BLOG: The benefits of open video platforms (Economies of the Commons #2, 2010)

[Originally published on the blog of the Economies of the Commons 2 conference organized by the Institute of Network Cultures]

5166111189_c8e833e4c6_zMichael Dale is an advocate for open standard and free video formats for the web. The past two years he has lead open source development for video on Wikipedia in partnership with Kaltura, and worked closely with the Mozilla foundation and the Open Video Alliance. Dale is also the lead developer for the commercial open source Kaltura HTML5 platform recently adopted by Adobe to support HTML5 video in their desktop web authoring tools.

The road to open video platforms is one long, bumpy ride, but Michael Dale is optimistic about what’s to come as HTML5video, Kaltura and Metavid are paving the way for such platforms. Compatibility issues caused by different file formats have always made a dent in people’s efforts to upload video content. Content licensing is another complication, as the mainstream H.264 standard for video compression is extremely costly. Fortunately, free and open-source codecs like Firefogg – which transcodes videos to open web standards with Mozilla Firefox – are making things easier for users.

Initiatives like the Wikimedia Foundation are striving towards a standard consistent platform – with HTML5 and CS3 readiness – that offers users the possibility to engage with rich media on the Web. Standardization is not essential only for interfaces, but also for free content such as the Creative Commons; encyclopedias are good example as they make clear what can be done in terms of reuse and distribution of content.

So what are the tools currently available for open video? Michael mentioned several projects and their associated technologies, which I will list and briefly describe in what follows.

Metavid is the open video archive of the US congress, an example of the semantic Web, which allows users to make queries as specific as ‘a podcast of any time a female senator mentioning health care that received more than $100,000 from the pharmaceutical industry’. Such complex queries chain together different properties of the system’s elements and give people the chance to explore videos in a more meaningful targeted way.

Wikipedia uses the full HTML5 Video Library developed by Kaltura, which works in all major browsers. HTML5 is a set of web standards being created by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group and comprises several tools including audio and video players, and a media importer.

As for subtitling and editing videos, there are some nifty little pieces of open-source software. TimedText takes a video out of its clichéd ‘black box’ format and makes it more like a complete webpage. This universal subtitling tool permits the transcription video content in a user-friendly manner, like using adding hyperlinks to subtitles. Since WordPress doesn’t seem to get along with HTML5, visit this page for a demo of TimedText; check out the video of Yonchai Benkler at the bottom and click on the CC icon and then select the Universal Subs Option. Last but not least the Sequencer, still in its infancy, is a basic video editor good for rebuilding video sequences by combining and ordering media assets or changing the display time.

Dale left his presentation – how else? – but open. At the end he asked questions at about matters like the provenance of content to be uploaded on open video platforms, the competition between small and large free projects, and the biggest issue of them all: can video collaboration actually work?


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