July 7, 2010

Why Wikipedia insists on open video

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Why Wikipedia supports open video from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaFrom time to time, Socialbrite explores the use of open source tools by change-makers and social benefit organizations — see below for our past coverage of open video and how open standards can benefit nonprofit tech.

The second annual Open Video conference returns to New York University on Oct. 1-2. If you can make it, it’s a must event for evangelists of open content. At last year’s event, I got to meet Erik Möller, deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation and an early advisor to Ourmedia.org, who helped (via email from Berlin) steer us toward the right set of Creative Commons licenses.

In this video interview, Möller tells me why Wikipedia decided early on to support open standards for all video used on the online encyclopedia. “We’ve always had a commitment to open standards,” he said. The Wikimedia brain trust made a decision early on not to support Flash, MPEG-4 or any other proprietary format on Wikipedia when the formats are controlled by a single vendor or handful of vendors. “If [users] all have to get permission from one entity, we would never accept that kind of market power” in other mediums, like TV or radio.

Without question, it was the correct decision — and a vastly important one.

As a result, today Wikipedia has more than 30 million text articles — all available under a Creative Commons ShareAlike license — but only 3,000 videos. Erik hopes that changes. He encourages contributors to collaborate and publish “rich educational materials” through video, photo slide shows, animation and rich media on subjects like genetics or natural selection. “The potential is enormous,” he said.

Watch, download or embed the 6-minute video in Theora Ogg on Tinyvid.tv (and let us know if you can’t view it in your browser)

Watch, download or embed the 6-minute video on Vimeo

Watch or embed video on YouTube

For those so inclined, here is the Wikimedia Commons entry on converting video to the Theora Ogg format. The free Miro Theora video converter is available for Windows and Mac computers and features a simple drag-and-drop interface. Since version 3.5 of Firefox was released last year, Firefox now supports HTML 5 video and audio in the browser without the need for proprietary formats like Flash.

So far, Theora remains a promising but geeky codec that hasn’t advanced much since I last wrestled with it three years ago. I just tried converting my H.264 video into Theora using Miro Video Converter — and it came out as a green screen. Firefox 3.6, Opera, Google Chrome and Safari can play back Theora videos with varying degrees of success. But, to be sure, the era of open video on the Web has just dawned.

Side note: Erik Möller developed the proposal for Wikinews, a Wikimedia project, and organized the vote that implemented it. Before joining Wikimedia, Erik was a freelance journalist and author. He now lives in San Francisco.

A production note: I’m trying a new “outro” on this video — that is, the music over the closing credits — with “TheForce” by j1s, a CC BY-NC musical snippet that I found on beat.org.

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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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