Building an open video movement!

June 19, 2009 § 11 Comments

Prepping for the Open Video Conference, I’ve been thinking alot about the link between online video and the web. We love the web. We love it because it’s all about transparency, remixability, participation. It’s about creativity and innovation. It’s open. And it’s wonderful.

i heart open video

Sadly, we cannot say these things about online video today. To be sure, have seen a huge explosion of video creativity on the web. And web cams and phones have made video almost like an everyday language. Yet, the legal, distribution and technical underpinnings of online video remain much like television — opaque, immutable and centralized.

It is now time to change this. It’s time to fuse the business of art, storytelling and entertainment with the logic and culture of the web. It’s time to make video a first class citizen on the internet.

Making this happen is partly about technology that makes video as open and bendable as the rest of the web. But it’s also about applying the logic of the web to how we make and distribute moving images. These are the things we need if we want to build world where open, participatory video surrounds us.

If there is an open video movement, this is what it is about. Looking around at all the people here at the Open Video Conference in NYC, it feels like we are here to imagine and start building this movement.

What is open video?

In the world of Mozilla, we often ask ourselves things like: What does an open web look like? What makes the internet better?

The answers are actually quite simple. Transparency. Shared control. The opportunity to participate. The freedom to innovate and remix without asking permission. These are things we see almost everywhere on the internet, so much so that we can sometimes take them for granted.

Yet, these are not things we can take for granted with online video. Videos delivered in Flash and Silverlight are opaque boxes that you can neither see into nor play with using the rest of the web page. The codecs used to create and distribute these video are locked down with patents, making spontaneous innovation almost impossible. The result is a broadcast-like experience dominated by a few big players and with limited kinds of participation. Like television.

Creating video that thinks like the web starts with technology that people can bend, remix and innovate on. This what the native (video) element and Ogg Theora in Firefox 3.5 are about. They are an upgrade for video on the web.

Just think of the basic things these technologies offer. All of a sudden it’s possible to simple things like right click to ‘save video as’ that we take for granted with things like images and hyperlinks. More importantly, it possible to create a page where video interacts with other elements in a web page, and where users can interact with the video. There is also the opporuntity to roll up whole new technologies and innovations without asking if it’s okay.

Of course, the real opportunity comes when people start using these technologies to create, distribute and remix videos in new ways. We’re seeing the early wave of this with Daily Motion‘s collection of open videos. With Wikipedia‘s efforts to let people collaborate on video articles. And with projects like Brett Gaylor’s

Together, these new technologies, content and production experiments start to show us what open video can look like. They show us what we can now build.

What’s at stake?

The stakes are huge and important. We can choose a world of online video that looks like television, or one that looks like the web. These are the options.

The stakes are very clear for anyone who makes anything that vaguely resembles what we used to call ‘movies’ — be they two minute comedy clips or full scale interactive cinema. If the domination of a few distribution channels grows, things are likely to get both more limiting and more expensive. This will be exacerbated things like the increase introduction of higher licensing fees for videos distributed using the MPEG-owned codecs (am I saying this right?) used to distribute most online video today.

Open video is a way for people anyone who makes video to route around these problems, to embrace creativity and to engage with new audiences. The potential is almost unimaginable.

But the stakes are also high for people who use video casually everyday. With webcams and phonecams, video has become like language. We all use it all the time to communicate and to share things we like. In the world, trends like  censorship via abuse of the DMCA and an overly-concentrated audiences become huge concerns. Open video can help us avoid things like this and preserve the participatory nature of the web.

Of course, most important of all is what is at stake for the web as a whole. The future of online video and the future of the web are interlinked. We are seeing increased centralization and decreased competition in online video. YouTube’s US marketshare is bigger than its 64 biggest competitors combined. This kind of concentration may not matter at all. Or, as the importance of online video grows, it may mean that the diverse business and cultural ecosystem that is the web is at risk. Open video can keep this ecosystem healthy.

The way forward

This is a critical moment in the evolution of the web and online video — we need to make sure we choose the right direction. This is why 500 people have gathered at the Open Video Conference in NYC.

Making sure open video wins means inventing, evangelizing and playing hard on all fronts — technology, content, production methods. There are three things we can do to start:

  1. Make it easy and fun for people to make and watch open video. Technology choices matter.
  2. Create an explosion of open video content online. We need this to snowball to move the market.
  3. Invent new ways of expressing ourselves together with moving images. This is where the fun begins.

No one knows exactly how to do these things. But they are clearly important. And, by the end of these three days, we should have some good scheming done to get us rolling.

Of course, whatever we do here will just be a start. Our colleague David Ascher often says: “Mozilla is not an organization that’s afraid to do things that take a long time.” It’s this attitude that made it possible to successfully take on Internet Explorer and bring standards back to the web. Patience — and an army of passionate, committed people — makes the seemingly impossible into the possible.

We get the sense that the people coming to Open Video Conference aren’t afraid to take on something that will take a long time. We’re taking a first step in building open video on the web. And we’re in it for the long haul.

§ 11 Responses to Building an open video movement!

  • John Drinkwater says:

    It’s just such a shame that the default viewer on is *still* Flash. The real Open Video link is underneath it, and as of now, still hasn’t started streaming – 1 hour later.

    I understand technical problems happen, but 2/3 of these should have been better from the get-go.

  • John Dowdell says:

    “Videos delivered in Flash… are opaque boxes that you can neither see into nor play with using the rest of the web page.”

    That’s not true. There’s room for improvement (hint hint 😉 but browser/plugin communication has been workable since Netscape 3 days.

    “The result is a broadcast-like experience dominated by a few big players and with limited kinds of participation. Like television.”

    I’ve seen a lot of discussion about user-generated video. 😉 But people do want to see the big-budget stuff. And to pay those budgets, the creators often don’t want to be remixed. We need to find ways to respect the wishes of all parties concerned.

    (I’m not averse to “free” codecs helping more toolmakers enter at lower cost — any additions you can make would be welcome in the total video ecology. But it helps to recognize that video is close to “free” for content creators today, but that most audiences prefer bigger-ticket things to watch. “Free” can supplement “ROI”, but it’s hard to see how one could or should replace the other.)


  • John Drinkwater says:

    What crap John.

    ‘But people do want to see the big-budget stuff.’
    No, they want to see good stuff. Budget means nothing. Big Buck Bunny was pretty decent without all that though. In fact, the decent stuff on YouTube doesn’t have a big-budget.

    ‘And to pay those budgets,’
    WTF has that to do with innovative Web use?

    ‘the creators often don’t want to be remixed.’
    Fair-use exists, you can’t just say no, you have no right to. If you think wrapping it up in a binary blob stops that, you’re also wrong- Witness the quantity of people downloading flvs from YouTube. It protects nothing.

    ‘We need to find ways to respect the wishes of all parties concerned.’
    They still have their copyright protected WITHOUT any additional restrictions being needed.

    Adobe, please stop trolling on Open Video posts, it’s clear you’re: 1, protecting ‘big-budgets’ 2, protecting codec licenses 3, protecting your own damn plugin.

  • BartZilla says:

    You’re still repeating words like “transparency”, “shared control”, “the freedom to innovate and remix without asking permission”. As I explained in my previous comment Mozilla is far from those goals. An example is a Google’s so-called “safebrowsing” protocol which has restrictions attached:

    “Do not use this protocol without explicit written permission from Google. (…) Note: This is not a license to use the defined protocol.”

    Despite these restrictions it is implemented and used on default settings in Firefox. (Description of related options doesn’t even mention “Google” which is really pitiful, since users are unable to make educated decision regarding these options. There is a bug about this…)

    Why are you manipulating? Why are you suggesting that Mozilla cares about these ideals when – in reality – it doesn’t (since Firefox implements proprietary protocol from Google)? This is extremely dishonest in my opinion.

  • John Dowdell says:

    Not “crap”. Please try to be more open. 😉

    I’m not sure what you’re arguing about. First you said video production was dominated by companies with high budgets, then you agreed that user-generated content also had interest, but then you seem to say that “budget means nothing”.

    Do you agree with me that “We need to find ways to respect the wishes of all parties concerned”?


    • John Drinkwater says:

      I didn’t say video production was dominated by companies, I can’t see how you read that in.

      I said people want *good* video, budget matters not a jot. If you spend a silly amount of money on a production and its rubbish and recoups little, how should it be any different than a recording made in someones bedroom? It deserves the same protection as is granted under copyright. But nothing more.

      We already have ways to respect the wishes of all parties concerned, its what copyright is, giving more power to creators than the state has given them is verging on illegality.

  • voracity says:

    “With webcams and phonecams, video has become like language. We all use it all the time to communicate and to share things we like.”

    Uncanny. I’ve been thinking something like this for a few years now, with all forms of media. Fifty years ago, copyright was only ever a restraint on other businesses. Today, because of the internet, copyright is a restraint on speech. (So I think copyright laws need to change, but how, I have no idea!)

    @John Drinkwater: I’m not sure I’ve ever agreed with what John Dowdell has ever said, but he’s certainly not a troll, he’s always been respectful and I appreciate his perspective.

  • michela says:

    I would have been surprised (and disappointed) if the openvideoconference didn’t include some heckling. But what a great event! Keep up the good work Mark.

  • Thanks Mark… As you know I couldn’t get to Open Video, but have been part of these processes in recent years, in part through iCommons and my involvement with EngageMedia.

    In any case, I totally agree with the directions that need to be taken, but it ought not be forgotten that these processes have been under way some time now. Open Video didn’t just happen ^_^

  • msurman says:

    Andrew: totally right. That was what was cool about the event -> people who have been doing participatory video for 30 years and people just getting involved now. What’s new is that it does feel like as the bits are starting to come together and that we’ve got a chance of pushing open video into the mainstream. Would love to pick your brain on some of this stuff at some point.

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