September 15, 2009

Toward a Web of open video

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Toward open video on the Web from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaA few weeks ago, before and after the Open Video conference at NYU, I sketched out the proposition that open video is a requirement for an open Web in two posts: The promise of open source video and Boxee and the promise of open media.

By some estimates, 90 percent of the traffic on the Internet will be video by 2013, so this affects free and open discourse online. Above is a 7-minute interview I conducted with Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, who talks about how video is really separate from the rest of the Web in that it’s a much more closed system. “We need to look at how to make video a first-class citizen on the Web,” he said.

Surman said he hopes a concerted push toward open standards will “shift the market away from a black box video plug-in, where the video is separate from the rest of the page, to something where video can interact with Javascript” or other elements on a Web page.

Video today is locked up (technologically) and locked down (legally). In order for video to become part of the Web’s innovation ecosystem, Surman said, we need to be able to play, manipulate, transform and remix video in the same way we can with photos and data.

In the past two years, the vast majority of video hosting sites have settled on Adobe’s Flash as the format of choice because more than 95 percent of desktop computers and laptops can play them. But Flash isn’t an open source system, and video producers have been limited in how they can make video interact with other Web page elements.

“That may not sounds interesting to those who just watch videos, but it’ll be interesting first to video producers who can do all kinds of innovative things that we can’t even imagine now,” he said.

Firefox 3.5 may be a game-changer

With the recent release of Firefox 3.5, Web developers can now program video within the browser, bypassing Flash, QuickTime, DivX and other codecs altogether. “That means 300 million people will [eventually] have access to native video in their browser,” Surman said. Other browsers, including Safari, Chrome and Opera, are also on board the open video bandwagon.

Where firefox 3.0 was an upgrade for users, “we say Firefox 3.5 is an upgrade for the Web,” he added. That doesn’t mean we’ll see a shift away from Flash .flv video in the next few years, but now the door is open to innovation and experimentation.

Online video “will always be a contested space, but enough people love the Web that they’ll make it happen,” Surman said.

Watch, embed or download video in Flash on Vimeo
Watch or download video in H.264 QuickTime on Ourmedia
Download the original video from or watch it in Ogg


• Mark Surman’s tak at the Open Video conference in Ogg Theora

Breaking: Firefox 3.5 is Released — A Historic Day for Web Video? (

RiP: A Remix Manifesto: A movie by Brett Taylor

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JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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