Five years ago, I experimented with screen capturing under OpenSUSE with a Java Applet recording software that randomly crashed in this setup but still left me with what was recorded up to that point, so I uploaded those resulting videos to YouTube. Back then, each video was required to have no more than 15 minutes playtime and there wasn’t a way to request the unlocking of longer or even “unlimited” playtime. YouTube decided about who was eligible for uploading longer videos in an intransparent fashion, so people came up with wild theories about what could be required. I wasn’t affected much as most of my videos were shorter (partly due to the crash behavior described above) and after some time this limitation miraculously was removed from my channel. Later, YouTube dropped that policy completely.
Next, the first major YouTube design update, at least of my remembrance, “happened”. It removed the ability to customize the channel’s background in order to make the site more mobile friendly and only left the header banner to fiddle with. People were pretty upset as there was quite some effort put into those backgrounds, and from todays perspective, it’s difficult to comprehend why a responsive design should not be able to support some kind of dynamic background. The old layout allowed channel owners to convey context, charm and personality, but users eventually compromised with the new, cold look. My channel wasn’t affected much as I didn’t use a custom channel background, but in principle I didn’t like the downgrade as a user of the platform.
Then there was a long period of mediocrity. Good and innovative features were added like the online video editor, livestreaming and the option to submit and therefore work together on closed captions/translations (albeit channel owners are allowed to disable it and it’s not enabled per default), as well as features which are a required minimum like the removal of the character limit on comments or links in comments. Other good features were removed for bogus reasons, like video answers, chronological and tree-hierarchical display of comments, while other features are still missing like the ability to search for comments, export comments or ad-hoc playlists. The forced Google+ integration as a vain attempt to immitate Facebook was annoying, but also easy to ignore.
In 2015, video platform disaster struck. A big YouTuber complained about all the negativity in his comment section as people were spamming it with insults etc., so Google took action against potential haters. The “solution” was to automatically flag suspicious comments and don’t display them to any other visitor except the potential spammer himself while logged in, so he wouldn’t notice that he is writing his comments into the void, presumably continuing such activitiy. After some time with nobody seeing his messages and therefore not responding, he eventually would get demotivated and stop. The problem with this approach is that the algorithm never worked. My comments were repeatedly “ghost banned” as I usually write long, thoughtful commentary, adjusting the text in short succession in order to correct typographic or spelling errors or to enhance it a little more, or because I added a link after the initial save. If I invest valuable lifetime to state my opinion and cannot be sure that my texts get actually published, there’s no reason to continue doing so, especially as there’s the risk of never getting replies from people I would be interested in talking to. As a publishing platform, such conduct, tricking people into believing that their contributions matter, is a no-go and not acceptable. This is why I abandoned YouTube and only (ab)use it for SEO since then.
So Vimeo became the new home for my videos. It’s much cleaner and had two nice features I liked very much: they allowed videos to be marked as being licensed under CC BY-SA (instead of only CC BY as on YouTube), even despite this information is well hidden from the viewer. The other feature is that they provided a download button (albeit channel owners can disable it). Being a software developer, I don’t believe marketing claims like streaming a video is different from downloading it. Technically it’s the exact same process and while a stream replay might be cancelled earlier and therefore may consume less bandwith, a full download allows offline replay and could save much more bandwith after all. Just think about all the music videos that get streamed over and over again for no other reason than people not having a local copy of them for an offline playlist. For me, the download button is relevant because I want my freely/libre licensed videos to be shared everywhere and archived by multiple parties. The computer has to retrieve the data anyway in order to play it, so it doesn’t matter if this happens via an explicit full download or automatically in the background the browser, internally saving the received data to disk. Vimeo recently decided to remove this convenience feature for all viewers if the channel owner doesn’t pay a subscription fee. As I regard a download as a view, Vimeo as a publishing platform downgraded its publishing, and that’s another unacceptable no-go.
Furthermore, I guess by complaining about the downgrade to Vimeo support, they looked into my channel and suspected it to be a commercial one. Technically I registered a company at the beginning of the year and yes, there was one video linking to a shop seemingly advertising a product, but the shop is not an active one and I never sold a single item there or anywhere else. While I’m not necessarily a non-profit, it’s an attempt to build a social enterprise in it’s early, non-operational stages. I’m fine with paying for the hosting, but I expect the price to be tied to the actual service and not to the arbitrary removal of software features, especially if extortionary practices are used against me and my viewers. Additionally, Vimeo was taking my original video source files hostage and deleted all of them without providing a way to object to their conclusion. They deleted my entire account including all comments and follows, a big time fail in publishing. That’s why I abandoned Vimeo.
I briefly tried Twitch, but uploaded videos don’t get a lot of attention there as the main focus of the site remains on live-streaming. Joining made sense because I’m planning to stream more, but then I discovered that they run ads for the German military (Bundeswehr) before videos and streams, something I’m totally opposed to as a Christian believer and conscientious objector by both, conviction and approval. This is especially the case after I developed anabaptist views. I don’t mind if Twitch promotes violence and destruction which is none of my business and therefore easy to refute, but I never want to contribute to the endorsement of military or their recruiting, so it’s basically the YouTube adpocalypse the other way around.
A few notes on other, minor video platforms: there’s Dailymotion, but they didn’t generate a single view within months as they don’t have a matching audience and poor search engine visibility. My impression is that they’re not in the game of building communities around user-generated content but around traditional TV productions (remember Clipfish, Sevenload, MyVideo?). Also, the translation of their site into German needs some work. There’s Veoh, but their website is terrible and they’re still relying on Adobe Flash instead of HTML5. There are new efforts like lbry.io, BitChute, We-TeVe and Loudplay that are worth a look, but not very popular yet.
Fortunately there’s Vidme – at least until they betray me, too. It has a small but fine German community although the site doesn’t come first to mind as a place for discussing technical topics. On the other hand, I would like to investigate the API Vidme provides as I’m too lazy to upload my existing video collection (“backlog”) manually. I can imagine to write a fairly technical automatic uploader or even a fully-fledged video management suite, supporting video upload to other locations as well, so I don’t end up too dependent on Vidme with the ability to move quickly to another video hosting site or to build a backup somewhere else in parallel.
Which leads to new conceptual thinking about online video hosting. Learning from my earlier mistakes and experiences, I don’t see why the acutal videos need to be tied to a specific player and surrounding website any more, leading to demands and dependence on whoever is operating the service. In a better world, the video data could be stored anywhere, be it on your own rented webspace, a gratis/paid file hosting provider like RapidShare, Dropbox or Megaupload, peer-to-peer/blockchain hosting, traditional video websites or on storage offers by institutions or groups curating certain types of materials. The software to retrieve, play, extend and accompany the video stream would be little more than an overlay, pulling the video data from many different sources of which some might even be external ones and not under the control of the website operator. Such a solution could feel like what’s relatively common in the enterprise world where companies deliver product presentations, training courses and corporate communication via SaaS partners or self-hosting. A standardized, open protocol could report new publications to all kinds of independent directories, search engines and data projects, some offering general and good discoverability, others serving niches and special purposes, all of them highly customizable as you could start your own on top of common video hosting infrastructure. You could imagine it as the MediaWiki (without stupid Wikitext as unparsable data model) or WordPress software packages embedding video and optionally making it the center of an article or blog post, but in an even more interoperable way and with more software applications on top of them. The goal would be to integrate video hosting and playback into modern hypertext for everyone as promoted by the Heralds of Resource Sharing, Douglas Engelbart (from 37:20), Ted Nelson and David Gelernter. With the advent of information theory, XML, the semantic web and ReST, it’s about time to improve and liberate publishing in networked environments.