YouTube – everywhere?

Yesterday, YouTube turned seven.

I’ve recently become aware of just how pervasive YouTube has become. It’s available on a range of “computer” platforms – desktops and laptops, mobile phones and tablets. I’m able to access it via AppleTV, XBox, and a Sony Bluray player. Friends who recently updated their home media setup have it on their internet-enabled TV as well as via their Virgin Tivo box on the same “system”. Alongside BBC iPlayer, it’s actually more pervasive in the UK across the various devices many of us have in our living rooms, than the broadcast DTV/satellite/cable channels themselves. It’s also noticeably more present across a very broad range of devices, than alternatives like Vimeo which are arguably better at presenting more beautiful, longer HD content on the web itself.

This is both exciting, and also potentially problematic.

For those of us who have been seeing a multichannel, multimedia future ahead for some time, it’s a validation of the success of streaming web video in breaking the monopolies of the existing broadcasters and media companies. Over time, Google has added some tremendous value to YouTube – enabling creators to rapidly upload, perform simple edits, add soundtracks, and share content all within a rich HTML browser experience. It is also easy to reach a wide range of devices simply by ticking the “make this video available to mobile” box on the video management page – Google does all the heavy lifting of transcoding, resizing, and deciding on whether Flash or HTML5 is a better delivery mechanism, etc.

However, at the same time, it’s kind of… well, clunky. In order to consume content from YouTube on any of the platforms I mentioned before, you have to visit a dedicated YouTube widget, app or channel and then navigate around content within that box (oh, and each platform has a slightly different way of presenting that content). It’s not integrated with the viewing experience – I can’t just say to my TV or viewing device, “show me videos of kittens” and have it aggregate between different sources which include YouTube. Not only that, but we all know just how variable YouTube content can be, both in terms of production quality, duration, and the antisocial nature of comments and social interactions around videos. For some of the most popular videos I’ve posted on my channel, I can’t tell you how long I spend on moderating the most unbelievably asinine comments! Oh and, when we consider the increasing use of streaming video online – be it iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix or any other source – we constantly have to consider the impact on available bandwidth. Bandwidth and connectivity are not universal, no matter how much we may wish they were.

The other side of this is the group of voices who will point to the dominance of Google and their influence over brands and advertising. All very well, but I like to remind people that for all of the amazing “free” services we enjoy (Facebook, Twitter, Google and others), we do have to pay with an acceptance of advertising, and/or sharing of some personal data of our choice – or go back to paying cable and satellite providers for their services. It’s really a simple transaction.

I guess I don’t really have a message with this blog entry, other than to share my observation of the amazingly rapid rise of the new media titan(s). If I was going to offer any further thoughts or advice, it would be the following:

  • explore online video services more – you probably have access to them in more places than you think.
  • remember that video you produce may be viewed on any device from the smaller mobile handsets, to a nice HD television – so always try to produce your content at the highest quality setting possible, and let YouTube or the other video hosts do the rest.
  • richly tag and describe your content to make it easier to find. “Video1.mov” tells me nothing.
  • learn about the parameters which control how your content is displayed. I’ve previously written about this; the content is still useful but I should probably create an update.

This omnipresence across platforms is one of the reasons why I’ve started to primarily use my YouTube channel as the canonical source for all of my video content. Previously I’d used Viddler and Vimeo and occasionally posted a clip to Facebook, but now that I am able to post longer movies, I’ve also posted the full videos of various talks that I’d only previously been able to host at Vimeo. I’m not abandoning all other sources, but a focus on one channel makes a certain amount of sense.

 

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