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.
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 OpenSourceCinema.org.
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:
- Make it easy and fun for people to make and watch open video. Technology choices matter.
- Create an explosion of open video content online. We need this to snowball to move the market.
- 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.