The future of online video is ‘Bright’

In January, I predicted video would be the #1 story of the web in 2006.

At his RTNDA keynote in Las Vegas today, Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire supported my thesis. Lost Remote has an excellent wrap-up of his speech, where he demonstrated the new and exciting Brightcove platform which is about to go live (give it about two weeks or so). It’s a huge story, as Brightcove appears to be the first truly usable, open platform for creating, distributing, and monetizing personally-created video.

A summary of Brightcove, from Lost Remote’s coverage:

Brightcove is behind some of the most innovative video projects on the web, and founder and president Jeremy Allaire’s keynote follows. He demonstrated Brightcove’s tool that allows just about anyone to build their own player experience from a variety of templates and settings. And he talked about upcoming plans to encourage anyone to upload, distribute and sell video through Brightcove’s tools and a new relationship with AOL. More…He begins by mapping out the promises of internet TV: open distribution, consumer choice, multi-screen delivery and content owner control. A broad overview for the broadcast folks in the crowd.

I’ve been testing out a form of the Brightcove player for a few months but what I’ve seen is nothing like what Allaire demonstrated today. This is exciting stuff.

Yahoo! Movies does recommend for you, sort of

Today, Dave Winer wrote that he wishes Yahoo! would implement a feature wherein it recommended him movies he might like based on the input he’s provided on the site.

I may be confused, but as an avid Yahoo! Movies user, I was pretty sure the site already did that, so I checked it out. Sure enough, when I’m logged in and viewing the detail page for certain movies (I chose Thank You For Smoking in this case), here’s what Yahoo! tells me:

Yahoo! screenshot

I highlighted the recommendation area (or rather, dulled out the rest of the page). As you can see, based on my 152 recommendations (with a link to view them), Yahoo! is recommending me this flick (which I really want to see, by the way).

One thing that could vastly improve the usefulness of the service is if they displayed notifications next to the title of the movie on the “Now Playing” page. So if visit movies.yahoo.com, enter my zip, and see a resulting list of showtimes, they should put happy faces or checkmarks or something next to those movies it thinks I might like. Perhaps something like that is more along the lines of what Winer was suggesting.

Don’t visit Adholes unless you like to be spammed

Just got another email from Adholes, the worthless advertising news site. You may remember my post from three weeks ago, where I complained that Adholes continued to send me email messages after I had attempted to unsubscribe twice.

Well I’ve now tried to unsubscribe three times and they are continuing to send me messages. Again, this is the very definition of spam. Therefore, Adholes is engaging in not only unethical, but illegal practices in order to get their message out.

If they even care, Adholes may want to contact Netmodular.com, the third-party service they use to send their messages, and ask them what’s going on.

Alright, I’m off to try and unsubscribe for the fourth time!

UPDATE: Jeesh, these people are clueless idiots. I just spent a few minutes trying to follow their directions on ‘deleting’ my account with them- which, according to their instructions, involves logging in, changing my name to “delete”, removing my email, saving my account, and then logging out of my account.

That would be awesome, except…Their system won’t let me remove my email, nor is there an option to ‘logout’ of my account…so, wow. Just when you think incompetence can’t get much worse, it often surprises you.

Adholes, you are conducting yourselves quite poorly, and I can’t be the only person out there with these problems.

Maine wastes taxpayer money on inept web campaigns

Let’s see if that title earns some much-warranted attention to this story. See, something stinks here in my home state of Maine, and at least this time around it’s not the State’s abysmal DirigoChoice health are program.

Instead, I’m talking about some highly irregular, irresponsible, and completely unprofessional behavior on display by our state’s Office of Tourism. The story is getting long, but it’s quite familiar, as it involves potentially huge sums of taxpayer money wasted on inept programs by seemingly clueless consultants and buearocrats.

Pay-per-gate, as it’s being called, is an ongoing investigation by Lance Dutson of Maine Web Report, a fellow Maine-based blogger and web developer.

Back in October of last year, Dutson discovered that the Maine Office of Tourism was buying Google AdWords targeted to specific Maine businesses. As he noted at the time, that act itself is just plain wrong, for the reasons he lists, including the facts that the State is not only bidding against the businesses it is meant to promote, but further that it should be focusing on general Google-juice and not re-directing traffic better suited for other sites to its own web presence.

The plot thickened, as its apt to do, when Dutson then noted that the Office of Tourism is expressly forbidden from spending its budget within the State of Maine That fact is important because last month, Duston reported that the Office of Tourism was violating this rule by not filtering Maine out of its expensive AdWords campaigns.

(UPDATE: Lance wrote to tell me this point is not correct. While the Office of Tourism is not prohibited by law from spending within Maine, they would certainly appear to be wasting money doing so. Maine business spend, in aggregate, millions of dollars marketing themselves to Maine residents. An Office of Tourism, meanwhile, should exist to represent them outside of the state.)

Here is where a good PR strategy becomes extremely important. After some of the campaigns were pulled, then all of them, Lance waited while the PR firm and the State both failed to respond to his inquires. I have an inquiry myself: have any of these people ever heard of blogs?

After a series of go-rounds between the consulting firm, the state, and Dutson, in which the ads were pulled first within the state and then overall, the director of the Office of Tourism Dann Lewis again demonstrated that the Office has no business what-so-ever doing business on the web. Here’s an excerpt of Lewis’ letter to Dutson, according to the Maine Web Report:

I will devote sufficient time to this over the next several days in order to respond to you fully and factually by Monday afternoon, March 6. I will be in Washington on business for the next three days, hence the time frame for my full response, which I hope you will share with the readers of your site.

In the meantime, I would ask you to refrain from making any further comments on this matter.

Yep, you know what this last statement reeks of: It’s called “Do you know who I am?!” disease, and it appears to be prevalent among even the most mid-level of State governmental agencies.

Worse, Lewis’ promise to present the Office of Tourism’s side of the story hasn’t even come true: it’s now 11pm on March 6th and Maine Web Report has not posted any reply from the agency or Mr. Lewis.

Since Lewis’ request for Dutson to “keep quiet,” the blogger has done anything but. In the past week alone, he’s discovered perhaps the most sickening and relevant facts yet. According to a 2004 newspaper article, the Office of Tourism was spending up to $7,000 per month on Internet advertising. Keep in mind, that’s $7k per month- or $78,000 per year- to out-bid Maine businesses at their own game. And as Dutston notes, in 2006 it’s likely that the Office of Tourism’s budget is at least that, if not much higher.
All in all, this is a sordid, embarrassing affair that is quickly rising to the level of scandal thanks in part to the state’s bungling response to Duston’s many legitimate inquiries. As a web developer, I’m appalled at the level of incompetence on display here. As a taxpayer, I am on the verge of outrage.

Andy Baio sticks up for freedom of expression online

If you care about freedom of speech and the future of the Internet as a distribution platform for original content, you should care about Andy Baio’s willingness to stand up to the powers that be.

Baio, a popular blogger at waxy.org, has been hosting the files of a popular homegrown series, House of Cosbys, since November 2005. Last week, Baio received a threatening cease-and-desist letter from attorneys for Bill Cosby demanding he take down his copies of the series, which parodies Cosby’s voice, mannerisms, and some of his catchphrases (but not, in my view, in a mean way).

The series of short films originally appeared on Channel101.com, where it became extremely popular. After Cosby’s attorneys got Channel101.com to remove the videos, Baio began hosting them, he says, because they “deserve to be seen” – and he’s right.

In his announcement that he’ll fight the scare tactics of Cosby’s attorneys, Baio gets to the heart of the issue:

But I’m not removing House of Cosbys. House of Cosbys is parody, and clearly falls under fair use guidelines. I’m not taking it down, and their legal bullying isn’t going to work….Sorry, but the First Amendment protects satire and parody of a public figure as free speech. Also, the right of publicity only applies to unauthorized commercial use, and not a work of art or entertainment.

More than anything, this strikes me as a special kind of discrimination against amateur creators on the Internet. Mad Magazine, Saturday Night Live, South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and countless other mainstream media sources have parodied Bill Cosby over the years (see growing list below).

I’m not saying Cosby has to love the fact that his likeness is out there being parodied for anybody with high-speed internet and a unique sense of humor to appreciate. But Baio shares some pretty damning evidence with a list of popular, mainstream avenues where Cosby has been parodied before without resorting to what amounts to legal scare tactics, and I’m betting that many of those shows in the list treated Cosby with much less admiration, no matter how off-kilter House of Cosbys is.

On this issue, Cosby should take a page from Chuck Norris’ book. The legendary actor recently became aware of the popular “Chuck Norris facts” meme travelling throughout the web, and rather than calling his lawyers, he instead reached out to his audience on the web with this message:

I’m aware of the made up declarations about me that have recently begun to appear on the Internet and in emails as “Chuck Norris facts.” I’ve seen some of them. Some are funny. Some are pretty far out. Being more a student of the Wild West than the wild world of the Internet, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. It’s quite surprising. I do know that boys will be boys, and I neither take offense nor take these things too seriously.

After that, Chuck proceeded to spin the message into a sales pitch for his latest book. He obviously realizes that you can’t spend your time trying to stifle the open distribution channel of the web- you can only hope to come off well, and maybe sell a few of your widgets in the process.

Unfortunately, Bill Cosby has done neither. Maybe he’ll reconsider if peole stand behind Andy Baio’s small act of courage and send a message that the web will not be sued into submission.

Woomu: Another video sharing site, with some twists

Woomu is a new video sharing site with a couple of interesting twists. The biggest difference between woomu and other video sharing sites such as YouTube is that woomu is simply an aggregator, rather than a video hosting service. While this approach provides relative freedom from pesky copyright troubles like the ones YouTube has faced recently, I’m inclined to think that it may stifle other advantages such as easy sharing.

Like Digg, Newsvine, and other community-driven content sites, woomu also allows users to vote on individual videos, determining which files appear on the homepage of the site. The woomu twist is that besides voting files up to the homepage, users can also vote an individual file down. This two-way-street approach is one that other community-driven sites have stayed away from for the most part, choosing instead to go with a weighted voting system that favors reporting bad links over straight down votes. woomu puts the yea vs. nay on an even keel- but will it work?

woomu logo
Dave McAdam, co-founder of woomu, took some time to answer some questions about the new service via email. In the interview, Dave talks about the difference between woomu and other video sites, how the service fits in with the emerging distributed content model, and what the name means. The entire interview appears after the break.

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Adholes will spam you

Adholes, an ad-industry specific social site, has been sending me marketing emails for quite a while. I have now unsubscribed via their unsubscribe process twice, both to no avail.

By my definition, that means they are spamming me, and as a result their reputation is now officially crap in my view.

If you’re going to be aggressive with email marketing, you must, I repeat MUST, have a reliable unsubscribe process to deter against exactly this type of thing.

edgeio: Classifieds, and a hope for distributed community

You may think the previous post on my blog, in which I listed a propane fireplace for sale, was a little bit strange. In fact, there’s another reason for it besides my desire to sell the fireplace (after all, I’ve already paid to post it for sale elsewhere). The ad was also my first test of the new distributed classifieds service edgeio.

Edgeio

Edgeio is still in beta, so you’ll need a password to check out the site. But without visiting it, you’ll have to trust me when I say that it’s not only a great new web-based classifieds service, it’s also a promosing hope for the future of distributed content and community on the web.

So that’s what makes edgeio so exciting, but what makes it tick? Simple. Instead of the ebay model, where you create a separate account, a separate identity, and sell your listings on their site, in their market, edgeio makes all of the web a market. Rather than posting an ad for sale on edgeio, you write a blog post listing your item, service, or job opening. Tag it with “listing” and other keywords, and edgeio reads your RSS feed and automatically lists your item. In my first test today, my listing- including the image I posted on it- appeared on edgeio within a few minutes.

After it appears, you can enhance your listing with graphics, keywords, by claiming it. The point is that while edgeio is a convenient place to search for and view items in context, the actual item itself is generated from within your own central place on the web.

Behind the simplicity of this difference lurks another tremendous benefit: identity.

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7 things to look for on the web in 2006

Happy New Year!

I have some humble predictions for the biggest themes, trends, and ideas on the web in 2006. I’ve got seven items here because the arbitrary concept of posting either 10 or 5 seemed pointless. A list either too long or too short would’ve been diminished by the inclusion of ideas either made up or left off. So, seven themes I think will help shape the web (and the world) in 2006. Here they are:

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software

“All politics is local,” goes the old saying. In 2006, I predict the social software movement- sites that allow users to share content, data, and more- will go local more than it ever has. I believe this trend will develop in part because 2006 is an election year in the U.S., meaning that action on the grassroots level will spike as it always does around elections. Further fueling the increase of hyperlocal news & content will be the continued popularity of social content sites like Flickr. As the mainstream begins to develop and amplify ways to utilize these social ecosystems among their families, cliques, and local business networks, the space will expand with the

These trends may also promote the development of pure-play local ecosystem software, most likely in news (there are already several hyperlocal news sites nationwide) and connections (dating, business, meetups).

6. Distributed advertising networks

Blogads and Google Adsense have been the market leaders in blog advertising for a couple of years now. But the market stagnacy is about to change in 2006. Smaller players like Pheedo will either innovate or fade away, but newcomers such as Federated Media (which has been long announced but hasn’t yet launched) and Pajamas Media (which has stumbled out of the gate) with both make this space active, interesting, and competitive. Hopefully, they won’t all be chasing their tails- innovation here is welcome.

Another angle is emerging in blog, or more widely, web-based advertising. That’s the concept that users- who are providing user-generated content in droves to sites like Flickr and You Tube– should be paid at least a share of the revenue generated from the millions of eyeballs they bring to these sites. Two new, as-yet-unreleased services, Newsvine and Squidoo, are hoping to lead a change in this situation. Both services say they plan to pay their users for the content they provide based on the amount of traffic they generate. I hope Flickr and others consider following suit.

5. Identity

This is probably my riskiest prediction. It concerns a concept rarely discussed, even among early adopters and/or close followers of the web. It’s called identity, and it’s a big, abstract philisophical question that, if addressed, can help overcome some of the larger, and smaller, issues of trust, reliability, and socilization online and off.

Specifically, conversations are already underway about the need for an open, distributed system for online identity. In a system like the outlined by LiveJournal founder Brad Fitzpatrick, OpenID, people carry around a single, URL-based identity that can be used to verify their blog posts, comments, and other content; a single identity can be easily managed, moved, and updated; and it can help facilitate web-based transactions (like auction buys) and/or business (think deals and jobs) and/or personal (think dating sites and meetups) arrangements.

To jump in, start with Johannes Ernst’s fascinating post on the advantages of a URL-based identity schema. This is a foundation issue for the web- one that seems erudite but actually touches all of us as is suggests a shift away from email-based identity, part of the “plumbing” of communications on the web. To put it in powerful terms, a URL-based identity system reduces not just the publicity of, but the dependency on, email addresses, which in turn can have a positive impact on the spam crisis.

4. Attention

Identity and attention belong next to each other in this list because they’re both fairly abstract, macro-level ideas as opposed to emerging technologies or tools (though both have their own vibrant development communities). They’re also similar in that identity and attention both address the issue of who we are when we’re online.

While identity is about trust, attention is about- visibility, with accountability. As Steve Rubel explains in his thorough post about Attention.xml, “…imagine for a moment you can look at an RSS feed…and see how many people have read the same post you�re reading or how many page views it is getting, etc…What if you could get an RSS feed that notifies you every time there are blog posts that are read by more than 100,000 people?”

The questions he’s asking suggest the heart of the attention issue- that for quite a long time, the living web has badly needed a unified, yet decentralized, trustworthy place to aggregate and push out data about who, when, and how often people are reading, linking, and subscribing to your blog or content. As Steve notes, the concept of such a system wouldn’t be limited to the blogosphere: “Going a step further, consider the possibilities if the mainstream media (MSM) adopted attention.xml as well. This could happen if the big RSS feed aggregators get behind it.”

The it Rubel refers to is Attention.xml, a proposed format for just such a system to reliably track who is interacting with who. While the number and important of blog search tools continues to climb in 2006, so will the discussion of a system to begin charting the exchange of interactions on the web.

3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)

2005 has been the biggest year yet for RSS, and that expolosion has likewise suggested that OPML, a close cousin to RSS, will expand its reach in 2006 and beyond. Both of these acronymns have proven to be important delivery & organization systems for a variety of content on the web (blogs, news, stock/weather data, advertisements). As blogs become ubiquitious, and social service sites like Flickr continue to launch and grow,

Furthering the rise of RSS in 2006 will be the long-awaited release of Microsoft’s next operating system, Vista. The OS, along with two of its most popular applications, Internet Explorer and Outlook, with all be deeply ingrained with RSS and its Microsoft-created (much) younger cousin, SSE. With the launch of SSE, Microsoft (and early fans of the technology) hope that the current “one way street” of RSS will be alighted to allow for bi-directional flow of information. This change, if it materializes, could be as important as the initial release of blogging tools like Manilla and Blogger were to the development of the writable/living/social web.

2. User-Organized Media and Content

Okay, so I couldn’t call this one “User-generated content” because people seem to hate that term (they feel it dimishes the user- fair enough, I guess). So instead, I’m calling it “User-organized media and content”, which in the end seems to be a more descriptive term, so woo hoo.

Either way, it’s all about the concept of giving users a large, open space to share content, links, and comments and to therefore define the discussion of what’s news. The trend emerged in a big way in 2005 thanks to Digg.com, a technology news site where the news is provided via links from users, which are then voted on. No editor picks the top stories on Digg- instead, votes determine, on a constantly-rotating basis, what lands on the front page.

It’s a continuation of the living web as a place for conversation, and beyond the traditionally-opinionated nature of blogs, this round of user-organized information brings news media into the fray.

Expect many other sites, including some mainstream media websites, to follow suit in 2006 and give their users a shot at not just digesting, but defining, what’s relevant in news and other media.

One big player in the space, which I think will be one of the most popular sites of the year, is Newsvine.com. Though the site is currently in private beta, it promises to continue Digg’s innovative, user-centric spirit, while also mixing user’s links with traditional news articles from AP and other sources.

Better still, Newsvine provides all users their own space to write and has noted that it plans to share any revenue generated from user’s content. Another service, the recently-launched Squidoo, also promises to share revenues with its users, who use the site to create “lenses”, or collections of personal expertise, on a limitless array of topics. Call it About 2.0, or, as its creator calls it, a “platform for meaning”.

No matter the label, the social web enters a new phase this year as its heart- news, blog posts, comments, links, video & audio, and all varities of other content- is made even easier to share, mix, promote, and comment on.

1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

Video was on deck in 2005, but it will step up to the plate in 2006 and beyond.

I think video will explode in two big ways on the web this year. One will be via community-based sites such as YouTube, a video hosting and sharing service similar in function to Flickr, the popular photo site. 2005 already hinted at the emerging popularity of online video communities, where users will go to upload videos of all kinds and skill levels.

I had an idea, back in January of 2005, that video on the web might be starting to get big. As the horrific tragedy of the tsunami struck in late 2004, thousands of people across the world filmed videos of the events. Through the internet and blogs, these videos spread quickly, bringing home to every citizen of the world the terrible state of Southeast Asia with stark reality. At the time, I was web developer for Media Bloggers Association (disclosure: I’m still on the Board). In its role as as a blogging advocacy group, the MBA undertook a project to help host videos of the tsunami in an effort to curtail massive bandwidth fees assumed by those bloggers hosting the videos.

During the month MBA hosted the videos, I watched our traffic explode by 1000%, while we leapt from the low-thousands into the Top 50-most-trafficked blogs on the web. This was no longer the hollow predictions from analysists suggesting the arrival of the broadband web- I witnessed first-hand the power and the attraction that even the most amateur web-based video held.

The popularity of all types of viral video did not go unoticed, at least by those in the industry. Back in May, Viacom purchased iFilm.com, a relatively-unknown site that serves up a variety of viral videos, from bloopers to hommade shorts to cable news clips.

Then, in December 2005, it got crazy. The formerly lost season of Saturday Night Live got a much-needed jolt with the premier of “Lazy Sunday,” a ‘digital short’ that aired on the series’ December 17th episode. By the following Tuesday, the popularity of the 2-minute song parody had made an almost overnight sensation out of YouTube.com, a 10-month old video hosting and sharing service, where a user had posted a clip of the SNL video.

Soon after, the popularity of the clip prompted NBC to post its own version of the file for free on its website, NBC.com. NBC’s parent, Universal, quickly followed suit by releasing a version of the video for free on Apple’s iTunes Music Store (which also sells videos of NBC and other networks’ TV shows).

The ensuing hysteria over the video wasn’t something new for its creators, SNL cast member Andy Samberg and writers Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Members of a comedy troupe The Lonely Island, the trio have been releasing their own homemade, amateur-looking (yet brilliant and hilarious) videos free on the web for a couple years now. In fact, it was in large part due to the popularity of some of their previous videos- all released under Creative Commons licenses, which encourage free linking and sharing- that the trio was hired for Saturday Night Live.

The popularity of the “Lazy Sunday” video- linked and shared freely, beginning with users up to the corporations that “own” the content- suggests what I believe will be the biggest trend on the web in 2006:

Combined with the natural expansion of blogging from a primarily text-based medium to one rich with audio, and particularly, video files, 2006 is going to be one huge year for user-created, community-shared video of all imaginable types.

The blend is right in 2006 in part because corporations- historically, the only creators, containers and distribution model for content of all types- are finally getting wise to the immesurable potential of homegrown and delivered goods. But more importantly, it’s the creators who are recognizing- and responding to- the increasingly large audience of people who are becoming more and more in tune with the idea that their entertainment doesn’t need to come in half-hour bursts from channels 2, 5, or 7. There’s more out there, and it’s getting good.