Open archives: Wikipedia’s new video-collaboration effort will allow editors to mine open-source archives for content, including congressional footage from Metavid.org and diverse collections held by the Internet Archive; its holdings range from Iraq War news coverage to dating-advice videos from the late 1940s and 1950s.
If YouTube is the epicenter of the Web’s video revolution, Wikipedia is the epicenter of online collaboration. In the eight years since its founding, it has grown to become not just the dominant online reference but an increasingly important source of real-time news, with more than 13 million frequently updated entries, including 3 million in English. But these two hubs of free, user-generated content operate as if in separate universes. Wikipedia, which makes it easy to alter content, offers few videos to play (though about 3,000 videos can be found scattered around the site). YouTube, with millions of videos available, offers few options for editing or innovating with them. Generally, each site’s best qualities as an information resource are all but absent from the other.
But that could change as Wikipedia strives to add features that permit effortless open-source video editing and remixing. Michael Dale, the former Santa Cruz student, is leading the effort at Wikimedia under the sponsorship of Kaltura, a startup with offices in New York City and Israel. Kaltura is developing open-source technologies for playing, editing, and uploading videos. A major benefit of open video is that the video itself can be extracted from the player, just as an image can be extracted from a website when you right-click it. With the new version of HTML technology, HTML 5, an open-source player is included in the browser–no plug-ins required. Mozilla’s newly released Firefox 3.5 browser, Apple’s Safari, and Google’s Chrome (see “An OS for the Cloud,” p. 86) all support this feature, though Safari requires a plug-in to support a specific open video format, called Ogg Theora, that Wikipedia is using. And if history is any guide, these advances by competitors may goad Microsoft to follow suit with improvements to Internet Explorer. “Right now, when you post a Flash video, you are posting the video and also a plug-in player, and that can make it difficult to access the video file itself,” says Dale. “Once video is just another asset on the Web and something browsers can natively deal with, we can pull audio, video, images, and text from anywhere on the Internet and do the kinds of sharing and editing and remixing that you want to do, all in the open Web platform.” Can Wikipedia really change the way everyone uses video? “When Wiki started, people said it wouldn’t work, but it worked,” says Kaltura cofounder Ron Yekutiel. “The next question is: Why should it stop at simple media?”
The results should start to become visible this fall. If you are editing a Wikipedia entry, you will find an “Add media” button. Clicking it will bring up an interface that will, initially, allow you to search through three repositories of free licensed multimedia files. One is Metavid, the congressional archive started by Dale and Stern. Another is the Internet Archive, the San Francisco-based digital library most famous for archiving old Web pages; it also holds hundreds of thousands of old interviews, documentaries, and films contributed from various sources. The third is Wikimedia Commons, a multimedia repository operated by the Wikimedia Foundation itself.
Some observers think Wikipedia’s foray into multimedia will help move the entire Web toward open video standards. “To make video part of the fabric of Wikipedia will provide incentives to [video] producers to get their stuff out there and indexed,” says Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law School professor and cofounder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Producers who want their videos excerpted and linked on a Wikipedia page–drawing more traffic to their own websites–will not just have to put much less restrictive licenses on the material; they’ll also have to accept open standards rather than proprietary ones. “With no business model yet gelled, this is just the right time for Wikipedia to be experimenting, and possibly leading, the development of open tools and content for video,” Zittrain says.