Observations and arguments.

Archive for Videoblogging

iTunes 7 shows no love for (Video) Podcasts

A post this morning over on The Unofficial Apple Weblog gripes about a change to the iTunes UI that moves access to enhanced podcast chapters out of the application window and up into the menubar. It posits two possibilities for the change: 1) that different UI designers were assigned to the project, and simply made a bad decision; or 2) that Apple no longer cares about UI design.

Ok, option 2 is crazy talk. Apple may make some mystifying UI design choices, but it’s not because it doesn’t care about the choices.

No, I think you have to look at a third alternative: that as TV shows and now movies gain ascendancy in the iTunes universe, podcasts are being moved further and further down the functional spec sheet.

My own greatest annoyance with iTunes 7 (and why I haven’t upgraded on my main PowerBook) is that the shiny new album and Coverflow views aren’t available in the Podcast library. Currently in iTunes 6, video podcasts appear in the “Videos” library, with nice thumbnails that my two-and-a-half year old can point to when he wants to see the video of Magic Monkey Bob, or of himself running around with one of his pals.

In iTunes 7, these thumbnails are gone; because video podcasts don’t show up under “Movies” or “TV Shows”. I tried to create a workaround by creating a smart playlist of video podcasts–surely I could use Coverflow then. Except that all the podcasts from a particular source are treated as being from one “album”, so they all share the same artwork–a still frame from a random single video. I haven’t tried deleting the videos from iTunes and then re-importing them as random videos, but even if that were to work what a pain it’s going to be.

Of course, I will have to upgrade at some point. I can’t listen to shared music from my other machines in the house that are now on iTunes 7. And if I ever decide to download a TV show I’ll have to upgrade to even watch them.

And when I do upgrade, my boy is going to shout at me. Repeatedly. And at a loud volume. Because he’s going to want to know where his favorite movies went. And I’m not going to get very far with my conjectures and ramblings about UI and product road maps.

So thank you, iTunes, for that. So very much.

Questioning the YouTube ToS panic

On the Wired blog yesterday there appeared a post with the alarmist headline “YouTube’s ‘New’ Terms Still Fleece Musicians”. It highlights the newest YouTube terms of service, which read, in part:

…by submitting the User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business… in any media formats and through any media channels.

The writer (Eliot Van Buskirk) points out, quite rightly, that YouTube could take your video (or, for example, a band’s song that appears in a video) and sell it on a DVD or CD, or broadcast it on a television show, or sell it to an ad agency, without paying you a nickel. The license is transferable, meaning they could pass it along to another entity (e.g. a television production company), and it would be retained by any entity that bought up YouTube.

The story was picked up by BoingBoing, which has a lot more readers than the Wired music blog, so there are going to be a lot more people across the internets reacting negatively to what appears to me a misreading and mischaracterization of the terms of service text.

Van Buskirk chooses to overlook two sections of this paragraph in the terms of service that seem awfully pertinent. The first is in boldface:

For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions.

and the second, more important part:

The foregoing license granted by you terminates once you remove or delete a User Submission from the YouTube Website.

Van Buskirk makes this point in the comments to his post that the term “ownership” begins to lose its meaning once you have granted a royalty-free license as broad as the one YouTube claims, and I agree with him on this. But the point about the User’s ability to terminate the license by removing the work from the website here is critical.

So let’s take Van Buskirk’s scenario in which YouTube sells your song to an ad agency looking for “edgy” work in its new commercial. (This of course would have to be an ad agency that doesn’t belong to one of the multinational marketing conglomerates, who are completely in bed with the music publishing industry. The agency would also want to overlook the shitty transcoding quality of the audio, but let’s pretend there is such an agency.) YouTube gets money, you don’t. The commercial airs, you cry foul. You remove the video from YouTube. The license has now been terminated. If the ad agency’s media company allows the ad to run again on any station, in any market, you can sue them for all the money you could want, far more than you would have been paid had the ad agency only come to you directly. Which money of course the ad agency would turn around and sue YouTube for. And then of course YouTube will only then ask you to produce all the written releases you have from everyone in your video (as required in the same section of the Terms of Service), and so then all your friends you used as extras can sue you for the money you won in your lawsuit.

Oh, I’m sure YouTube can’t WAIT to start monetizing your content.

Look, I understand the fear, I just don’t buy it.

The license is there so they have permission to transcode your work (creating a derivative), play it online (display/perform), or elsewhere if they can figure out how to convert to mobile phones or tvs. The language is overly broad to cover their asses, but that’s what corporate lawyers do.

If there is any real money to be made off your work by YouTube or its partner corporations, they will come to you directly and get you to sign a new, far more specific contract that will also cheat you out of money that you so rightly deserve.

Tags: YouTube

iPhoto Smart Albums: Sorting Movies

Movies captured with my digital still camera are mixed in with thousands of photos in my iPhoto Library. Smart albums help me keep track of them.

Movies: All
This one’s pretty simple to create. Set the criteria:

Keyword > contains > Movie

Since iPhoto automatically tags every imported movie with the keyword “Movie”, this one is requires no additional work to maintain. All your movies can be found in this album, in iPhoto or in the iMovie media browser. Of course, to narrow the Library to just movies, one can also click the “Movie” keyword button in the main Library view.

Movies: Already Used
An album of all the movies you’ve previously used in video projects. For this you need to create a custom keyword. I use “MBF” (Matchbook Films). Keywords are created under iPhoto > Preferences, but applied using Photos > Get Info.

Keyword > contains > [your custom keyword]

This album is only as useful when you take the time to tag each relevant clip with the keyword. Even more useful than this album, however, is its opposite.

Movies: Not Used
This smart album contains all videos in your library you haven’t used in a project (or that you just haven’t tagged with your custom keyword). In this album you can choose clips you’d like to use for your next project, delete clips you’ll never use, or tag videos you forgot to tag previously.

Match ALL of the following conditions:
Keyword > contains > Movie
Keyword > does not contain > [your custom keyword]

As this album begins to get more and more crowded (as you shoot more and more videos), you may find yourself wanting to narrow this to a selection of videos you think you might use some day in a project.

Movies: To Use
If you’re not using it already, you may wish to employ iPhoto’s check mark keyword: . (Otherwise you would need to create another custom keyword.) Then simply apply this keyword to any movies you wish to remember for later.

Match ALL of the following conditions:
Keyword > contains > Movie
Keyword > contains >
Keyword > does not contain > [your custom keyword]

The third criteria is there so that you don’t necessarily have to remove the check mark in order for the movie to roll out of this smart album. You merely have to apply your custom keyword to indicate you’ve used the clip already.

Any questions?

iPhoto Does Video

Last week I participated in a “Meet the Vloggers” theater presentation at the Apple Store in San Francisco. As part of my five minutes I introduced the idea of using iPhoto Smart Albums as a cataloguing tool in an iPhoto-to-iMovie workflow.

iPhoto’s role in importing and cataloguing video is barely mentioned in the section of Apple’s website dedicated to iPhoto, and absent altogether from its iLife multimedia tutorials. Granted, there are only so many features one can highlight, and movie importing is last year’s news (iLife ’05).

Also, the iMovie story since iLife ’05 has been all about HD(V), so it’s understandable that little emphasis would be placed on 15 frame-per-second videos shot at QVGA resolution (320 x 240).

But for Mac-using videobloggers capturing footage on digital “still” cameras, iPhoto has become indispensable (especially when you stop to consider you have no original tapes to go back to), despite some nagging UI annoyances.

Slow to Adapt

As late as iLife ’04, iPhoto did not even recognize the MPEG4 video recordings on digital cameras. (Of course, when it launched, few of the cameras were recording videos with sound.) Once the camera was connected to the computer, one had to manually dig through the folder hierarchies to find the .avi files (which itself required knowing that .avi files were what you were looking for to begin with). You could then place the files… somewhere on your hard drive, watch them in the QuickTime Player, and even use the Import command in iMovie to add them to an iMovie project.

iPhoto thumbnailIn iLife ’05, iPhoto finally imported the videos off of digital cameras, along with photos. An overlay at the bottom of the thumbnail made it easy to pick out videos from within the Library view, and indicated the length of the clip in minutes and seconds. Most brilliantly of all, iMovie automatically applied the keyword “Movie” to all movies it imported, whether imported directly from the camera or added manually to the Library. Keywords, ratings, and comments could all be applied to movies, making it easy to find, for example, the best movies taken at one of the kids’ birthday parties. (As long as the proper metadata has been applied.)

But you still couldn’t watch movies from within iPhoto (double-clicking on a movie launched the QuickTime Player application.) And there was no simple way to get the movies into iMovie. The Photos pane in iMovie gave you access to the iPhoto library, but AVIs did not appear within the window. So once again you had to use iMovie’s Import command, which required you know where the .avi file was located within the iPhoto library (which required knowing the date the movie was shot). If you had shot several movies on a single day, you also needed to write down the filename of the AVI, to ensure you selected the right one. (Ok, so now I gather you could have just dragged and dropped the clips from iPhoto to iMovie. That would have saved me some time.)

That last obstacle was lifted with the release of iLife ’06. Now within iMovie’s Media Browser, access to iPhoto’s Library now includes access to its movies. Of course, iPhoto still doesn’t know how to play the videos it catalogs, so once again it has to launch QuickTime Player.

(With video recording pretty much standard these days on all digital cameras, and the trend towards hybrid still/video cameras like the Sanyo Xacti, this seems like a glaring omission. But then I remember that the iPhoto team basically had to rewrite the application from the ground up, to raise the ceiling on assets from 25,000 photos to 250,000 photos, so it’s perhaps understandable they left some key features out.)

Wishes for iLife ’07 and Beyond

First and foremost, I’d want to view movies within the iPhoto application, with standard QuickTime/iMovie playback buttons. A full-screen mode for viewing wouldn’t be required, but it would align well with the new full screen edit mode for photos.

Second, I’d like some basic trimming tools. I can already trim the heads and tails off my videos while they’re still inside my camera, why can’t I in iPhoto? This function is basically parallel to the photo “Crop” tool. I expect the main issue here would be that once the video is cropped, does it save over the original file, or is a new file created? (Currently when photos are edited, the original remains untouched and a duplicate file is built.) Saving over the original file would require keeping it as an .AVI–and I’ve had trouble with QuickTime and .AVIs in the past. Creating a duplicate could get pretty slow, especially if there was pressure from a particular product team or another to encode the file in H.264.

Third, I’d like the ability to assemble video playlists–akin to a video slideshow. I found a terrific app called Movie Gallery that did just that.* Let me play several clips in a row without having to click anything, and let me do it in full screen mode. With the Core Video underlayer, adding transitions between movies in a playlist should be as easy to include as transitions in a slideshow. This would allow people to show a polished collection of their (trimmed) movies in a highlight reel, without having to think of themselves as having done any video editing.

Bonus features (perhaps for future releases) could be to send a playlist/collection of movies to iMovie or iDVD. Or to export/compile a playlist of movies into a single quicktime movie. But let’s start with being able to play the movies within iPhoto. Because: come on.


*Sort of. Except that you can only sort in ascending/descending order along a particular vector of data–title, size, date added, etc. You can’t actually arrange movies in an order of your choosing. It’s a gorgeous application, mixing low res 320×240 clips and full resolution DV without a stutter (good luck with that, iTunes). So other than the fact that the app is basically useless, I’d recommend it highly (the programmer says manual ordering will be built into v2.0).

Creative Crossover Technologies

A friend of mine once posited that unrestricted access to a single piece of technology can mark a creative crossing over of sorts. Once the technology is moved into the artist’s home/domestic space, the exercise of creation can be detached from structured, preplanned time (e.g. at a rental facility) and adapt itself to the natural rhythms of exploration, discovery, revision, frustration, disappointment, and repetition.

For some people this could be an easel in a sunlit room. A potter’s wheel. A darkroom. For her, working in photoshop on a computer, the key crossover technology was a scanner, which previously she had used only after hours at her freelance workplace.

“Once I had a scanner at home,” she told me, “I became an artist.”

I’ve brought three of these crossover technologies into my home.

Once I had a laser printer, I became a designer.
Once I had a banjo, I became a musician.

In 1999 I bought a $1400 DV camera, a new PowerMac, and the $1000 Final Cut Pro version 1.0, thinking this new system would be what helped me actualize my filmmaking potential. But I got sidetracked and ultimately demoralized by the website I built to showcase the work, and gave up after eighteen months or so.

Once I found videoblogging, I became a filmmaker again.

What have been your crossover technologies?

The future of video will not be in search.

Yes, I understand that text search remains the single most powerful tool for finding information online. That blogs are discovered through search.

I know also that developers are working the problem of auto-generating transcripts of video, that can then either be included within a videoblog post or embedded within the movie as metadata with hooks to the outside that would make the transcript searchable.

At the Vloggercon session called “Brainstorming the Future“, someone suggested that even now videobloggers should voluntarily post their own transcripts so that their content is searchable. (I don’t remember who suggested this, so I suppose having a transcript of this session would be really helpful to me making this point right now).

I even posted a transcript of a recent video I’d done that wound up being ten minutes long, because it contained a lot of ideas that I feared would go unheard by those who didn’t want to sit through a ten minute video. And sure enough, the transcript was linked to by two people within hours of my posting it. (Number of links to the original video: 0.) Additional comments followed. It’s also shown up in a Technorati search as I was looking for background for this very post.

The problem is, video is only sometimes about ideas or information or “content”. Sometimes it’s about laughter, or beauty, or delight.

Consider music. I am not going to find my next favorite band through a websearch of their lyrics, whether that search is based on linking algorithms, or social recommendations, or tagging, or what have you.

Similarly, I would never have discovered one of my favorite video series of the year through search.

People discover new music in a number of ways. My own sources include: friends (recommendations, mix CDs, etc.), reading about it (magazines, blogs, etc.), or hearing it for myself (broadcast / online radio, selected or filtered at some level by a human disc jockey or programmer). In all cases I need to hear it for myself to assess whether I like it. The experience of sampling additionally helps me contextualize future recommendations from the same source (friend, writer, dj), so that for example I know my pal Russell is a good source for power pop, but he also has a weakness for jPop that I do not share.

I understand that there are key differences between music and video–music can be enjoyed while doing other activities, and also I am more likely to enjoy a song over and over again, both unlike video.

But I believe that I will come to rely on similar systems of targeted recommendations to help me sort through the expanding universe online/IP-delivered video.

More effective than search, then, are Amazon’s “People Who Viewed this Page also…” and TiVo, and Pandora, and other experiments that aggregate and track the behavior of crowds to generate socially-driven, automated recommendations. Some of these are pretty successful, because they fill in a portion of the gaping hole in search–the vast universe of ideas, creativity, products, that are unconnected to anything that I already know. Beyond what I can currently imagine I might like.

But of course the problem here is that each of these systems is closed. Amazon can’t adjust its recommendations based upon what a user has purchased elsewhere (in a store, or through iTunes), although it attempts to do so with its “I already own this” button and rating system. But in general you’re dealing with a database that tracks the behavior of users within a single technological ecosystem (or destination site).

But maybe YouTube can reach enough ascendancy in its volume of users to build such a system of recommendations. Or Google Video. Perhaps MySpace will figure it out. I’ll have more reflections in a future post on how some current technology solutions for recommendations are working, and how they might be improved.

But of course as functional as such a system could become, there’s still the thorny issue of a sustainable business model. Most of the videos people are watching online are unconnected to a financial transaction.

Developers working on video transcripting, random access, and search capabilities have no such concerns. There are millions of hours of corporate communications, conferences, university lectures, training materials, and other easily monetizable videos containing taggable and searchable “content” that is currently inaccessible and offline, even within corporations’ closed intranets. So go ahead and keep working on that.

I expect you’ll learn things along the way that can be of use to the freeloaders out here on the WWW. We’ll sure appreciate that.

New Home Cinema: Foundations

New Home Cinema: Foundations

The evolution of home movies from a 20th century closed system (screened within the home) into a 21st century mass medium (with worldwide distribution) has required the confluence of several advances in technology. These technologies are for the most part the same as those that have helped make videoblogging possible:

1. Image Capture (Creation)

The most significant technology shift in consumer motion picture recording has been the change in consumer recording formats from analog (editing and distribution bound by original media, lossy duplication methods) to digital (easier conversion to alternate modes of editing and distribution, lossless duplication). Of note here also is the accompanying reduction in size and weight of cameras made possible by the evolution in formats.

2. PC Editing (Creation/Manipulation)

As digital video codecs improved, so too did processor and hard drive speeds in consumer-level desktop computers. FireWire (and USB2.0) added the final link, by making peripheral throughput fast enough to transfer digitally a DV signal into the computer for manipulation and editing. Before long, free nonlinear digital video editing software (iMovie, Movie Maker) became standard issue on all consumer PCs.

3. Broadband adoption (Distribution)

DSL and cable internet access also reached critical mass in the US among households with PCs and digital video cameras, making it easier to upload and view video online. Advancements in video codecs have also aided this evolution, by making file sizes smaller and audio/video quality better.

4. File hosting (Distribution)

In 2005, nonprofit (Ourmedia/Internet Archive) and commercial (Blip.tv, Google Video, YouTube) services began to offer free hosting and bandwidth for user-contributed video. Moreover, they offered file uploads via a web browser, further lowering the knowledge requirements of consumers wishing to post their videos online.

5. Publishing (Distribution)

Several of the hosting services were designed to support custom websites, such as those made possible with the use of free blogging tools (Blogger, WordPress, Feedburner). Building upon the infrastructure developed by bloggers and podcasters, video creators were able to utilize RSS2.0’s enclosure capabilities to distribute their work to audiences directly, for offline viewing on a computer or portable viewing device. Others (YouTube, Google) were offered as online destination sites, at which media makers could share video with their family and friends without having to design a personalized online presence. Within the publicly browsable, searchable, taggable destination site, these personal, previously private videos are available to be discovered by strangers with extra time on their hands.

In my interviews with 21st century home moviemakers I intend to ask about each of these areas, and which have been the key contributing factors to the creation and publishing of their work. While I may do a quick summary of the specific tools they use, I’ll also ask them to reflect on the future of these technologies: what they’d like to see, what they expect to see.