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Need for Open Standards Video on the Web

An article in Technology Review reports on the current state of video on the web, its drawbacks and limitations, and what the future may bring.

  • OurTube, By David Talbot, Technology Review (September/October 2009). (3400 words)

The article summarizes the story of Michael Dale and Abram Stern who wanted to use speeches in the U.S. Congress and discovered that they could not get the videos. “There was no online repository for download.” Their efforts led to the development of http://metavid.org/ which offered legislative videos for free download, a copyright battle with C-SPAN, and a change in C-SPAN policy to make some of its videos freely available for some uses. (See also Who Owns What C-Span Airs?, and C-SPAN provides more access, but wants to retain control, etc..)

Dale and Stern’s difficulties offer one small glimpse into a larger problem with online video: unlike much of the rest of the Web, it is accessed through a collection of closed, proprietary formats, such as Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight. (Try a video search engine such as Blinkx; you’ll get plenty of videos pulled from around the Web, but to watch them you may need to download or update software.) Certain websites, led by YouTube, convert uploaded content to Flash for ease of viewing. Today, however, a growing number of technologists and video artists want to see Web video adopt the kind of open standards that fueled the growth of the Web at large. HTML, the markup language that describes Web pages; JavaScript, the programming language that allows forms, graphics, and various special effects to be added to them; JPEG, the standard for images–all these building blocks of the Web can be used by anyone, without paying fees or asking permission. This openness was indispensable to the creation and then the explosion of blogs, search engines, social networks, and more.

Talbot quotes Chris Blizzard, director of technical evangelism at Mozilla, as he explains why open standards are so important:

Open standards create low friction. Low friction creates innovation. Innovation makes people want to pick it up and use it. But it’s not something where we can guess what ‘it’ is. We just create the environment that lets ‘it’ emerge.

Too much government information (not just video) suffers from being locked in to proprietary formats and proprietary means of delivering that information. (See: What is wrong with this picture? and lots more at the open formats tag here at FGI.)

Blizzard says that we need to take “video out of the plug-in prison.” Talbot says, “The goal isn’t to make any one application possible but to bring about the next Internet revolution–one whose specific form is hard to foresee, except that it’s likely to be televised.”

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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