Feb 02

What next with YouTube

Updated with some traffic figures.

I wonder if this is related to this. Or if the former will cause more of the latter.

Networking sites can change in popularity at a moments notice for a large number of reasons; here, poor technical support and the lack of communication and customer service about the issues seems to have caused rumblings in the communities surrounding youtube and the lack of activity and response to it (in contrast to the behaviour of Flickr) has led to people looking for alternatives.

And then, a couple of days ago, users started making videos about a newly discovered alternative: LiveVideo.com. The response was remarkable. As if scouts had located water in the desert, hundreds of YouTube users went over to LiveVideo and began registering their screen names (many of the most popular were too late and had their names scooped up by opportunists of various stripes) and posting what sounded like liberation videos, singing the praises of LiveVideo’s flawless functionality and hate-free environment.

Now, a few hundred users may be a drop in the ocean, but they could be a core that have driven the success of the site and losing them mean there’s a challenger on it’s way.

Update: Andy emailed me with details of this post on Compete. Google Video and YouTube between them own 51% of the market.

* 58 million people viewed at least one video online in December ‘06
* 14 out of the Top 20 video sites received over 1 million unique visitors
* The top 4 sites received over 10 million video related visits
* The top five sites account for 80% of the online video mark

Now, as i saif the YT revolt looks like the drop in the ocean, especially as YT has double the market of it’s nearest rival, but it’s a sign that you can’t keep everyone happy all of the time.

Feb 02

New Kit

For some reason, I’m drawn to go buy a Mac. No real need for one (except for the oddities of my current PC) so I’m trying to resist. I think I’m being brainwashed by the sheer volume of Apple stuff in the office.

Feb 02

Google Speaker Event – Adam Bosworth

The second event on Monday was the first in 2007 Google Speaker events. This looks to be the start of a series of events that Google is planning in their new space in New York. And a good, large space it is, even if painted a depressing battleship grey. But the lovely spread of food and the free beer or wine made up for that 😉

The first speaker was Adam Bosworth, talking about Physics, Speed and Psychology. Although as he explained it the title was designed to try and get the organiser to cancel the talk! He initially thought that the target audience was going to be a small group of Googlers and had written it up that way, but did not change it when told it was to a far larger (about 150?) external group.

Nothing new or ground breaking here, Adam just talked through some of his history, trying to put explanations into why things failed or succeeded. Overall, extremely enjoyable, espeically about the history of Ajax, even if he felt he was moving occasionally into the area his girlfriend had described as POF territory, ie pontificating old fart.

In 96/97 Adam was working on a team that was developing DHTML, know known as AJAX. As far as they determined, the reasons for moving this way were sound = it was strategically well thought out as it looked like the internet was moving applications to a thin client, not the thick client beloved by Microsoft at the time (so the team was not exaclty the most popular with their message) and people were going to need a high level of interactivity on the web, similar to the current Windows apps. So they went ahead and built this office package, with spreadsheets and presentations and word processors but no one used it. Their assumptions were completely wrong.

The companies they were trying to sell this to did not like it (Adam paraphased their reaction as ‘stop developing this stuff, go away, we hate you). The rich functionality of the apps meant that it would need a high level of support, of which very few of the customers had. In 1997, web apps were used occasionally, not day day out as office aps were. Therefore the barrier to learning it in a useful way meant that everything needed to be extremely simple to reduce the need for support; it needed to be intuituve so that if you only visited it a few times a month or less, you could still work it. The other barrier was speed; to build any of these apps in JS takes a lot of JS, a lot of bandwidth and the connections, and chips, were too slow. The delay and unpredictability of the response meant it was never liked.

Unsurprisingly, anything over .5sec reaction produces frustration; the best reaction time is less than this but it appears that people can live with half a second. Variations in network speed also meant that the reactions of the apps were extremely unpredictable, the system did not work consistently so turned people off very quickly.

Ten years later though and Ajax is well into its second life. The physics has got better, bandwidth is far, far faster and so are the chips. Carefully crafted applications are fast enough for people to use (although if you’ve tried Yahoo TV guide you can see it’s easy to build something that is a step backwards in functionality. The other psychological change is that people are using web apps far more; the increase in use frequency means that the interfaces can be richer.

Next up for examination was the PDAs, which have gone through a similar life cycle. The first iterations were complicated, pen computing, requiring writing recognition which was unpredictable and did not work very well. The second iteration carried on with the writing, but asked that the human learned to write in a special language. Whilst still unpredictable and slow, it was an improvement. The third iteration, the Blackberry and Treo just decided to go with the keyboard. You can work faster, it’s predictable, there’s no translation delay between input and it appearing in the screen.

The slowness and lag is why mobile browsing has been slow on the uptake. SMS, the simple text message, took of by accident. It was built for testing but with it’s simplicity, speed, asynchronicity helped spread usage. Now physics has caught up with the vision on mobile computing and browsing on a mobile device is practical and not too painful.

The final area looked at was natural language, which has failed so many times. If you can ‘talk’ to a computer in your natural language you expect it to behave like a human and demand a precision that is no there. But it’s resurrection came in part from Microsoft Help, which needed some way to help people navigate it’s vast depository of help documents. Search, with it’s fuzzy logic, is perfect for natural language, it works when it doesn’t really because it is a time saver, it filters the noise out there.

So the key lessons Adam has learnt?

  • Think about people’s activities
  • Determine the frequency of use; the less it it used the more simple it needs to be.
  • If it takes greater than 2 seconds to perform a task, break it down to smaller chunks – don;t make people wait

A fun talk, full of anecdotes and some useful advice. Google are planning to do a fair few events from the sound of it, so plenty to look forward to.

Feb 01

Another Yahoo issue with Flickr

As if upsetting a whole bunch of customers by forcing Flickr users to sign up with Yahoo to logon to the service, Yahoo now shoots itself in the foot by breaking their own terms of service.

Yahoo’s new vertical brand sites, such as their Wii page, are pulling content from the rest of the Yahoo world, including Flickr. Unfortunately they are pulling content that has been set as All Rights Reserved or non-commercial, which means it should be going nowhere except Flickr.

When loading content up to the site, the ToS are clear that you own the photos and always will; they allow you to choose from a wide range of Creative Commons licenses to define how you assert rights over the photo. Flickr maintain a licence to display the images on their site and their site only. Flickr also has an API which allows people to pull thumbnails of images into their websites and link back to the photo. This API has an explicit clause preventing it’s use on commercial sites.

So by building the Flickr widget on the wii page, showing all photos that are tagged with wii they are breaking the API rules and stealing content from people who have asserted their IP rights.

Now, not everyone obeys all these rules, but normally big businesses with big lawyers should now better. We don’t know the thought processes behind these decisions, if whoever made the design choice is aware of the rights behind the images and just thought they were Yahoo and they could do what they want with Yahoo images. (read the comment from one of the developers though, which implies a mistake)

In protest, a whole bunch of images have been tagged with wii, including ones that call out their copyright violations and these have been appearing in the photo stream.

A couple of hours after all this kicked off on the forums the staff came back to say they had tracked down the developer team and they are changing the code to only pull photos licensed with the appropriate CC. From start to finish, from the ‘error’ being identified and to it being fixed took 2-3 hours which in normal circumstances would be treated as a perfect example of how building a community around your product and having places where you can converse with customers and get their feedback and communicate back to them directly helps you react to crises. Unfortunately for Flickr it comes on the back of the login issue, so more bad karma.

The last word is for Stewart Butterfield, Flickr founder:

And the more important point is: whether or not this use was legal (and I’m personally sure that it is), we’d like to operate at a slightly higher level than mere compliance with the law. You can count on this being the center of many interesting internal conversations!

Let’s hope they can continue to operate at a slightly higher level!