The Tsunami of 2004, Online Video’s First Major Event

Today marks the five year anniversary of the great Asian Tsunami of December 26th, 2004. This was a turning point for online video as it was the first time people from all around the world went online to watch. For all who now take online video for granted, this was even before Google Video. Here is a story I wrote about my own experience which happened just two months after I had launched Rocketboom:

“On a Sunday when I was writing the script and looking for news stories for the following Monday, I witnessed the tsunami go down online via the main stream media like cnn.com particular. So I knew the issue was so intense that there would be nothing else to say on Monday and so I spent all day looking for images and video and personal accounts – anything that I could find to "show”. This was something I had never done to this degree because I had never really had an impetus. But looking around for footage and pictures was what I would do for any event, big or small on a daily basis for Rocketboom so it started as just another day.

Anyway, I couldn’t find any videos on the day of, but I found two sites in Singapore that had about three people total who had posted a whole load of photos. So I believe I created perhaps the first tsunami video online that was a montage of the images with intense background music. While we did not have as much of a reach with our content at the time, we gained very high search return results for “tsunami video” apparently.

There was another major factor that led to the endurance of tsunami traffic: When Waxy and others like myself had accumulated the videos the next day, the same that also became really popular, I decided to turn them all into quicktime videos because there were none. As a result I was the only one serving the Quicktime files for several days and so probably all of those original batch videos that are out there that are quicktime, are generations from me (not to say that makes me special or anything, just pointing it out because i think its interesting), coincidentally. A few sites took these files and re-seeded them in bittorrent sites and then they quickly surpassed our search authority as it stacked against the time, I reckon. I assume Robin Good has an interesting tale to tell because we received a huge amount of traffic from his massive roundup as just one example.

[**aside: Of course I could not pay for the bandwidth and had the videos on the Parsons.edu server space. I brought the graduate multimedia sever down to a grinding halt (the same server that everyone uses to experiment with all kinds of wacky and powerful stuff). We couldn’t even get the server to deliver a 5k gif file until I renamed the videos and brought them back on slowly over days.

[**to the other aside: I watched as iFilm, the massively obnoxious and ad invasive leech site, learned a thing or two during this time as well about search return results. Of course with their link authority, they became the mainstream site to watch the tsunami videos as the only known option to a lot of people to start with. I remember later, on the day before the Superbowl this year, iFilm had posted all of the superbowl commercials, including all of the text and even video and image placeholders for ALL of the commercials in order to get them up first and to receive the best search results. So if you went to iFilm that night before the game, you could click on a bunch of superbowl commercials, which of course never loaded. But all of the advertisements surrounding the commercials were there and they were already making big bucks before they even copied the broadcasts and then posted the videos. Thats crummy of them and you can predict their behavior to be like this in the future too I suppose. I have noticed that over the last few months the obnoxiousness had gone way down, but its still pretty out-of-control for my tastes]“

Here are a couple of note now on YouTube:

For one of the best historical accounts of the various tsunami videos now, see:



Favorite Video of 2009

In 2006 I started a personal tradition of naming my favorite online video each year. Then, it was Weird Al Yankovic’s White and Nerdy, as explicated here. (this became popular on Google Video just before Google bought YouTube).

Unfortunately, I would go on to break my annual tradition each year until today, as I name my favorite video of 2009, JK Wedding Entrance Dance.

The video continues to be enjoyed for all to see freely online due to the binding union YouTube arranged between the music industry and the video owners though the reason why this is my favorite video of the year has everything to do with the emotion it evokes, only possible because it was truly real.

When I think back through every wedding scene I’ve ever seen in the movies, this wedding dance video is in a class of it’s own for provoking the emotions that just simply can not be re-recreated.

The wedding dance video with it’s out-of-sync dancers and shaky lo-res handheld camera footage brings out the real love in the occasion with just the right song, in just the right space and from just the right perspective. This was not a movie where the orchestra swells and the camera pans ideally, this is a slice of reality captured nearly accidentally.

I continue to show the JK Wedding Entrance Dance video to countless people on my iPhone and universally, everyone totally lights up!


Platform Explainer Video Surprise

I was going to title this “Magma’s Recent PR Event”, but it wasn’t exactly a PR event, we just made a video and put it on Rocketboom. Though it turned out to be so important, it’s worth mentioning. Rocketboom is a content studio, but Magma is a platform for content, two completely different businesses. We have a small but growing user base on Magma and putting out a video that explains to people what the site is and how it works has always made a lot of sense, it’s just that I had no idea how much of an impact it would have…it literally doubled our user base within a week after posting it.

A philosophy many people believe in (me included) is that a very simple platform with one very simple idea is a very good way to start. Being the best at something very special and ultimately simple is key here. Google often likes this idea, e.g. their search page is very simple as it’s just one thing to begin with, a text box. Twitter is a good example of a seemingly simple platform too as it’s just a simple box where people type in some characters and hit enter. If Twitter started out looking like Tweetdeck however, a popular complex tool for twitterers, Twitter probably wouldn’t of caught on the way it has.

Other platforms are relatively complex in terms of feature sets, like Facebook for example. Facebook has so many features and so many things going on there, even the regular users are still learning about the various capabilities. Magma fits in this complex category too, especially in terms of where it’s going. And different people use it for different reasons right now so discovery of new ways to use the site had been slow.

When we put out a video explainer to the site, it was like a night and day difference in terms of how people have been talking about it. Instead of load of questions questions, suddenly people are writing about it and commenting with excitement and ah-ha’s as if they suddenly see where it fits in.

This is one of the neat things about the video medium, especially theater-house movies. People tend to come in, sit down and all go on the same-exact ride through the full course of thoughts and emotions the director intends. No detractions along with no time to reflect, you just get sucked in and come out with the painted story.

I was just reminded again that I wanted to post about this after seeing that Jamie had whipped up a quick integration to Boxee for Rocketboom, Know Your Meme and Magma and made a demo video explainer on how to install them. Though another reason for this post to include “press release” in the title, we hear there are big plans for the Boxee directory so soon you wont need a video to figure it out I think but until then, once again, the point I think by now is clear: Video explainers for can be VERY helpful.

Considering our video is a whopping 6 minutes and 23 seconds long I would highly recommend a much shorter video in most cases. I have no regrets for us because as I mentioned, Magma is pretty darn complex and we wanted to get it all out there. It’s just that in our case, we had Molly who singlehandedly scored the intent just by her awesome performance alone.


Magma to Tumblr: Can you hear me? Tumblr: Copy.

Magma now supports full integration with Tumblr!  When adding videos to your Magma account you can automatically cross-post toTwitter, Facebook and now Tumblr simultaneously, with support for any of your Tumblr blogs, including group blogs.

We are excited to announce a few other new features too:

New Add to Channel Interface

We’ve also redesigned the channel video add experience, making it easier to see and customize the videos as you add them to your channel.

Customizable Share Message

Based on your feedback, you can now also customize the share message each time you add a video.

Explainer Video

The Magma user base has been growing rapidly over the last month, if you haven’t seen the Magma explainer video, have a look at http://mag.ma/211919

An extra special thanks to our lead developer Jamie Wilkinson and to head designer Greg Leuch for their extra hard work in building and operating the Magma platform.



TV Everywhere Launches, No One Notices

Last month on November 4th at the Ad Tech New York conference the President of Comcast Interactive, Amy Banse said TV Everywhere would be available in the first part of December, but I had not heard of anything so I just Googled it and in fact, it just launched, within the last day…according to lot of the bigger publications (nytimes, wsj) though surprisingly, it didn’t cross any of my channels in the tech world including my Twitter friends, Techmeme or RSS blog feeds. Maybe because it’s just not that exciting or maybe because it’s not working (I’ve just been getting a blank page all day and havent seen it yet)

The service is called Xfinity http://xfinity.com/ and it sounds like a good idea. If you have Comcast for your TV content and pay for Comcast internet service too, you should be able to not only watch TV at home, but travel to anywhere in the world where you can get online, with your laptop, say, login, and watch whatever you would be watching as if you were at home in your living-room.

Comcast and partners including Time Warner kinda need to make this work because if they dont, they could lose a lot of business as the world moves on without them. Before the internet, the big cable companies made great money just pumping TV through the cable to homes. Then when the internet came around, they were able to double up and send each person two subscription bills per month, one for the TV and one for the Internet.

But now, if you use Hulu, iTunes or Boxee, for example, you wont need your TV subscription anymore so Comcast could be out of luck on that one. And you may not need Comcast or Time Warner either for your home broadband service, especially if you upgrade to FIOS, or use internet at work. This is pretty big business as I was saying. Much bigger than the TV Networks like NBC which Comcast may soon control.

Setting aside the cable companies and their visions, you can see the model is pretty neat: Eventually you could be anyone in the world, like a customer in India willing to pay the monthly subscription fee and gain access to the same content that Comcast TV subscribers currently have in the U.S., without any wires. Just a Hulu like subscription, which this service obviously competes with. This is a double whammy though on Comcast because they will have advertising on the content anyway. iTunes on the other hand does not have advertising.

This may or may not threaten Apple’s plans, but it certainly threatens the Apple rumor fanatics who suggest that Apple is working on a similar subscription service via iTunes. I assume people would pay $50 a month to Apple to have free access to all the content on iTunes, music, TV – everything. Then Apple can divy it up back to the content creators.

And while usually people tend to piss and moan about Apple being closed, I’m rooting for Apple in this game so far – Apple is open. Anyone can podcast their content through iTunes with an RSS feed. I also like YouTube because they will host anyone so far as the law will extend YouTube the rights to do so.

And this leads me to my main concern about TV Everywhere, er Xfinity (the TV Everywhere lingo was just code speak, it’s Xfinity now) which is that it threatens to close off the rest of the content world. The Comcasts of the world have a history of maintaining an elite control over their airwaves and thus stand to hurt the general democratization of media that I personally believe in. I’m a major proponent of content creators getting paid for content and I think the tradition has shown a desperate and unhealthy way of doing business in order to keep control over the content industry, finally diluting the medium for everyone down to the lowest common denominators. For even as there will always be alternative places to freely distribute and access content, if the TV Everywhere initiative becomes the main one, closed as it is, people are generally lazy and will likely go with it, the marching on of the following masses, making it more difficult for people to discover everything else.

Big guns have rolled into to save TV empires before and so far, all retreats. See them now regrouping…and waiting…


Video Distribution Trending Towards Centralization

It’s been interesting to watch and participate in the ebb and flow of the online video space. One unique trend that I have noticed recently is that the “be everywhere” motto with your video has not so much changed but the technical means for being everywhere has.

In the recent past, the video tool TubeMogul was a good idea. They do the heavy lifting of re-distribution; you can create an account on TubeMogul, upload your video, and then TubeMogul will upload your one master to over 25 video account destinations around the web including YouTube Vimeo, Blip, Metacafe, DailyMotion, Yahoo, Revver, Veoh, StupidVideos, etc. and then track the videos.

When TubeMugul first came out, it was great because it filled a hole in the marketplace for publishers who found themselves spending a lot of time trying to get their videos to all of these destinations with the hope of finding audiences anywhere.

It was worth the effort, I think, to be everywhere but one problem with this means of distribution is that it creates so many copies of the same thing which is itself a technically sloppy and irresponsible method of doing anything. A more elegant solution is to be everywhere with referents to just one copy, the benefit of the “embed”. Embeddable videos can appear be all over the web when they’re really just pointers to one location.

And now, the online video distribution space seems to be swinging right back in this direction to fewer and fewer distribution sources because the audiences are consolidating into fewer places. It’s becoming more and more counterproductive to distribute to 25 different open platforms due to diluting your audience, losing control over your ad revenue, spending time with the day-to-day efforts needed to nurture each one, to name but a few issues…primarily, because the audiences have faded away from many places that were once more active.

A common trend with publishers today is to publish to only one or two open locations. Most people obviously upload to YouTube and then many like to add an RSS feed with quicktime files for iTunes, which also serves as a plausible option for many other local-players as well. Many also find that other, unique destination that perfectly fits their audience but may not be suited for many others.

Along with this, for the good I think, is a trend with reverting back to the pre-social network days of placing an emphasis on your own domain dot com. The NYTimes and CNN for example have been putting more development into their own on-site and single-point of distribution strategies. So have smaller content creators who got big just on YouTube or iTunes. They enjoy being everywhere by embeds and feeds and continue to dabble with alternative distribution points, though drastically fewer than a couple of years ago. This centralizing trend has always seemed inevitable for preserving as much of the revenue share as possible. If you are wheeling and dealing with 25 public facing websites like Metacafe and Dailymotion and YouTube and Blip and Viddler and iTunes and so on, all doing different ad deals, you are probably undermining yourself, the marketplace and especially your own audience.

In other words, worldwide distribution is growing and video is becoming more available in more places (through embeds, links, tweets, referrers) but the number of places one needs to actually push distribution to, and the number of file types one needs to create appears to be drastically diminishing.


Why News Won’t Work Like Murdoch Wants It To

There is a great deal of information worth paying for, but for the most part, it’s hard to understand why anyone would be incentivized to pay for the news for news is as free as the freedom of speech.

Consider this article from The Wall Street Journal, Google to Start Selling Own Phone Next Year. The article starts off “Google Inc. has designed a cellphone it plans to sell directly to consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter.”  But to continue reading, you must subscribe.

Shucks, are you going to subscribe to get this news? If you don’t want to subscribe but would like to get some additional information, you can likely find another trusted brand of your choice writing about the same exact news. I found well over 100 articles just from looking on Techmeme alone:

Word gets around quite easily these days, you know? And when it comes to commentary, there will never be any shortage of outrageous personalities to choose from with equal and often greater standards of integrity and speed.

To that end, brands like the WSJ and the NYTimes will suffer when it comes to breaking news because they are no longer unique or valuable in today’s news gathering cycle (as seen for example in today’s news about the Google Phone). The only hope that these companies have is that they have a few journalists on their payroll currently who are popular personalities, like David Pogue and Walt Mossberg, for example. I think Peter Rojas and Ryan Block can be just as influential and I just love their writing style. And even if you put them all behind a pay wall, I’ll likely read the news on their work because whatever they say about the news is itself news.

CNN probably has the biggest problem of all because most of their articles online do not come from personalities, they come from robots (sometimes called staff writers) Aside from Anderson Cooper, can you name any journalist at CNN that you know of? Wolf Blitzer? What if one of these two guys leaves? Is Katie Couric at ABC or CBS and does it matter? Without the personalities who have opinions and put themselves out there and work hard to build up their own personal prominence, news organizations will no longer be able to maintain their own prominence online. It’s the people, people.