It's no secret that Google is a fan of open standards, and in particular, open video. The HTML5 beta currently in full swing on YouTube is evidence enough of this trend, but at least up until now, all the video being delivered has been in patent encumbered H.264. Given the commitment made to the standard it seemed pretty clear cut that they would be the codec winners in the Google camp, but in a rather interesting turn of events, the search giant has decided to dump a ton of cash into TheorARM, a competitor to H.264 aimed at mobile platforms.
Just in case we lost you, HTML5 delivers on its promise to offer up open standards for Web video, but browser vendors have so far been unable to reach a consensus on what underlying codec should be used. Ogg Theora is a royalty free option favored by most, but when it comes to sheer compression power, H.264 has it beat hands down. Compression is likely the reason for H.264's popularity given the massive bandwidth bills for streaming internet video, but clearly Google doesn't want to be seen as picking sides.
By supporting TheorARM Google is making a significant contribution to open video, and might eventually make it possible for Theora to gain broader support on the mobile web. According to Google's Robin Watts, "We need a baseline to work from-one standard format that (if all else fails) everything can fall back to". This hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement of the technology, but I'm sure the Theora won't turn down the support or big bag of cash.
In an email to a partner today, YouTube confirmed that the new look for the video page they have been testing recently is about to go live. Not long after that, the changes did indeed go live. In case you haven’t seen the new page, it makes the video more of the focus and ditches the clutter.
Right up at the top is the uploader’s information. In addition to the subscribe button, you can see a drop down with the uploader’s other videos. There’s a new player button that puts the video into widescreen mode. This moves the other page elements down. The five star rating system is now gone, replaced instead by a simple thumbs up or down system. Rating a video lets you see how others have rated it. The video description has moved to a drop down right below the video. The recommended video pane now also has an autoplay button so you can avoid all that pesky clicking.
Overall, we feel like it’s a pretty good redesign. It looks much cleaner than the old version, and the video seems like a more prominent part of the page. How do you feel about it?
I case you had forgotten, Viacom is still suing YouTube. Opening statements were presented today and the arguments are shaping up much as we expected. Viacom says YouTube doesn’t do enough to keep copyrighted materials off YouTube, and YouTube says that the “safe harbors” provision of the DMCA protects them from the claims. However, some interesting bits of behind the scene dealings have also come out.
According to a blog post by YouTube Chief Counsel Zahavah Levine, for years Viacom hired people to upload their content, and even went so far as to “rough up” the video so it looked stolen. In an attempt to be stealthy they sent employees to the local Kinkos to upload some content so it wouldn’t be traced to Viacom. All this sneaking around worked super well, even on Vacom itself. YouTube points out that Viacom occasionally asked for a clip to be removed only to reverse themselves upon realizing they uploaded it. According to YouTube, several of the clips involved in the suit were uploaded by Viacom.
The post closes with assurances that YouTube would fight the charges and continue to be a “leader in providing media companies with 21st century tools to control, distribute, and make money from their content online”. Do you think YouTube is at fault, or is Viacom just spoiling for a fight?
Google’s request comes on the heels of Viacom’s asking for the records to be unsealed right away. Unsealed means the records will be publicly accessible--the ‘down and dirty’ of the Google/YouTube-Viacom battle can at last be revealed. According to Viacom, and entertainment lawyer Ben Sheffner, law requires that records, save for trade secrets, be unsealed once summary judgment has been filed for. Google, on the other hand, envisions a nightmare of inefficiency in processing the records, which might impede Google’s final arguments in the case.
What’s in the records is anyone’s guess. Some are hopeful there’ll be more embarrassing admissions, such as Google emails that indicate YouTube managers were uploading or condoning the presence of copyrighted material on YouTube. Or Viacom’s, where employees purposely uploaded Viacom content to YouTube to promote Viacom’s product.
If such things do exist in these records it will take a while to find out. During the three year battle hundreds of thousands of pages of information have been exchanged. It’ll take a while to shift through it all once its released--whether that’s now, as Viacom as requested, or in June, when Google prefers.
Auto-captioning, which will at present be restricted to English language videos, uses speech recognition to create an automatic transcription usingthe voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice. Videos, once uploaded, will be available to a wider audience of people than before. And YouTube is aiming beyond just those with hearing impairments. It sees this feature as useful for making English language content available to non-English speakers.
It looks like YouTube will apply auto-captioning retroactively--to all the English language videos in its collection. (Video owners can speed up this process by running their videos through the auto-captioning process.) And, YouTube’s goal is to expand the reach of auto-captioning to include other languages. Still, the technology is in its infancy, and YouTube suggests some patience with the transcriptions--they aren’t foolproof just yet.
The software world has gotten this point pretty well by now. Sure, you can wrap additional elements of a larger business plan around an open-source offering. But even at its core, the concept of open-source isn't really designed around capitalistic ideals. If anything, it's more communistic in its focus: everybody shares an equal stake in a project, and anybody is free to assert their individual ownership in a piece of work by advancing it toward a new direction as they see fit.
But these... these are just the tools of the revolution, as Marx might have said. When it comes to actual content itself--the very bits and bytes of progress that open-source tools help create--the current crop of major content creators and distributors are behaving like dictators in an open world. And it's costing both them and us rather greatly. Instead of reaping the success of a community-driven groundswell for their assets, these companies would rather lay down the hammer and stifle all innovation in an attempt to control their futures to a "T."
Two recent examples from Lawrence Lessig and the band OK Go really hit home the biggest elements that are wrong with our current system of open information distribution on the ‘net. If it's not the owner of the content acting like an idiot, it's the system we've allowed to propagate that virtually criminalizes content sharers without a second thought.
Adobe has released the third beta version of Flash 10.1, and it comes with a nice treat for the early adopter on the move. Beta 3 finally adds GPU acceleration support for the Intel GMA 500 chipset. This is the graphics hardware found in the majority of netbooks. What does this mean in practical terms? Well, just 720p Flash video on a netbook, that’s all.
Over at Engadget they were able to coax a Dell Mini 10 to play back 1080p content as well. Both Youtube and CBS streaming appeared to work well enough with minor lag. Still, when any previous attempts to play this content brought a netbook to a grinding halt, you can’t be too picky.
The results are good for a beta. Sure, there’s still some jitter but it’s a vast improvement. Adobe has been racing to complete the update of the much maligned plug-in. The new beta gives us hope that the wait may be worth it. Get the beta 3 version of Flash right here and enjoy.
Rick Astley may never give you up, but that didn't stop YouTube from giving up on the 80s pop star. We're not sure exactly when it happened, but the video sharing site has pulled the plug on the original 'Rickroll' video, the one that recorded over 30 million views, nearly all of which were unintended.
So why did YouTube take the video down?
That's all YouTube and Google are so far willing to say on the matter. Nevertheless, don't let the take down give you a false sense of security. There are still plenty other videos of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" floating about on YouTube, as well as the rest of the Internet.
If you are a Google Voice user and you’ve tried to explain the service to someone else, it probably didn’t go well. The other party likely came away as flummoxed as ever, and you made a fool of yourself with all that wild gesticulating. Well, that’s what happened to us anyway. Don’t worry though; from now on you can simply direct friends and family to Google’s new series of Youtube videos detailing the “awesomeness” of Google Voice.
The first video is a simple overview called “What is Google Voice?” It does an admirable job of getting to the meat of the service. It doesn’t go into detail about how to use any of the features, but it lets the uninitiated know what they’re going to get when they sign up. It goes over ringing multiple phones, call screening, blocking callers, greetings, and voicemail transcription.
The Google Voice channel also has additional videos about each feature. There are 11 videos in all right now. So even if you’re a veteran Voice user, there might be something to learn from watching them. You can find all the videos right here. Do you have a Google Voice account? How do you use it?
You never know what will be returned in a YouTube search. And maybe you don’t what to know. To help you control better the content you’re exposed to on YouTube, Google is introducing a Safety Mode that will help you screen out potentially objectionable content.
Safety Mode is an opt-in feature. The option is provided at the bottom of a YouTube page, and opting in is temporary, unless you’re signed into your account. Searches that stray outside of Safety Mode return nothing, but a notice will be provided that explains Safety Mode blocked the searched for content. Likewise, if results are filtered a Safety Mode warning will be provided. When Safety Mode is on comments will, by default, be hidden. They can be displayed, but objectionable words will be replaced with asterisks.
Shortcomings to Safety Mode are obvious. No filtering system is foolproof--some ‘bad’ stuff is bound to sneak through. Google readily recognizes this, and provides a suitable warning. And, because the keywords are set at the system-level, there’s a bit of Big Brother at play here. However, this latter concern is mitigated, to a degree, by Safety Mode being opt-in. If you don’t want it, don’t use it. (Still, it would be nice to individually determine what is, and what is not, objectionable.)
Safety Mode is being rolled out over the next day or so. When it’s available you’ll find it at the bottom of any YouTube page.