video Player

Flash video is great for users, but the player lacks easy, built-in features Web developers have come to expect.  But now, Jeroen Wijering has developed the full-featured Flash Video Player 3.6 which finally makes all the features of a "real" video player available to Web developers using Flash video on their sites.

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
  • playlists
  • background colors and logos
  • captioning
  • control over the appearance of the player controls
  • fullscreen mode
  • 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.  What's more, a full Javascript API includes controls (playlist navigation, play/pause, scrub and seek, volume control, and movie loading), Javascript 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.

February 16, 2007

Online Video Industry Index

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, Accordent, or 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.

January 12, 2007

Video encoding tools, codec comparison

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 for Web delivery, you must read streamingmedia.com's research reports on codecs and encoders.  Some of the key points are summarized in  Jan Ozer's article, Choosing 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 video) 
  • 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. 
The two reports, Proprietary Codecs, 2006: Choosing and Using the Optimal Video Codec and  Flash Codecs, 2006: Choosing and Using the Optimal Flash Codec are, unfortunately, not free,  but they are treasure-troves of information about codecs and encoding software.  I recently bought a copy of each, and plan to site-license them for all the folks involved in encoding digital media at Harvard University, where I'm the University's Multimedia Technology Architect.  

Although I've been a contributing editor to streamingmedia.com and have friends there, I have no financial interest in these reports. I just think there's awfully helpful!

January 04, 2007

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. 

A new whitepaper from Akamai (also available free from streamingmedia.com) goes into some depth about the special factors that affect social networking sites.  Some highlights:
  • 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 Wikipedia). 
  • 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. 
  • 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 creative endeavors. 
  • 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 and Altrasoft 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 possibilities.  

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.  

October 11, 2006

Video Editing Online - A Keyframe Extraction Script

Video processing and editing online is becoming a more common occurrence as video sharing and hosting sites are finally catching on.  YouTube, of course, is the one getting all the press this week with Google's $1.6B acquisition.  But other sites have begun offering some very impressive video editing capabilities on the Web.  EyeSpot and JumpCut (owned by Yahoo!) both offer simple, but capable, video editing, including some combination of cuts, remixes, transitions, effects, and audio tracks.  

What's new about this is that it's all done over the Web.  Tools like Apple's iMovie or Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Avid Liquid or Pinnacle Studio and others are more powerful, sure.  But being able to do this on the Web from any computer at any time, with no software to buy or install, is very cool.

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.

My first VideoScript program, its source code, and its output is here in the extended entry:

Extracting keyframes from movie using VideoScript

Link to original movie on Harvard University's Video Archives

This is a movie assembled from just these keyframes

And here is the relevant part of the source code:
 set frame_count to (length of m) - 1;
 set new_movie to movie;
 set keyIndex to 0;
 set keyFrame to m[0];

 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;

July 24, 2006

Creating & Delivering Podcasts & Other Downloadable Media

Article thumbnailA new white paper from Akamai, Creating & Delivering Podcasts & Other Downloadable Media, tells you (nearly) everything you need to know to create, encode, and publish 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 has deep 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 PSP as 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 using Sorenson 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, when researching 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!

February 09, 2004

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.

Posted by larryb at 06:44 AM [permanent link]
Category: Personal Video Publishing , Weblogs

February 05, 2004

Writing with video

While perusing video weblogs, I came upon Vogner, which seeks to define exaclty what a Vog (vog?!?) should be.  In a mention of video blogs in the Mercury News Jon Fortt noted some skepticism:

Now we'll get to see the boring moments in people's lives, instead of just reading about them.

To which Vogner responds:

Hopefully the "writing with video" meme will win out over the "here I am dancing with my friends" meme.

This entry, a 50 second wordless commentary, shows what he means. 

Posted by larryb at 06:59 AM [permanent link]
Category: Personal Video Publishing , Weblogs

September 03, 2003

Video publishing via IM

Video publishing via Instant Messaging is continuing to grow at a manic pace, as AOL adds video capabilities to its IM client.  According to to Christine Perey's latest piece on Streamingmedia.com:

Consumers are increasingly interested in 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 computer.

Posted by larryb at 06:43 AM [permanent link]
Category: Personal Video Publishing

August 31, 2003

Serious video publishing

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 television. 

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. 

August 13, 2003

Usability matters?

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 Barlow email...

"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

-- Bjarne Stroustrup, computer science professor, designer of C++
programming language (1950- )

July 28, 2003

"Secure Computing" vs. Whistleblowers

In an interesting counter-trend to my observations about the future being in full view, Jim Rapoza at eWeek comments on the unintended (or intended) affects of "secure computing" technologies on the act of "whistleblowing"

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 applications, designed for worthy goals, will end up being used to protect all kinds of corporate information and stop whistle-blowers before they can get started.

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, 

It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret.

Posted by larryb at 07:39 AM [permanent link]
Category: Personal Video Publishing , Weblogs

July 16, 2003

Is anyone watching? Yes...always...

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.

Posted by larryb at 08:07 PM [permanent link]
Category: Personal Video Publishing

July 11, 2003

The future will be in full view

Here's some breaking news...personal media creation and publishing can be 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 the gray 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 worried about 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". 

William Grosso, over at O'Reilly, notes that these instruments of sharing information are becoming woven firmly into the fabric of society:

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.  

Posted by larryb at 07:00 AM [permanent link]
Category: Personal Video Publishing , Weblogs

June 24, 2003

Digital Dialogues Indeed

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!

June 20, 2003

Personal video publishing experiments - Lisa Rein

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!

June 16, 2003

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 audience.  

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.

June 03, 2003

The future of media publishing - personal or commerical

At Harvard Business School's recent colloquium -
"The Bandwidth Explosion - Living and Working in a Broadband World"
, Eric Schmidt of Google and Rob Glaser of RealNetworks debated the future of media publishing in a world of more and cheaper broadband.

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.